Environmental Art Therapy

thumbnail_IMG_7123Whitaker, P. (2020) Habitat in Phoenix Park. Dublin: Private Collection

Ecopoiesis Online Journal


Environmental Art Therapy Power Point Presentation Below:


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Whitaker, P. (2020) Found beach drawings. [Sand]. Copper Coast: County Waterford.


Guidelines for Practice Outdoors

By Ian Siddons Heginworth

Know your Location

If you are lucky enough to have access to private land you may already know it well but if not visit the location that you are planning to use before you use it. Assess it for ease of access, for safety, availability of shelter and toilets, and for privacy. If it is public land, i.e a park or common, identify areas that are quieter and more secluded. If the land is attached to an institution, such as a school or hospital, find out when it is being used by others. Availability of shelter and toilets is always advisable, if possible.

Know your Client

Assess your client before deciding to work outdoors. Do they have mobility issues which might make moving across the land difficult? Do they have epilepsy, allergies or other health problems? How comfortable are they in nature? How are they with rain, mud, cold, wind or heat? How do they feel about working in a public area, possibly within view of passers by? Environmental arts therapists have the luxury of attracting people who seek to work outdoors but this is certainly not true of everyone, although it is worth bearing in mind that many new clients can be nervous at first but quickly discover, once they engage with nature, how much they prefer it to working indoors.

If your client has any history of making accusations against carers, do not take them to a secluded location.

Working with Nature

As soon as we step out of the clinic room we find ourselves in a fluid and changeable environment that we can no longer control. It is rather like working within a giant sand tray with a boundless cupboard of materials, or on an ever changing canvas with an equally fluid palate. Nature becomes our co-therapist, and seems to have an agenda of her own. Unpredictable weather and the turning seasons have a profound bearing on the work. Just by being in nature, by moving through and responding to the environment, our work becomes more embodied. The possibilities for creativity, meaningful personal process and therapeutic synchronicity are unbounded and this is what makes the work so exciting, but it can be daunting for the beginner. For this reason I would encourage anyone considering taking their work outdoors to spend some time in the location beforehand creatively exploring their own personal process and so acquiring a feel for the potential.

Privacy and Confidentiality

If you are working in a public place then you are going to encounter the general public and their dogs. If possible choose to work in a quieter more secluded part of the location, away from others, and speak quietly. Woodland is used by the public less than open parkland and gives far greater privacy. Most passers-by keep themselves to themselves but occasionally you may attract interest, even an inquiry as to what you are doing. It may be useful to have a conversation with your client beforehand to discuss what they would like you to say to a stranger if this occurs. In my experience most people would consider informing a stranger that this is a therapy session a breach of confidence, but do not mind if you describe the activity as a workshop. Simply saying that “we are making art or doing drama together” can invite further unwanted interest or even an audience, as people tend to associate these activities with performance and exhibition, especially in public places. We all have the right to request privacy but its always best to do so politely. As therapist it is your role to ensure that your client feels safe and that the work is held and confidential, at all times.

Dogs are a law unto themselves. Most are friendly but they can be intrusive and run right through the middle of your work. In my opinion its best to treat them as just another force of nature, and respond accordingly. The traditional metaphor for dog is loyalty and they often seem to appear when this is on the therapeutic agenda. Be wary of their mess when working with natural materials.


Obviously if your client becomes visibly upset or raises their voice, they are more likely to attract attention, usually from well meaning people. In environmental arts therapy we actively encourage the therapeutic expression of anger, as nature is the natural container for wildness, so we have to be very careful. Working among the trees can usually ensure greater privacy but cries of anger or distress from areas of woodland can invite investigation or a call to the police.

When preparing the client for this work it can be useful to consider what sounds will allow the desired release but attract least attention. In my experience animal sounds, such as growls, whoops or roars are great for venting anger but tend to be dismissed by passers-by as “ people fooling around” while blood-curdling screams or shouts of “get off me” or “leave me alone”, although perhaps appropriate to the drama, are likely to encourage rescuers.


Boundaries are much less clear when working outdoors so it is important to keep the ones that we can. When planning the session consider whether the time taken to travel to and from the chosen location is within the time frame of the therapy or not, given that they may be a long walk from your arranged meeting place. It can help to have an identified threshold i.e when we walk between these two trees we will be entering the therapeutic space and our time will begin. Personally I always start in my studio where the client shares, then we move out into the woods to work, and finally finish back in the studio again. Beginning and ending in the same place in this way can be very useful, even if you do not have a base.

Many people, once they go outdoors, feel the desire to walk. This can be a nice way to share at the beginning but you dont want your creative therapy session to just turn into a nice stroll in the park. This tendency is partly a habitual response to being outdoors, and potentially avoidant.

For this reason I keep a check on the time we spend walking and talking and encourage the client to find a location within which to work, usually by inviting them to find or make a particular metaphor that has arisen in their sharing.

Even the client-therapist boundary can seem blurred at first as you are called upon to respond together to the unexpected. This improves with time as your confidence grows.


Working outdoors is usually as safe as working in, but some people become very adventurous when outside in the wilds. If your client wishes to take a risk as part of their therapeutic process, such as climbing a tree, then you must be the judge of how safe this feels based on their ability. I have worked with experienced climbers and had no qualms about allowing this, while encouraging other less able clients to go no further than the lowest branches. You can forbid it all together, but bear in mind that such adventurous activity can be extremely affirming for the meek at heart. At the very least you can inform your client that they do this at their own risk and will not be covered by your insurance or even, if working with someone who is prone to this kind of thing, ask them to sign a disclaimer before the session.

In environmental arts therapy we often make structures or effigies out of natural materials with the intention of knocking them down as an aid to releasing anger. Making and breaking activities such as this require adherence to certain safety precautions. Always ask the client before they strike in which direction they intend to hit it. Ensure that no-one is in range and that you yourself are behind the client as flying sticks can hurt. We only use dead wood for this activity as we endeavour to minimize damage to living things. In all of our work we respect nature and leave behind nothing artificial in the locations where we work.

Always encourage your client to dress according to the weather with waterproof clothing when its wet, sun cream when its hot and good footwear at all times,

Always have access to water, a phone and a first aid kit.


Environmental arts therapy and the Tree of Life by Ian Siddons Heginworth, Spirits Rest Books. Available from http://www.environmentalartstherapy.co.uk

Environmental arts therapy. The wild frontiers of the heart edited by Ian Siddons Heginworth and Gary Nash, Routledge

“The natural world is a vital and alive medium for art therapy…The outdoors can be experienced as a signifier for the extension of therapeutic practice into the world at large. The use of gathered, rather than bought, art materials fosters a sensing of one’s way through tactile exploration. The outdoor landscape offers a nomadic sense of exploration and spontaneity, mediated by surrounding that are not predetermined by function. The exterior space can offer the potential for rambling and gathering, a place for physical immediacy with many spatial dimensions that stimulate creative investigations…The reverie encountered when working within a natural landscape challenges one to view art therapy not as the creation of images, but rather as an overall experience of assembly…In this context, subjectivity relates to a natural terrain that is continually in flux, a mirroring of one’s own nature in motion amid changing circumstances”.

Whitaker, P. (2010) Groundswell: The Nature and Landscape of Art Therapy. In: Moon, C.H., ed. Materials and Media in Art Therapy: Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies. New York: Routledge, 119-135.


Evelyn Flint creates Erosion Bundles by burying fabric or paper with rust, berries and other organic matter which stains the fabric and paper. Of course earth stains will also appear and marks of decay will be a feature of the piece.


Ward, P.  Painting with Earth [Nature pigments].


de vries, H. (2020) Rubbings. [Charcoal rubbings]. Eschenau, Germany: Private Collection

The Nature of Art Therapy 

This is a blog post prepared for the Canadian Art Therapy Association Conference in 2018. The Nature of Art Therapy includes ideas of how to use natural materials and the outdoor studio within art therapy. Conference participants submitted photos of their  own art and their practice with service users, but there are also references to using land art, gardens and nature crafts.


How Art in Nature Heals: A Glimpse into Eco-Art Therapy 

A woman’s experience of eco-art therapy using natural materials along a shoreline.

“In eco art therapy there is generally an emphasis on mindfulness and impermanence, making it effective for managing grief, loss and building coping skills. Eco art therapy is something you can always to no matter who is around”.


EartHand Gleaners Society

EartHand Gleaners Society uses a community-engaged model for creating environmental art programs with opportunities for research, skill development and skill sharing. The  projects fosters multicultural, interdisciplinary collaboration among community members and professionals in the fields of education, sciences and the arts. It is an innovative example of using natural materials for community making.


Means of Production Garden

The Means of Production graden is located in a community park within downtown Vancouver, where art materials are grown and harvested for community art projects. The Means of Production garden inspired the cultivation of a large forest garden in County Louth (located adjacent to a popular playground in Blackrock, County Louth) which grows living art materials for community and school projects. The garden also includes edible plants that can be harvested by children, families and local residents. It is a biodiversity garden, that also offers refuge for children who seek to make a place where they can craft their own nature retreats.

Located in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver, the Means of Production (MOP) Garden was created in 2002 by artist Oliver Kellhammer, in partnership with the Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) and the Vancouver Parks Board. Kellhammer’s original conception was to create an ‘open source’ landscape where people could experiment growing their own botanical materials for art and craft use and for the garden to be a community ‘hub’ where ongoing investigations into art and ecology would take place.

Nature’s Cure, Article in the Financial Times, May 9, 2020 


Web of Life Art Therapy

This is a website from an art therapy graduate who completed the art therapy training in Belfast in 2014. Emily McCullough also undertook forest school training to supplement her art therapy skills.

“Ecotherapy works with the concept that when we are connected to our natural environment, we are healthier and happier. It works to develop connection between people and their environment in order to encourage mental health. Ecotherapy sees nature as a co-therapist in the process and draws on natures ability to provide metaphors for life situations, to place the client’s problems in the wider cycles of life, and to contain emotions” (Emily McCullough)

Eco Art Therapy My Journey as an Art Therapist 

This is a blog post by Louise Gartland, who is also a graduate from the art therapy training in Northern Ireland. Louise is the co-director of Artonomy https://artonomy.ie and the Vice Chair of IACAT.

The blog post below describes her interest and practice of eco art therapy.

Forest Bathing 

Forest Bathing: How Trees can Help you Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li.

Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation by Yoshifumi Miyazaki

Pigments, Natural Dyes and Mark Making with Natural Materials

Pigments and Dyes can be made from different types of soil/earth, naturally found clay, vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, leaves, etc.

Babs Behan, Botanical Inks. 

Jason Logan, Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Inkmaking

Nick Neddo, The Organic Artist: Make Your Own Paint, Paper, Pigments and Prints from Nature.

Alexandra Toland, et al. From Field to Palette 

Artists using Natural Pigments and Dyes

@agillianking, Instagram. 

@linda__pappa, Instagram. 

@naturallydyedgoods, Instagram. 

@pigmenthunter, Instagram. 

@rf_alvarez, Instagram.

@stellamariabaer, Instagram. 

@tanya.val, Instagram. 

@torontoinkcompany, Instagram. 

@vyana.novus, Instagram. 

@wildpigmentproject, Instagram. 

Natural Dyes, Pinterest. 



Environmental Arts Therapy: The Wild Frontiers of the Heart edited by Ian Siddons Heginworth and Garry Nash.

Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy in Outdoor Spaces by by Martin Jordan.

Environmental Expressive Therapies: Nature-Assisted Theory and Practice edited by Alexander Kopytin and Madeline Rugh.

Green Studio: Nature and the Arts in Therapy edited by Alexander Kopytin and Madeline Rugh.

Nature-Based Expressive Arts Therapy: Integrating the Expressive Arts and Ecotherapy by Sally Atkins and Melia Snyder.

The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World by Sue-Stuart Smith.

The Natural Health Service: What the Great Outdoors Can Do For Your Mind by Isabel Hardman.

Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature by Patrick Barkham.

The Therapeutic Garden by Donald Norfolk.

The Healing Forest in Post-Crisis Work with Children: A Nature Therapy and Expressive Arts Program for Groups Ronen Berger and Mooli Lahad.

Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Lifeby Ian Siddons Heginworth.

The Healing Fields: Working with Psychotherapy and Nature to Rebuild Shattered Livesby Sonja Linden and Jenny Grut.

Eco-Art Therapy: Creative Activities that let Earth Teach by Theresa Sweeney.

Art, Community, Environment, edited by Glenn Coutts and Timo Jokela.

Books on Affiliated Topics 

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

Derek Jarman’s Garden by Derek Jarman with photographs by Howard Sooley

Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects by Alice Fox

The Found Object in Textile Art by Cas Holmes

Art Works: Place by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar

The Lure of the Local by Lucy Lippard

Book Chapters 

“Nature: Art Therapy in Partnership with the Earth” by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen in Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection (2001) edited by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen.

“Art, Nature and Aging: A Shamanic Perspective” by Madeline Rugh in Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection (2001) edited by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen.

“Nature as a Work of Art: Towards a Poietic Ecology” by Stephen Levine in New Developments in Expressive Arts Therapy: The Play of Poiesis (2017) edited by Stephen and Ellen Levine.

“Why Eco-Philosophy and Expressive Arts?” by Per Espen Stoknes in New Developments in Expressive Arts Therapy: The Play of Poiesis (2017) edited by Stephen and Ellen Levine.

“Groundswell: The Nature and Landscape of Art Therapy” by Pamela Whitaker in Materials and Media in Art Therapy: Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies (2010) edited by Catherine Hyland Moon.



A Review of Nature Based Interventions for Mental Health Care (2016)

This is a report committed by Natural England.



Back to Belonging: Nature Connection and Expressive Arts Therapy in the Treatment of Trauma and Marginalisation



“Garden as Canvas: Therapeutic Metaphors in a Children’s Garden” by Carol Knibbe and Petrea Hansen-Adamidis, Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08322473.2017.1304003

A Natural Response to a Natural Disaster by Jess Linton, Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal,Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08322473.2017.1317201

Art Therapy and Environment, (Editorial) by Pamela Whitaker, Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08322473.2017.1338915

“Ecological Identity and Art Therapy” by Monica Carpendale, Canadian Art Therapy Associaton Journal, Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08322473.2010.11432338

“The Healing Garden: Art and Nature” by Lani Gerity, Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08322473.1998.11432232

“Eco-Art Therapy: Deepening Connections with the Natural World” by Ellen Speert, Link: https://arttherapy.org/eco-art-therapy-deepening-connections-natural-world/

“Green Care and Walk and Talk Therapy: An Underused Resource that has Benefits for Everyone” by Ian Birthistle, The Irish Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Link: https://iacp.ie/files/UserFiles/IJCP-Public/IJCP_Winter_2017-Art.pdf

Poiesis: A Journal of the Arts and Communication European Graduate School Press (ECG Press), Special Issue: EcoPoiesis: Imaging the Earth
Send an email: info@egspress.com to see if this issue is still available.

Ecotherapy: When Your Prescription is a Walk in the Woods


Research Articles 

Full Circle: Toward an Aboriginal Model of Art Therapyby Jennifer Vivian, Concordia University, Link: https://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/977982/

Art Therapy in a Wilderness Setting: A Manual for Implementing a Program for Adolescent Girlsby Andrea Carlson, Athabaska University, Link: http://dtpr.lib.athabascau.ca/action/download.php?filename=gcap/AndreaCarlsonProject.pdf


The Nature Therapy Centre, Link: https://www.naturetherapy.org.il/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=1&lang=en

Environmental Arts Therapy, Ian Siddons Heginworth, Link: http://www.environmentalartstherapy.co.uk

Eco-Art Therapy by Dr. Theresa Sweeney, Link: http://www.ecoarttherapy.com

Children and Nature Network, Research Articles, Link: https://www.childrenandnature.org/research-library/

Land Art Websites 

Green Museum 

Women’s Eco Artists Dialog

Chris Drury 

herman de vies

Richard Long 

Hamish Fulton

Patrick Dougherty 

Further Research 

Other topics to research for resources incorporating nature and art therapy:

Eco Art Therapy

Indigenous Art Therapy

Nature Therapy

Forest Schools

Wilderness Therapy

Adventure Therapy

Horticulture Therapy

Walking as Therapy Outdoors