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This term appeared widely in British newspapers last week. Mind (the public name of the National Association for Mental Health), published a report to coincide with the association’s Awareness Week. It argued, with support from two academic studies, that outdoor, “green” exercise — conservation work, gardening projects, or just a walk in the park — helps people’s mental and physical health and “offers a cost-effective and natural addition to existing treatments”.

The idea behind undertaking such activities is not new: a scheme by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, called green gym, focuses on physical health improvements through environmental work. And Rudyard Kipling was ahead of them all, in the rhyme about the camel's hump, or depression, in the Just So Stories:

The cure for this ill is not to sit still
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire;

And then you will find that the sun and the wind
And the Djinn of the Garden too,
Have lifted the hump -
The horrible hump -
The hump that is black and blue!

Ecotherapy appeared in the USA in the early 1990s as an accompaniment to ecopsychology, contending that action on behalf of the environment could take people out of themselves and lead to emotional health, a very similar concept to the earlier ideas of Edward O Wilson encapsulated in the word biophilia. The term ecotherapy became more widely known through Howard Clinebell’s 1996 book Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth.

[Mind] Chief executive Paul Farmer said: ‘It is a credible, clinically valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than antidepressants is extremely limited. We’re not saying that ecotherapy can replace drugs but that the debate needs to be broadened.’ If it was prescribed as part of mainstream practice, ecotherapy could potentially help millions, he added.

Daily Mail, 14 May 2007

Ecotherapy is gaining ground as a serious way to help people stay healthy. Just walking the dog, stroking the cat or even swimming with dolphins could help you cope with stressed-out modern life, according to researchers at the University of Leicester.

Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough, 24 Apr. 2006

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 2 Jun. 2007

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 2 June 2007.