Abstract: Ecotherapy and Park Prescriptions healing through nature

Hello, my name is Alexis Jenkins and I am a sophomore at William & Mary. I am an anthropology and environmental science double major and this summer I will be assisting Professor Dorothy Ibes with her research in the Parks Research Lab.

I will be working on the following projects:

  1. Compiling, analyzing, and visualizing results from two experimental studies on Ecotherapy interventions conducted this semester;
  2. Planning a new study to analyze the efficacy of Park Prescriptions on increasing mental health and physical activity; and
  3. Working to expand and improve the William & Mary Campus ParkRx program.

Ecotherapy is applied ecopsychology, which is a field of research concerning the psychological effects of nature exposure and its potential benefits. It is defined as healing and growth nurtured by connection to the natural world and includes horticultural, wilderness, animal, mindfulness, and eco-art therapy, among other techniques. There is strong evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of ecotherapy, which range from decreased mental illness to increased creativity and pro-social behavior. Despite a large amount of supporting evidence, ecotherapy is still a young field and has yet to be formally accepted by the medical community as a vital mental health consideration. My hope is that my work over the summer will contribute to attempts to expand the field of ecotherapy.

The Parks Research Lab focuses on research regarding the contribution of parks and public spaces to public health. This summer, I will be working on the Park Prescription (ParkRx) program, which encourages people to spend more time in greenspaces by prescribing parks to individuals. ParkRx is a national initiative that aims to (1) encourage overall behavior change, (2) improve individual and community health, and (3) foster the growth of new stewards and advocates for public lands. Within the next few years, ParkRx will optimally become an established resource for therapists as a supplementary treatment for mental health issues. The new study which I will work on this summer will help the program gain traction in the scientific community. Additionally, I will work to improve the program on the William & Mary campus to further extend its benefits to students.

Additional information:

The National ParkRx Initiative

ParkRx in the Greater Williamsburg Area