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Nature Informed Therapy vs. Ecotherapy vs. Wilderness Therapy

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Compare Nature-Based Therapies

A healthy relationship with nature is important for our psychological well-being. Increasingly, mental health treatment has embraced nature-based therapies and techniques. There is a lot of confusion between different nature-based therapies. We will compare some basic attributes and applications of three popular approaches: Nature Informed Therapy, Ecotherapy, and Wilderness Therapy.

What is Nature Informed Therapy?

Nature Informed Therapy is a therapeutic approach that integrates the healing elements of nature into established, evidence-based treatment modalities. In many ways, Nature Informed Therapy is very similar to Ecotherapy. It seeks to improve awareness of the impact the disconnect from nature has on the mental health of human beings and improves mental health and wellbeing by restoring the healthy relationship with nature, self, and others.

Nature Informed Therapy looks for ways to integrate multiple healing properties of Nature into existing evidence-based modalities like CBT, DBT, and others. It tries to restore the healthy relationship between individuals and the natural world through multiple ways of interaction with nature including backpacking, hiking, walking and talking, nature-based mindfulness, horticulture, Nature arts and crafts, and nature retreats. The targeted application includes anxiety management, PTSD, stress reduction, burn-out, grief, ADHD, individual wellbeing, and life satisfaction.

What is Ecotherapy?

Many people are using ecotherapy as a general umbrella term referring to all approaches that involve the natural world. These could include terms like Nature Informed Therapy, Wilderness Therapy, Horticultural Therapy, forest bathing, etc. Strictly speaking, Ecotherapy is derived from ecopsychology and as first defined by Clinebell[1] is a form of ecological spirituality, where a holistic relationship with nature embraces both nature’s tendency to foster us through our contact with natural places and our ability to reciprocate this remedial connection through our ability to nurture nature.

In that sense, Ecotherapy is a form of psychotherapy with an ecological intent and focuses on the ecological aspects of self. The primary therapeutic source for ecotherapy is nature itself. It can take place in wild or semi-natural areas of nature. The targeted application includes pain management, PTSD, stress reduction, attention deficit disorder, and general wellbeing.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness therapy also referred to as outdoor behavioral healthcare, is a specific treatment modality that uses the interaction with wilderness by an individual or group in a remote environment to lead to self-discovery and change[2].

Wilderness therapy’s focus is on outdoor activities that often include adventure, survival skills, and group bonding. Participants receive weekly therapy from a clinician at base camp and are supervised by wilderness therapy guides on excursions. It encourages physical challenges as a way of promoting change. The targeted application includes adolescent behavior issues, juvenile delinquency, stress reduction, PTSD, and substance abuse.

Other Nature-Based Therapies:

Many other therapies or approaches tap into nature’s healing power, including Therapeutic Horticulture, Animal-assisted Therapy, and Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing. They have many similarities and also have different focuses and applications. Below is a quick comparison of the key differences via infographic.

[1] Clinebell HJ. Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth. New York, NY: Haworth Press (1996) [2] Hill NR, Wilderness therapy as a treatment modality for at-risk youth: a primer for mental health counselors. J Mental Health Couns. (2007)

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