‘Common Elements’ Literature Review

In 2020, AABAT’s Outdoor Healthcare Policy Unit sought Expressions of interest to contribute to a substantial literature review and published report. As a result of this Call, the Policy Unit arranged to supervise Deakin University Master of Social Work Student Josh McClean to undertake the proposed study. Josh’s Literature Review Report is in its final stages and will be released in 2021. The below overview illustrates our original hopes for the project.

Building on last year’s momentum, the Policy Unit is now supervising two Masters students who will contribute to a companion research project exploring ‘Stories of Outdoor Healthcare Practice’.

Common Elements in Outdoor Healthcare – Literature Review Proposal

Throughout the world, Indigenous and place-based peoples have known that nature and natural environments are not just a foundation for life and health, but also a resource to draw on when health is ailing. 

In recent times, we’ve seen the emergence of a range of services that mobilise ‘human contact with nature’ as a form of healthcare to treat physical-, mental- and social ill health. 

Nature-based services currently support health and wellbeing for people experiencing wide ranging health issues, and people of all ages. As well as supporting wellbeing, these services provide amelioration and healing through the provision of therapy, recovery, rehabilitation, treatment, and palliative care. From existing bodies of cross-disciplinary research, these services can now draw on evidence to inform their design and delivery of health services.

This project sets out to identify the ways human contact with nature is currently used as healthcare for people across the lifespan. The focus is on health interventions that use nature-contact as a key therapeutic mechanism. The project reviews existing research relating to uses of nature-contact across the spectrum of need, from prevention through early intervention, treatment, continuing care and palliative care, and identified benefits across physical, psychological, socio-cultural and environmental domains of wellbeing. 

The review addresses the question, “What are the human health and wellbeing benefits arising from nature-based health interventions?” and provides a taxonomy of nature-based interventions, along with a set of recommendations for a ‘common elements approach’ to providing safe and effective nature-based health interventions. 

While the review includes investigation of nature-based services provided by trained or experienced practitioners, it does not include the range of physical or mental health medicines and remedies drawn from plants and animals. 

The project focuses on Australian and international literature published since 2000, and where possible, investigates the purpose, evidence base, effects and effectiveness of nature-based services being used for healthcare. 

While there is already strong research justification for the use of parks and natural places as settings for health – places to enhance the health and wellbeing of community members – this review extends current knowledge to identify uses of parks as settings for healthcare.

Maller, C. Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P. & St Leger, L. (2006). Healthy nature healthy people: ‘Contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International. Oxford University Press, 2006 21:45-54. 
Pryor, A., Townsend, M., Maller, C. & Field, K. 2006. ‘Health and well-being naturally: ‘contact with nature’ in health promotion for targeted individuals, communities and populations’. Health Promotion Journal of Australia 17(2)114-123.