Working Therapeutically in Nature

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As beekeepers, James and I frequent a small oasis on the outskirts of Paignton, where some of our bee colonies reside. This spacious plot of land houses, as well as our beehives, space where vegetables are grown, beautiful native trees (including fruit trees), a wildlife pond, a fire pit and a cosy cabin with a kitchen and classroom. It was the perfect setting for our workshop, ‘Working Therapeutically in Nature’ (formerly “Taking Counselling into Nature”).

The spaces quickly filled for this popular workshop, and we gathered around the campfire on an unseasonably chilly and damp July morning. Students came from near and far, including Somerset, North Devon, and Cornwall, as well as more locally, to find out about how to work with clients in a natural setting. We started off by getting to know each other, sharing encounters of being in nature and what we wanted to get from the day. Experiences were varied, and we found out that we all shared a love for being outside, with several having been on personal healing journeys in and around nature themselves. The depth of sharing and witnessing each other’s experiences and vulnerabilities throughout the day really bonded the group and made the day a rich and valuable experience for everyone.

Throughout the day, as well as looking at the practical aspects of working in nature, we wove in several nature therapy interventions established in Shinrin Yoku and ecotherapy, as well as Gestalt and nature-based mindfulness. Students made use of the outdoor space and paired off to try out these new interventions. We gathered back around the fire to debrief, with participants feeding back that they found the balance of practical and theoretical a useful way to experience and learn. We also included scientific information about the benefits of nature.

The weather we encountered was, well, British, and we enjoyed some clear patches (even a bit of sunshine and blue sky!) between the showers. The rain, to a certain extent, was welcome, and the changing weather was a brilliant metaphor for the changing emotions that we work with in our client work; as James often says, “it’s all just weather”. We were grateful for the cabin, which we retreated to on a couple of occasions when the rain became a bit too much! But it never kept us inside for long. The connection of the group members, who, on the whole, at the start of the day were strangers to each other, was incredible and such a joy to witness. Spontaneous poetry was written and shared (see below), journals were written in, and new friendships formed as students shared their experiences of the interventions that we offered them and their connection to the land we shared that day.

Thank you to all who took part and to the joys and trials of what nature brought us that day. We are looking forward to running more workshops and longer courses (watch this space!) in nature at this beautiful space.