Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Environmental psychology, Nature-Psychological aspects, Nature-Therapeutic use, Animals-Therapeutic use, Agriculture-Therapeutic use, Qualitative research, Ecotherapy, Nature-based therapy, Animal-assisted therapy, Horticultural therapy, Wilderness therapy, Nature reconnection practices, Ecopsychology


This qualitative, exploratory study sought to answer the question, what do ecotherapists think makes their nature-based therapy (NBT) work effective and for whom? Twelve American mental health clinicians who practice NBT's (including animal-assisted therapy (AAT), horticultural therapy (HT), nature-reconnection practices (NRP's), and wilderness therapy (WT)) regularly in their professional work were recruited using snowball sampling. Semi-structured interviews revealed that practitioners explain NBTs' effectiveness by citing the biological, psychological, spiritual, and therapeutic power of the natural world, the different ways that NBT's are structured, and additional factors that are unknown. Participants shared varied views about whom ecotherapies best serve; some stated they could benefit anyone, while others identified groups based on age, gender, and mental health diagnoses. Those with severe mental health issues, medical contraindications, and objections or lack of access to NBT's were identified as not benefitting from them. In addition, half of participants expressed concerns about the accessibility of NBT's. Others nuanced this by pointing out that access is contingent upon how nature and NBT's are defined. Findings highlighted a lack of consistency in NBT practice and a variety of opinions about what makes NBT's effective and about whom they best serve. This lack of universality makes discussing and measuring efficacy difficult. Though the building research base is promising, ecotherapy and its relationship with the natural world must be more clearly defined in order to solidify its research base. The accessibility of NBT's must also be considered.




v, 157 pages : color illustrations. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 121-141)