Nature Therapy: A Brief Introduction

Nature Therapy

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth

find reserves of strength

that will endure as long as life lasts.”

— Rachel Carson

by Gavin Hannegan, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo undergraduate intern, supervised by Dr. Hannah Roberts

In honor of Earth Day, we want to highlight one of the unique services we offer here at Thrive SLO: nature therapy. Is your home too distracting to hold a virtual therapy session? Do you feel most calm when you’re connecting with the trees and plants? Or maybe you haven’t gotten your steps in for the day. Nature therapy may be the perfect fit for you! Read on to learn more about the benefits of nature therapy and where to meet your therapist for your first outdoor session.

What is Nature Therapy?

If you’ve ever heard of the term “talk therapy,” nature therapy is essentially “walk and talk” therapy. Sometimes called eco-therapy or outdoor therapy, nature therapy allows you and your therapist to meet outside the walls of a typical office setting. You and your therapist will agree on a quiet, open space to meet, such as a park or a forest. Then, the two of you will spend the session working through any concerns you wish to discuss. Feel free to get up and stroll through the environment, or find a comfortable spot to take a breather. There are a number of ways to personalize your nature therapy experience to best suit your needs. Nature therapy can be used alongside a variety of evidence-based practices such as CBT and Gestalt therapy (Cooley et al., 2020). If you’re interested in being more involved with the environment, you may also want to look into horticultural therapy or wilderness therapy. Through nature therapy, you can work towards self-awareness while getting some fresh air and movement.

Why Nature Therapy?

Being in nature can help soothe the body and mind. One study found that undergraduate college students reported lower levels of stress and higher measures of well-being when they engaged in outdoor physical activity, including walking and hiking. By actively interacting with nature, college students can relieve themselves of the stress that they may experience as a result of their day-to-day responsibilities and commitments (Holt et al., 2019). Similarly, spending even just 30 minutes on “green” activities such as gardening or creating art from natural materials can help reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety and protect against future mental health concerns (Coventry et al., 2021). Nature provides a readily accessible form of self-care.

Nature therapy takes the calming effects of nature and combines it with the empowering qualities of therapy. Compared to a control group, those who participated in a walk and talk therapy intervention reported nearly twice as many positive outcomes, ranging from higher job satisfaction to lower rates of burnout (van den Berg & Beute, 2021). The natural environment can help separate yourself from the confines of your work environment. A distinct advantage of nature therapy is its ability to establish a more equitable relationship between therapists and clients. Rather than taking place in the therapist’s office, which may feel intimidating to new clients, both the therapist and the client work together to find an outdoor space for themselves (Cooley et al., 2020). Choosing a location not only fosters healthy communication between you and your therapist, but it’s also an opportunity to bond before you even meet in-person. The therapeutic relationship works best when both parties feel comfortable; spending time outdoors can help you better establish that comfort with your therapist.

Where Can I Meet My Therapist for a Nature Therapy Session?

San Luis Obispo is home to some beautiful outdoor areas that are ideal for a nature therapy session. Montaña de Oro has several great hiking trails to choose from, or you can sit right at the coastline and enjoy the sounds of the ocean. Morro Rock and Avila are some other notable locations to meet up for a beach walk. The Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo can feel lively when all of the monarch butterflies migrate to the tall trees during the winter season. The Bob Jones Trail and Meadow Park are great choices if you’re looking for a light walk on a paved trail, or if you want to ease your way into nature therapy. If your therapy sessions are virtual, remember that you can always sit outside for your therapy session or take your therapist along for a walk. Still not sure which place to visit? Reach out to one of our therapists for their recommendations. We can’t wait for you to enhance your therapy experience through the healing properties of nature.

Have more questions or feel like you need supportive therapy? Schedule a session with one of our therapists today! You can schedule online here!

We hope you enjoyed this blog post! Have more topics you’d like us to blog about? Contact us and we’ll be sure to include your topic in a future post!


Cooley, S. J., Jones, C. R., Kurtz, A., & Robertson, N. (2020). ‘Into the Wild’: A meta-synthesis of talking therapy in natural outdoor spaces. Clinical Psychology Review, 77, 1-14.

Coventry, P. A., Brown, J. V. E., Pervin, J., Brabyn, S., Pateman, R., Breedvelt, J., Gilbody, S., Stancliffe, R., McEachan, R., & White, P. C. L. (2021). Nature-based outdoor activities for mental and physical health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. SSM – Population Health, 16, 1-14.

Holt, E. W., Lombard, Q. K., Best, N., Smiley-Smith, S., & Quinn, J. E. (2019). Active and passive use of green space, health, and well-being amongst university students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(3).

van den Berg, A. E. & Beute, F. (2021). Walk it off! The effectiveness of walk and talk coaching in nature for individuals with burnout- and stress-related complaints. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 76, 1-11.

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