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May 17, 2016

Woodland Therapy

I love woodlands. Between hiking, bird watching, and just sitting on a cliff face in Acadia National Park listening to the collective sounds of nature harmonize, the woodland settings always put a huge dent into the stress my OCD induces. Certainly others have likewise noted that the “ambience” of woodland environments can serve a stress-reliever (Milligan 2007:32). Yet, I think many don’t realize that one doesn’t need to hike into remote areas of a continent to attain the woodlands ambience. Now, living in Buffalo, exploring regional woodlands during the winter is not so easy (I’m one of the few who prefers winter, so this is not such an issue). Likewise, those living in urban settings may have limited choices on where to go to truly embrace woodland environs. Yet, there are options within close proximity to most regions that could provide an individual with the release woodlands environs offer.

1)            Parks: Towns, cities, states and federal governments often set aside woodlands which are open year-round for visitation.

2)            Zoos: Local zoos (and aquariums) usually include a number of woodland habitats to house a variety of plant and animal species. Especially in urban areas, these may be the quickest route for an individual to experience the woodlands ambience.

3)            Botanical Gardens: While not as numerous as the previously mentioned venues, botanical gardens can certainly provide a relaxing atmosphere. During the winters where snow is a constant factor, I find that botanical gardens are often the best way for individuals to fight off seasonal stress. Additionally, for those from large urban centers, botanical gardens offer the best way for someone to dip her/his toe into the woodland pool.

4)            College campuses: Oftentimes, college campuses go to great lengths to create a woodland feel to at least part of college or universities footprint. Again, in large urban settings, such campuses may be the only option.

From experience, many coming from large urban centers struggle when placed in a true woodlands setting. Likewise, as hiking is not something anyone should do alone, many of the listed options are a safe and not too overwhelming way to embrace woodland therapy. From my own experience and that of my students, I find that even a minute exposure to woodlands will go a long way towards helping individuals break through stress and attain peace from any anxiety they are experiencing.


Milligan C, Bingley A. Restorative places or scary spaces? The impact of woodland on the mental well-being of young adults. Health and Place. 2007; 13(4):799-811.

Pulsford D, Rushforth D, Connor I. Woodlands therapy: an ethnographic analysis of a small‐group therapeutic activity for people with moderate or severe dementia. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2000; 32(3):650-7.

Townsend M. Feel blue? Touch green! Participation in forest/woodland management as a treatment for depression. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 2006; 5(3):111-20.
Neil O’Donnell is a Senior EOP Counselor at Buffalo State College where he provides personal, academic and career counseling for students during and after their undergraduate journey. Neil also devotes time to educating communities about Obsessive-compulsive Disorder through discussion of his own battle with OCD. Additionally, Neil is an author of books including The Career-Minded Student and Bellwood, OCD and Me. You can find more of his career and stress management advisement at

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