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by Richard Louv

Reviewed by Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., M.F.T.

I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy of Richard Louv’s exciting new book that will be available May 20th. I believe it should be on every ecotherapist’s shelf.

The book addresses “why children need nature, how it was taken from them and how to get it back.” But I don’t think his points refer only to children, for I believe that all human beings who have become nature-disconnected are suffering from “nature deficit disorder.”

“Nature-deficit disorder,” says Louv, “describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.”

“Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature,” says Louv. “Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom. Well-meaning public school systems, media and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields.”

In a section called “Scared Stupid” he talks about how “local TV news is creating a powerful ‘crime script’ in the public’s mind.” These endless scary news stories about things like Lyme’s disease, snakes and coyote or mountain lion attacks have turned nature into a bogeyman. He also lists ecophobia – fear of environmental degradation at the global level – as a contributing factor, saying that children now know more about the degrading rain forest in the Amazon than they know about the delights of nature in their own backyards.

Another factor he addresses is the urban myth of ubiquitous sexual predators just waiting to snatch children walking, playing or riding their bikes in their own neighborhoods. He claims that the number of “stranger danger” attacks has remained stable and very low for years, but that television and milk-carton ads have made parents so afraid of stranger snatchings that children are now routinely driven to school by anxious parents rather than being allowed to walk or bike through neighborhoods and nearby nature, as they did in previous generations.

One thing I like about Louv’s book is that he understands that daily connection with “nearby nature” is even more important for mental health than the occasional nature trek in so-called wilderness. Small backyards, local parks, nearby vacant lots or neighborhood woods will often provide just what children and adults need to keep us connected with the earth.

Louv cites “a growing body of research (that) links our mental, physical and spiritual health directly to our association with nature. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” I would also add exercise in nature, to combat the present epidemic of obesity.

This research is excellent ammunition for any therapist, parent or educator who is trying to convince local schools or recreational organizations to include nature study, horticultural therapy or outdoor adventure in their curriculum or activities.

I highly recommend this book for all who care about the human-nature relationship. Louv is right that unless we introduce new generations to the joys of nature connection, we risk destroying what’s left of what we love.


Linda is a practicing ecotherapist living in Southern California. She is a member of ICE, and writes a weekly blog on Ecotherapy for the collective ICE blog.

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