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Guidance for Outdoor Mental Health Interventions

IOL Statements of Good Practice

Outdoor Mental Health Interventions


Health, well-being and self-development has been a cornerstone of the impact and value of outdoor learning practices for many decades. Over recent years, we have seen an exponential growth in therapeutic outdoor initiatives and programmes being developed and utilised for mental health and well-being benefits.


Traditional terms such as adventure therapy, wilderness therapy, nature therapy and outdoor counselling, have more recently been joined with a plethora of wider terms, such as eco-therapy, forest bathing, and a Natural Health Service, to name a few. All of these terms are taking claim to some kind of health benefit (physical or psychological) for getting outdoors.

This Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) statement purposefully sets out a view on competence when combining mental health and well-being interventions with outdoor learning.

  • The primary goal was to develop a model that could support organisations and individuals who provide and utilise services for mental health and well-being in an outdoor setting. The statement has been strongly informed by mapping current practice in the United Kingdom.
  • It has been created to ensure that those engaging outdoor learning services to improve mental health and well-being can do so with confidence and trust in what they are offered.

Support for the Statement

Lifestyle Medicine
“First we change the environment, thereafter the environment changes us.” (Winston Churchill.)

BSLM believes that introducing the ‘greens and blues’ of outdoor environment can be life-changing. We interact with our microlevel environments or settings including schools, workplaces, homes and neighbourhoods. That interaction shapes our behaviour – sometimes adversely affecting aspects of our mental health. Creating healthy outdoor environments and interacting with them will lead to positive changes in our mental health.

Together with IOL we encourage this development by influencing not only the individual but also educational and health systems, the food industry and society’s attitudes. Outdoor Health as an intervention is at least as powerful as any other – and fun to boot!

Dr Rob Lawson, Chairman British Society of Lifestyle Medicine


Outdoor Mental Health Interventions
Click to Download



Calls to Action

In enabling the outdoor sector to embrace a vision for the development of outdoor mental health interventions, the following ‘calls to action’ are advocated for:

  1. To use the model to communicate their practice and positively advocate for the full range of outdoor mental health opportunities available.
  2. To critically review practice delivered or commissioned against the model and indicators of good practice, and consider aims, effectiveness, benefits, and ethics.
  3. To use the model to enhance communication between themselves and stakeholders, such as NHS tiered services (e.g. GP’s, CAMH specialists, psychologists, and psychiatrists), Education Services, Public Health Services, and Social Services.
  4. To work together with stakeholders to improve pathways for people to access the benefits of outdoors and develop commissionable and sustainable outdoor mental health and well-being interventions.
  5. To champion wider adoption and development of a research informed approach that integrates the best available research with professional psychotherapeutic and outdoor learning expertise.
  6. To contribute to the practical application and development of relevant resources, education, and training aligned with the Outdoor Mental Health Intervention Model.
  7. To challenge behaviour and attitudes to create an accepting, inclusive and positive culture for mental health and wellbeing in our communities and workplaces.


Research and Reports

A wide range of reports are referenced in the statement. Along with many other relevant policy documents, research reports and papers, they can be accessed via the following links:

Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning

IOL Horizons Archive

IOL Supporting Evidence Base

IOL Research Reports

British Society of Lifestyle Medicine Evidence

To reference this statement:
Richards, K., Hardie, A., & Anderson, N. (2019). Outdoor Mental Health Interventions. Institute for Outdoor Learning Statement of Good Practice. Carlisle: Institute for Outdoor Learning.

Workforce Mental Health

It is essential that in the application of this model, mental health agendas are not simply seen from a beneficiary perspective. Mental health and well-being relates to all aspects of life and work, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about the organisation and their work, the culture at work and their personal mental health, mental distress or mental illness. The model offers ways in which the mental health and well-being of the workforce can be supported using the benefits of the outdoors.

Psychological therapies have a longstanding commitment and requirement for reflective supervision of their practice with clients. This is personally supportive and protects the client by upholding high standards of effective, safe and ethical working. It has wider benefits for professionals, for example including the prevention of burnout. Engaging in regular supervision of practice with someone suitably experienced and competent is good practice for all roles and the benefits are a cornerstone to developing best practices in application of the model.

It is important that employees support those struggling with mental health or well-being, to remain in and ‘thrive at work’. So the model can offer ways in which the mental health and well-being of the workforce can be supported using the benefits of the outdoors; perhaps through self-care activities, or by engaging a professional therapeutic service. It also serves to remind us that as an outdoor workforce we are not exempt from the everyday stigma and challenges of mental health. So we need to approach and address our attitudes to across all aspects of the sector with the same care, concern and respect we aim to offer our clients.

'How to implement the Thriving At Work mental health standards in your workplace’ is an accessible guide designed by Mind to help all employers to understand and implement the six core standards recommended. The AAIAC document ‘Surviving a Career in Adventure Activities’ outlines some key working practices and practical steps instructors can take to look after their physical and emotional safety


Neal Anderson MSc QTLS UKCPReg APIOL is the Professional Standards Manager for the Institute of Outdoor Learning and a qualified teacher and UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and Supervisor in private practice. He began working in the outdoors with young people and adults over 25 years ago and has specialised in training and workforce development. His experience includes activity instruction, development training and outdoor centre management.

Dr Kaye Richards (CPsychol) is a Chartered Psychologist of the British Psychological Society, qualified outdoor professional, and Senior Lecturer in Outdoor Education at Liverpool John Moores University. She currently trains outdoor professionals (including teaching adventure and outdoor therapy), undertakes and supervisors research, and has diverse experience of working in different outdoor learning contexts and developing integrated outdoor therapy. She has worked at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy facilitating national UK research activity in psychological therapies, developed the first adventure therapy intervention for the treatment of eating disorders in women in the UK, and is currently leading a new MA in Outdoor Therapy. She has led national and international activity in adventure therapy and outdoor education, published widely across these associated interdisciplinary areas, and is the convenor of the academic Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning.

Andy Hardie BA (hons) PGDip MBACP(Accred) APIOL is the Head Therapist at Venture Mòr and Operations Manager at Venture Trust. A Counsellor and Supervisor registered and accredited with the BACP, he has worked as a Therapist in private, public and third sector settings with groups, adults and young people. He has worked extensively with a focus on personal development with youth and marginalised groups in outdoor centres and on expedition programmes. Since 2015 he has been developing wilderness and outdoor therapy approaches in Scotland.



We would like to thank the following individuals and organisations for their recent dialogue, contribution, and support to some of the thinking and development of this statement:

  • Dr Alison Greenwood, Dose of Nature, London.
  • Dr Barbara Smith, CAMHS Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool.
  • Chris Frampton, South Lakeland Mind Outdoor Counselling Service, Kendal Therapy.
  • Hayley Marshall, The Centre for Natural Reflection, Derbyshire.
  • Lesley Dougan, Liverpool John Moores University.
  • Mark de Bernhardt Lane, Aquafolium
  • Mike Strang, Venture Trust, Scotland.
  • Dr Neil Bindemann & Dr Rob Lawson, British Society of Lifestyle Medicine
  • Outdoor Therapy workshop participants at the 2018 UK Outdoor Learning Sector Conference
  • Outdoor Mental Health Interventions launch participants at the 2019 Sector Strategic Forum
  • Dr Steff Revell, Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand.
  • Stephan Natynczuk, Spare Crab Adventure.

Future Developments

Version 1 of the statement was launched at the 2019 Sector Strategic Conference on October 3rd in Birmingham.

In recognising that this is work is ongoing and to support the building of communities of practice, it is important that the mapping of all types of practice is developed. Future versions and associated publications of this statement of good practice will be published. This will include further resources and CASE STUDIES across different types of outdoor mental health interventions to help support developments in good practice. If you have a case study of good practice that you would like to share then please contact the authors.

The authors welcome ongoing dialogue in developing this work, so please forward any wider comments and views to them at:



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