Ecotherapy Practice 2020

How to design and facilitate therapeutic outdoor experiences.


This professional development course explores some of the theories, practices and issues of the newly emerging field of Ecotherapy. It is not only for psychotherapists and counsellors - anyone with a professional interest in facilitating or co-ordinating therapeutic outdoor experiences may apply.

The course starts from the premise that you cannot have healthy people on a sick planet. Living within the Earth's limits and working to restore our relationships with the rest of nature is fundamental to our physical and mental health. This reciprocity is central to the approach offered here. This is different to many other approaches currently being offered, which tend to focus only on the therapeutic benefits to humans of spending time outdoors. Read a brief introduction to Ecotherapy practice >>

The aim of the course is to give you the confidence, skills and understanding to design and facilitate therapeutic experiences outdoors, in your own professional context. It offers theoretical frameworks supported by extensive research and a very pragmatic approach to programme design and facilitation.

Based on both working with groups and one-to-one, the course explores a variety of settings - from urban green spaces to untracked wilderness. 

The course runs over six months. It starts with a one-to-one tutorial, either online or if possible face-to-face. After this, there are two, 5-day residentials - one at the beginning of the six months and one at the end. In-between these are five, one-to-one tutorials supported by guided reading. The group will be limited to a maximum of 12 people.

The course has been developed through over 20 years of international research, development, post-graduate teaching and hands-on professional practice. This includes the design and delivery of a government funded UK-based programme which offered therapeutic outdoor experiences by prescription. This course has already been successfully delivered at the world renown Schumacher College in the UK.


For most people who work and play outdoors, it is obvious that time spent in nature is therapeutic. Despite this, the idea that time outdoors might be offered as part of formal healthcare has struggled to take hold.

However, during the last 5 years the engagement of mainstream healthcare with outdoor approaches to therapy have exploded. In the UK for example, several programmes have been piloted to provide outdoors experiences by prescription, paid for by the National Health Service. These have been extremely successful, leading to results that outperform conventional therapies and pharmacology in both health outcomes and cost efficiency. They are now being ‘rolled-out’ to whole regions.

But providing this kind of service is not easy. This is due mainly to the lack of people who can supply safe, professional and effective therapeutic outdoor experiences.

The positive health economics and proven efficacy of outdoor approaches to mental and physical health challenges means that without doubt demand will continue to increase. Given the scale of some of these issues, especially in materially wealthy nations like New Zealand, there is going to be an increased demand for outdoor professionals who can provide safe and effective outdoor therapies.

This course aims to help provide those professionals.

Is it for me? 

You do not need to be a psychotherapist or counsellor to attend this course. It is for anyone interested in working with the therapeutic potential of outdoor spaces - from urban parks to designated wilderness. 

This includes healthcare practitioners, outdoor leaders, social workers, youth workers, rangers and educators - as well as those interested in commissioning, or referring into, therapeutic outdoor programmes.

It is recommended that you bring around five years experience in some related form of professional practice - working with groups or one-to-one, indoors or out. However, each application is considered individually, so please do ask if you’re not sure.

Please note: 

  • this course is for those seeking to work therapeutically outdoors and is not intended as a personal therapeutic intervention. 
  • it is likely that a basic level of outdoor leadership training will be required to work ethically and professionally outdoors, depending on the type of environment you want to work in. Please be aware that this course does not qualify you as a professional outdoor leader, which requires specialist training and assessment.

You must be over 18 years old.


By the end of the course you will:

  • have an overview of the various different outdoor therapeutic approaches currently being offered internationally;
  • understand some of the foundational theories underpinning this type of work;
  • experience a selection of therapeutic practices and activities for yourself;
  • explore appropriate facilitation styles and techniques;
  • make connections between personal, social and ecological issues and their roles in creating pathologies;
  • gain insights into complex relationship dynamics;
  • learn appropriate strategies for working one-to-one in  safe, confidential and ethical ways;
  • explore how to select conducive outdoor spaces to work in;
  • understand how to create ‘safe space’ and boundaries outdoors;
  • develop your own therapeutic contract for working outdoors;
  • find strategies and techniques for self-care and supervision;
  • see examples and case studies of practices;
  • learn how to design your own programme;
  • explore issues around the confluence of nature, culture and indigene;
  • develop your understanding of ethics and professionalism outdoors;
  • find where to access resources and networks;
  • examine risk and how to manage it;
  • gain an overview of the issues surrounding liability and insurance;
  • have opportunities to work out your next steps towards professional practice, or towards further enriching your existing practice.


The course runs over six months with two, 5-day residentials at the beginning and end. There are also six one-to-one online tutorial sessions, one before the first residential and five in-between.

April 2020 One-to-one online tutorial (one hour)
May 2020 Residential ONE: 5-days (6-nights).
May - October 2020 Guided reading
One-to-one, online tutorials (one hour each)
October 2020 Residential TWO: 5-days (6-nights).
Post-course Access to alumni network.
OPTIONAL: Professional practice supervision and coaching online or face-to-face.
OPTIONAL: CPD update courses.

Course Leader

David Key is a consultant, group facilitator, teacher and coach specialising in ecopsychology - the psychology of the our human relationship with the rest of nature. 

Dave has a background in outdoor education, ecology and psychology. His special interest is in the ways experiences of nature can be powerfully transformative. His professional practice is mainly through the design and delivery of outdoor-based programmes for sustainability leadership and the design and facilitation of therapeutic outdoor experiences. He has also taught and researched extensively in the academic sector and is an internationally published author.

Over the last 20 years Dave has worked with clients such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, The Australian Conservation Foundation, the Scottish Government and the European Union, as well as with numerous academic institutions and private individuals seeking professional development.

He holds a Masters of Science (with distinction) in Human Ecology, is a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology, a Visiting Research Fellow at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University and an Honorary Research Fellow at Exeter University. He also holds a New Zealand Certificate in Adult Teaching (1&2). He is a National Governing Body qualified outdoor leader in both the United Kingdom(MTUK & BCU) and New Zealand (NZOIA).

Dave lives in Whangarei, New Zealand.


The residential elements will be based at Coalhill Lane, near Whangarei.

Link to Google Earth map of area

Link to travel information


Participants will be issued with a certificate of continuing professional development (CPD) for 120 hours of study.

Please note: this workshop does not formally qualify or register you to work therapeutically outdoors. This is because there are currently no national governing body qualifications or registering organisations in this field. However, depending on the environments in which you intend to work, you may need outdoor leadership qualifications to operate professionally and gain liability insurance within specific geographic regions. This issue is explored in depth on the course and advice is offered to help you bench-mark your own level of skill and identify any further training that might be appropriate for safe and ethical professional practice.


Residential Arrival

The course starts at 16.00 on Sunday evening. Please arrive by 15.00 so that you have time to settle in to your accommodation before starting on time.

Residential Departure

The course finishes after breakfast on Saturday morning, departure by 10.00am.


Once you have booked and your place on the course is confirmed, further information is sent to you about equipment, travel, accommodation and other preparations.

It is essential that you have access to a good broadband or 4G mobile network connection for online tutorials. Please do not connect from a public space like an internet café or public library, as this nearly always leads to a poor quality tutorial experience.

You do not need to read anything before the course starts. However, an initial reading list will be sent to you once your place has been confirmed in case you’d like to explore!

What to bring

We will be outside everyday, sometimes for the whole day, whatever the weather! There may also be time spent outdoors at night.

While there will be a group shelter in case of very bad weather, you will need to bring the right clothing and equipment to be comfortable outdoors. It is very important that you come prepared. If you have any questions about clothing or equipment, please get in touch.

Personal clothing and equipment list >>

Personal fitness

This course is not a test of endurance! We are committed to creating an experience accessible to a wide range of abilities. We lead the programme to meet the needs of everyone in the group while also recognising than a little bit of a challenge can be a helpful thing. Everything we do is offered as an invitation. You will never have to do anything you don’t want to.

As a guideline, you will need to be able to carry a day pack containing your personal equipment (waterproofs, spare clothes, lunch, flask, etc.) for periods of up to four hours at a time, in a natural environment, often without formed paths. 

If you are unsure about your ability to take part for any reason, please make a note on the application form and/or contact us as soon as possible to discuss your needs.


Accommodation is camping  at our purpose-built bush venue in Northland. There's a covered group space and dining area, a fire circle, hot showers, composting toilets and a beautiful swimming hole. The site it off-grid with some limited solar-power.


All meals, snacks and drinks are provided throughout, prepared fresh every day by our cook.

Please let us know of any special dietary requirements, allergies or intolerances when you complete your application form.


David Key has over 20 years experience delivering outdoor-based programmes world-wide. He holds National Governing Body outdoor leadership qualifications in both the United Kingdom (MTUK) and New Zealand (NZOIA).

Risk assessments are completed for every location. These are reviewed each time an activity is delivered.

Interested but not sure?

If you’re interested but not ready to commit, please do register your interest and we will be sure to keep you updated with the latest news.

Register your interest >>

Schedule a free 30 minute online appointment to discuss your needs >>


This course is by application only. To apply for a place please complete the online application form. You will receive an immediate automatic confirmation by email that we have received your form. We will then be in touch personally with further information about the application process.

Please do not book any travel arrangements until you have received a written confirmation that your application is accepted and that the course has been confirmed as definitely going ahead. The final confirmation is usually about six weeks before the start date of the first residential.



Includes: 50 hours (APPROX) of residential contact time on a maximum 1:12 basis, 12 nights camping accommodation, residential catering and group equipment. Six hours online contact time on a 1:1 basis, access to an extensive library of readings, reading guide, private online forum and alumni network.

Excludes: Travel to/from residential venue, personal travel and possessions insurance, personal outdoor clothing and equipment.


Residential ONE: 02 - 08 May 2020.
Residential TWO: 31 Oct - 06 Nov 2020.
Tutorials (6): To suit your schedule.

Total study time: 120 hours.


Residentials: Glenbervie, Whangarei, New Zealand.
Tutorials: Online.


Camping (own equipment), catering provided.



Course Leader:

David Key

I gained a massive amount of insight both personally and professionally. I was profoundly moved by the process. I came away refreshed and inspired.

Peter Wooding
Venture Scotland

The course has brought me a deeper awareness and ability to listen. This in turn has enabled me to understand the broader impacts of the business and provided me with the skills to find different responses and action, rather than merely repeating past actions.

Richard Profit

Approaching the beach from the cliff top I had a feeling something profound was going to take place. And when I met Dave it started happening. In just 36 hours I had the best reset I could have imagined and 36-months later I am still enjoying its effects. If you’re reading this and wondering if it’s right for you, just get in touch with Dave and see where life takes you. It helped me and I loved it.

Steve Malkin
Planet First

Dave’s ecopsychology course was the beginning of my journey with this incredible work.

I learned a lot about myself, and this has ultimately meant I can work with other people with a much deeper understanding of change processes. I loved that the course was self governed – for me this meant I could go on my own exploration, and pull on the threads that interested me.

Dave is very attentive and flexible toward personal needs, it is less ‘teacher-student’ focused and more colloborative and supportive, which I I feel is exactly what is needed in this world.

I would do the course again and again.

Janine Finlay
Fin Films Ltd UK & The Good Nature Project

Dave’s deft touch can be found as traces of invisible thread through many of Eden Project’s experiential learning programmes. He is a gentle and artful consultant that will help you make the most of the resources you have to hand; be it people, places, kit, knowledge, or time. He is equally capable of directing you, unblocking your problems, or simply guiding you towards the right solution for your programme needs.

Dan Ryan
Eden Project

[The course] has given me permission to silence the white noise. It has helped me to sift out what matters. It’s pretty subtle. It’s liberating.

Emily Peel Yates
Halcrow Group

The course cleared a lot of clutter from my head and allowed me to focus and determine the deeper underlying questions of my life and of my connection to Nature. Since then, I have pursued a deeper relationship and conversation with the natural world that has constantly informed my life.

Charlie Németh
Teacher, Hungary

Dave has worked with me and my team for the past few years on team dynamics, programme design, and personal coaching. He is an extraordinary trainer, though that word is a dis-service here, his wealth of experience in the broad fields of outdoor education and facilitated wild experiences is un-paralleled. His attention to detail, subject knowledge, and impeccable research means all learning experiences with him are enlightening, thought provoking, and deeply practical.

Dan Ryan
Eden Project

Dave is a very gifted facilitator who is able to connect people from all walks of life and to create a safe environment in which learning, practice and storytelling can happen for everyone. I came away from this course feeling enriched and with a new sense of direction for my own life and work path.

Karen Liebenguth
Greenspace Life Coaching

I was greatly impressed by the depth of Dave’s expertise, insights and empathic connection to the landscape as he led our group of wild lawyers through the wilderness of the Knoydart Peninsula in Scotland.

Cormac Cullinan
Cullinan & Associates

I am literally in a different physical and psychological space as a result of my involvement and have also established some very good (in the real sense) new friends, some of whom I see regularly and the rest I know are there should I need them.

Gill Troup
University of the West of Scotland

A newness has been thrown into the now, that will affect almost everything from this point. I find that a little bit exciting. We may be in uncharted water but that doesn’t mean we’re going down. Who knows where we could go…

Sarah Munro
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

The course experience was truly incredible, and I was taken by surprise at the level of intensity and personal response to what I thought would be a challenging week, but not to the degree that occurred.

Brenna Nyznik
Mercy Corp

In this beautiful peaceful setting, where you can literally hear the leaves fall, it is easy to have ‘thinking time’ and how important it is too; I can hardly believe what has come up for me today.

John Daffurn
Scottish College for Educational Leadership

Hold your nose and dive in at the deep end – [the course] will take you to places you haven’t imagined, good and bad, and will be truly formative as an investment of your time and energy.

Gill Troup
University of the West of Scotland

In learning that the wilderness can be such a powerful source of intense natural healing, I have a new and profound respect for the earth and our complex relationship with it. I now know that this is a new beginning.

Louise Macdonald OBE

Don´t hesitate. Just do it! You will feel great, brave and you won´t be disappointed – I promise you.

Margret Mennenga

Dave is an exceptional practitioner, teacher and thinker. We worked together for three years; if the right project came along, I’d have no hesitation in asking Dave to work with me.

Osbert Lancaster
Natural Change Limited

[The course] played a subtle but powerful part in deepening my commitment to a life of working for positive change. It opened windows in my thinking, and reinvigorated trust in working with intuition and metaphor that have since shaped my working path.

Tom Deacon
Field Studies Council

The course has acted as a catalyst for all kinds of ideas and actions, both personal, professional and as a group. I think the phrase might be “watch this space”!

Louise Macdonald OBE

Dave is an outstanding facilitator with a fantastically engaging and inclusive style, great humour, insightful with deep rapport building abilities.

Gavin McLellan
Christian Aid

Dave helped me realise that I am strong enough to make change in my life that will benefit me and others. The confidence is now in me to say what I think and not say what I think others want me to say.

Marc Forrester
YouthLink Scotland

Dave co-created our Natural Change process for engaging with the natural world. He has run this exercise for us twice with a diverse group of people over an extened period. The results have been inspiring and Dave has been great to work with.

Richard Dixon
World Wide Fund for Nature

Dave is an inspirational, calm and creative facilitator allowing all participants to feel comfortable and able to connect with the wonders of nature.

Jim Riach,
Keep Scotland Beautiful

It feels like I’m in the process of enlarging my heart. And it’s kind of painful, but also joyous and also really crucial.

Deborah Richardson-Web
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Dave co-taught (with Mary-Jayne Rust) a 3-week course on Ecopsychology at Schumacher College. The course was well planned and thought through, and the group gave very positive feedback of what they learned and how the process was facilitated. Dave is extremely organised and a good planner, as well as being a committed and inspiring teacher.

Inga Page
Schumacher College