What's an eco-therapist?

What Does an Eco-therapist Do?

Some eco-therapists prescribe something as simple as getting out and walking to ease eco-anxiety.
Some eco-therapists prescribe something as simple as getting out and walking to ease eco-anxiety.
­AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

­Eco-therapists not only focus on human-to-human relationships like traditional therapists, they also delve into the relationships between humans and the environment. That means you're more likely to get a sympathetic ear if you confide in your therapist that the plight of the polar bears is keeping you awake at night. "There are a lot of mainstream therapists who […] don't think it's a big deal or don't understand why people might be frightened. My clients say it's so good to have somebody who says, 'Yeah, these things are really happening,'" Carla Royal says.

While an eco-therapist addresses your relationship with your alcoholic father or emotionally distant stepmother, he or she will also find out what kind of relationship you have with the natural world. Are you stuck in an office all day? Do you get outside much? Are you doing anything to help the environment?

Royal has actually taken the therapy session outside for many of her clients. "We notice the birds, the animals, the trees, the wind. I help people slow down and pay attention to those kinds of things," she says.

To combat eco-anxiety, eco-therapists may prescribe something as simple as getting outside for a walk every day. There is some real scientific evidence to back up that recommendation. Many studies have found a benefit from being outside, including one British report, which found that walking in the park or countryside decreases depression [source: Medical News Today].

To help patients who are overwhelmed with worry about an impending environmental catastrophe, eco-therapists often recommend making changes -- however small-- in their lives. "I try to focus on one behavior that I think I can do, like remembering my reusable bags when I go to the grocery store," Clayton says. Turning off the lights when you leave a room, taking shorter showers or walking instead of driving your kids to school can help ease your fears by making you feel more like part of the solution than part of the problem.

The typical eco-therapy session can run as much as $250 an hour, although many eco-therapists follow more traditional therapy rates (which vary by location) [source: MSNBC]. Health insurance sometimes will cover the cost if the therapist is licensed.

Learn more about eco-therapy and eco-anxiety below.

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More Great Links


  • Davis, John, Ph.D. "Overview of Ecopsychology." http://clem.mscd.edu/~davisj/ep/ecopsy.html.
  • "Eco-psychology with Theodore Roszak." http://www.williamjames.com/transcripts/roszak.htm.
  • Interview with Carla Royal, M.Ed., eco-therapist based in central Vermont, Jan. 27, 2009.
  • Interview with Susan Clayton, Ph.D., Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology and Chair of Environmental Studies, College of Wooster in Ohio, Jan. 23, 2009.
  • Living on Earth. "What, Me Worry?" http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=06-P13-00037&segmentID=8.
  • Medical News Today. "Green Walking Beats the Blues, New Study Recommends Ecotherapy for Depression." May 14, 2007. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/70852.php.
  • Mind. "Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health." May 2007. http://www.cchr.org/media/pdfs/Executive_Summary.pdf.
  • Nobel, Justin. "Worried about environmental doom? Go see an eco-therapist." Columbia News Service, March 13, 2007. http://jscms.jrn.columbia.edu/cns/2007-03-13/nobel-ecoanxiety.
  • Pine Mountain Institute. "Ecopsychology." http://www.pinemountaininstitute.com/ecopsychology.htm.
  • Statement from Kim Mills, Associate Executive Director, Public and Member Communications, American Psychological Association, Jan. 22, 2009.