What is Nature based Counselling?

I recently gave a talk to some folks in my Counselling and Therapeutic practitioners network here in Cape Town, specifically about what Nature-based Counselling is, how it might help our clients and about the differences between traditional office-based Counselling/Therapy and outdoor therapeutic sessions. It reminded me that for many people this is something quite different, possibly new and intriguing that they may want to know more about. So I thought I would write a short blog today to explain some of the premises of it and an idea of how I practice it with my clients.

Why Outside?

There has been a lot of study and research done in the last 30 years on the positive effects that Nature has on humans physically, psychologically and cognitively. It seems we need nature more than we may realise! Here are some of the researched benefits you can read up about:

• In nature we feel restored.
• Nature has been reported to help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
• Nature is important for our growth and development especially for children
• Nature improves our mood.
• Nature helps us heal physically.

An emerging Eco-Psychology
Psychotherapy and Psychology is fast catching up and EcoPsychology is the name for this emerging and rapidly growing field wherein Ecotherapy is located. Our bodies, thoughts, emotions and behaviours are intertwined with our environments. We are a mix of internal and external, biological and energetic systems that influence the way we feel and are in turn influenced by our situations, our environments; be it your stressed work environment, your family environment or your larger crime-ridden neighbourhood and polluted ecosystems nearby. In Ecotherapy we address these factors if they are of relevance to your problem and we figure out how to improve your environments for your wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the enviroments you occupy too.


Lifestyle stress reduction

Stress is something we seem to all experience in our modern style of living. We seem to think we have to tolerate huge amounts of stress to fit in and be successful these days. For those suffering from stress and burnout, exploring and addressing sources of stress and imbalance in your lifestyle and your environments is something I place emphasis on. Together we may seek do-able, small-step lifestyle changes that can alleviate some of your stress. Think simple things like exercising a bit if you don’t already, delegating, voicing your needs and making some adjustments to your diet if it’s out of balance, changing conditions for yourself at work and at home and many other lifestyle factors. A small change in one area has ripple effects into all systems internally and externally, whether they be physical, emotional, relational and beyond into the environment and planet.

Addressing your problem

We come to Therapy or Counselling usually because we have a problem... one that often has become a crisis for us. Whatever is causing your stress, whether it be a relationship, the loss of a loved one, stressful work or a struggle with addictive behaviours, your nervous system is regularly going into sympathetic states of discomfort, fear, anxiety, or panic whenever you think about this problem or you encounter its effects and resultant behaviours. 
So of course we talk a lot about your problem. We process all of it during our sessions like in traditional Counselling. Through talking and feeling understood we can feel a huge sense of relief and reduction in our anxiety. Add in some tools like deep breathing exercises, mindfulness in nature, taking in a beautiful view,  or gently walking while we talk. These add in the healing and restorative benefits of being in nature into our sessions. We may see our problem mirrored through metaphor and stories of our past, through the plants, animals, clouds and feelings we experience while being outside in nature, giving us rich ground to explore self and the problem you are addressing.

Ecotherapy practices

There are many wonderful, gentle, creative and inspiring ways to work on your problem with nature as your co-therapist. The field of Ecotherapy is a large umbrella for many nature based therapies you may already be familiar with such as Equine therapy, Horticultural Therapy, Wilderness experiences, Nature connection and more.

In my practice, I work with you and your needs, your goals for your time with me, what you feel comfortable with and we, together, may try some ecotherapy practices that we feel will help you towards your growth and healing. We may try practices such as 'sit spot', observing our inner and outter landscapes in a beautiful spot; take a gentle walk using our senses to rediscover our inner experience of smells, textures and the effect they have on the body and our mood; we may create something of meaning or symbolism with the nature we find around us - there are many creative ways ways to connect with nature that offer therapeutic benefit in our sessions.

Throughout, I ensure that our outdoor sessions are safe, contained as much as possible, confidential and therapeutic for you. We discuss all of these factors at our first session as they are important and different to the dynamics of working in an office practice.

If you have a problem you need help with, are suffering from stress, or are curious, or feel this sounds like it may be a good fit for you, then I invite you to contact me and let’s have a conversation about trying some sessions with me and nature outside. You do not need to own hiking boots, like camping or be an outdoorsy type at all; nature is a home and haven for all on this earth, and we work at your pace and comfort levels outside. I also offer indoor Ecotherapy from my indoor office space so there are many options and ways to benefit from the healing ally of nature therapeutically.

Julia Budden

Counsellor & Ecotherapist

Cell: 0793980145 or juliab@cybersmart.co.za

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