'Into the Wild': A meta-synthesis of talking therapy in natural outdoor spaces

Clin Psychol Rev. 2020 Apr:77:101841. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101841. Epub 2020 Mar 4.


Time spent in natural outdoor spaces has physiological and psychological benefits, such as reduced stress responses and improved mood. Mental health practitioners have begun to harness nature's restorative capacity by challenging convention and taking talking therapies outdoors. This review synthesises the experiences of these practitioners and their clients, with the aim of establishing a framework for best practice. A thematic synthesis was used to provide a systematic and integrative exploration of multiple therapy professions. Articles (N = 38, published from 1994 to 2019) comprised 322 practitioners and 163 clients. A mixed-method meta-synthesis resulted in a framework of higher and lower level themes. The outdoor context for therapy ranged in intensity from sitting or walking in urban parks and woodland to remote wilderness expeditions. The outdoors provided either a passive backdrop to therapy or was more actively incorporated through behavioural analysis, relationship building, metaphor, narrative therapy, role play, modelling, and stabilisation. Practical, therapeutic, and organisational issues were mitigated through assessment and formulation, informed consent, process contracting, enhancing predictability where possible, and awareness of professional competency. Therapy was subsequently enriched by added mutuality, freedom of expression, mind-body holism, interconnectedness with the natural world, and practitioner well-being. The question of whether therapy in natural spaces should become a more mainstream option for clients and practitioners is discussed.

Keywords: Biophilia hypothesis; Clinical psychology; Ecological systems; Ecopsychology; Nature exposure; Walking therapy.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Mind-Body Therapies* / methods
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Psychotherapy* / methods
  • Recreation*