Tag Archives: Ecotherapy

The Counseling Connoisseur: Eco-culture: Clinical application of nature-informed therapy

By Cheryl Fisher November 27, 2017

“Each of us inherits the story of our people, communities, nations, and it is remembered through, with and in the context of the land and seas, and air, and creatures.” — Kimberly Ruffin

 

Anna, a small-framed 15-year-old Caucasian female, sat engulfed by the overstuffed chair in my office. She looked down, past the floor, to the day her world collapsed. She was walking home from school when three men jumped her, threw her against the huge old oak tree that lay on the outskirts of her family’s farm and proceeded to rape her. They left her against the tree, with torn clothes, battered and forever changed.

After a time (how long Anna could not recall), she walked home to her beloved lakeside farm that was just a quarter-mile from the assault. She described her home as her “safe place” where she was able to “just be myself,” surrounded by her animals, which included horses, dogs, goats and chickens. After finishing her numerous chores around the farm, she would grab a book and take her kayak to the center of the lake, spending hours immersed in the narratives. This had been her haven … until now.

Anna’s mother met her at the door, and Anna collapsed in her arms. The police were called but were unable to make sense of the traumatized youth’s story and unintentionally violated her with their dismissal. She was left feeling ashamed, alone and unlovable. She began isolating herself from her siblings, her friends and even her animals.

 

Eco-cultural sensitivity

According to Dan McAdams, Ruthellen Josselson and Amia Lieblich in their book Identity and Story: Creating Self in Narrative, identity development is a “process of dialogue between the person and the host culture. The individual appropriates meaning from the culture in the form of important attachments to people, events, valued objects, environments and even orientations to our bodies (i.e., embodied identity).”

The history of humanity is held in the context of the ecosystems in which it takes place. Conflict leaves marks on the earth and with the people and animals who reside in that setting. Although most of us do not rely on cues from the sea or sky to determine our fate or next move, we still rely on the global eco-community to provide food, clean water, medicine and oxygen. Although we are removed, we remain interconnected, and our connection is just as important to our overall well-being as it was centuries ago.

Human development has been described as a biopsychosocialspiritual experience that is a complex interaction of genetics and internal and external environments. Among the external contributors to a person’s growth are family, community and culture (which examines customs, beliefs and values).

However, often excluded from a cultural assessment is the green space and biodiversity experienced by a child. Green space refers to open space, urban spaces such as parks or any natural setting in a person’s regular surroundings. Biodiversity is a term that describes the variety of (and interaction between) life on earth. This information provides a framework to the early interactions among natural settings that inform an individual’s concept of self within a more global context.

As clinicians, we are greatly remiss when we fail to explore a person’s eco-culture. Children learn through early interactions with their environment. According to Stephanie Linden, a special education curriculum specialist at Crofton Elementary School in Maryland, “A child’s first language is not verbal; it is sensory. Children learn to communicate through their senses. Therefore, it is imperative to have an understanding of their routine sensory climate.”

This is especially of interest when considering the variety of environments that may be experienced. A person living in an urban setting may know only of concrete playgrounds with metal benches and pigeons gathering on windowsills. This is different from a person who lives on a farm with goats and horses. Furthermore, consider individuals arriving from other countries who may experience human-animal-plant relationships differently. For example, a child from India (where cows are viewed as sacred) may find a school fieldtrip to a dairy farm to be disturbing. Therefore, assessing for eco-culture demonstrates a level of cultural sensitivity that encompasses a holistic understanding of the person’s worldview.

 

Eco-culture and nature therapy

Ronen Berger, researcher, author and founder of Nature Therapy in Tel Aviv, along with Mooli Lahad, medical psychologist and professor at Tel-Hai College, identified several variables that contribute to overall resiliency. In their BASIC Ph Resiliency Model, Berger and Lahad noted that it is the combination of our Beliefs, Affect, Social Functioning, Imagination, Cognition and Physiology that aid in coping with stressful and traumatic events. However, they found that most clinicians and academics focus on cognitions alone. In addition, the researchers proposed that engaging in nature promotes creativity and aids in physical, emotional, social, cognitive and moral development.

Berger and Lahad concluded, “Nature invites us to make room for the child within, those parts of us that feel, imagine and are present in the experience of playing. Connecting to the cycles of nature can help us bond with parallel processes in our lives and to relate to them in a broad universal context. An encounter with a migrating bird, a dead lizard or a blooming plant can be a stimulus for expressing a similar story within us, of which we were previously ashamed. Sharing the story can normalize it and impart hope. The direct contact with natural elements, the wind, the earth, the plants, can connect us to our body and can awaken the world of images and emotions. Something in the encounter with nature and its powers has the potential to connect us to ourselves; to our strengths and to our coping resources.”

Engaging in the natural eco-culture of the client can provide a deeper, more meaningful healing.

 

Anna’s recovery

Anna’s ability to discuss any aspect of her trauma was enhanced when Max, my therapy dog, joined the sessions. Initially, we would take Max for short walks around the practice neighborhood. On one of those walks, Anna proclaimed her love of kayaking and asked if we might be able to go one day. I had never taken a client kayaking before, and I was unsure of the liability and ethical ramifications. Still, Anna felt strongly that she wanted to go kayaking with me on our nearby creek.

Following consultation with several colleagues, I asked Anna’s mother about the possibility of holding a session on the kayaks. To my surprise, Anna’s mother enthusiastically agreed: “Anna is a very proficient kayaker and a very strong swimmer. I am happy to consent.”

The following week, we met at the area where I keep my kayaks. Anna had brought her own. We put the kayaks in on the sandy shore of the lazy creek and paddled around for a while. Anna had become more animated since we took our sessions outdoors, and she eagerly pressed for us to move out of the calm water to the more challenging adjoining river. I decided that this was indicative of her trust in our relationship — to venture into deeper, more challenging waters.

As we entered the mouth of the river, I remembered the bulkhead that was just around the bend. I had frequently found myself paddling too close and instantly getting sucked into the undertow, which resulted in my kayak being thrust into a head-on collision with a rock barrier. I knew how to release from the undertow, but I was curious how my eager client would view the challenge.

As we paddled into the river, the waters began to churn, splashing in the wake of passing boats. Anna stayed safely in the middle of the river, while I deliberately ventured slightly closer to shore. Sure enough, the current grabbed my kayak and forced me against the rock bed. Anna remained safely beyond the current and was surprised to see me paddling against the waves and rocks. She called out to me, “Stop paddling! Just let the waves take you in … then release.”

I acted as if I had not heard her wisdom and continued to struggle with the current. Finally, Anna yelled, “Stop fighting it, Dr. Cheryl! You have to let it take you in … to release you! You will be fine. Just let go!”

AH! YES! Don’t fight it. Just release it! So, I did …and easily paddled to my very wise (and now frowning) client.

“You knew how to do that all along, didn’t you? You were trying to show me that I need to not fight this thing so much, right?”

She lowered her head and began to cry for the first time. We adjoined our paddles and for the rest of the session sat in silence in the middle of the river.

The weeks that followed were an emotional roller coaster filled with disclosure, tears and healing. At the end of one session, Anna announced, “It is time. It is time to return to the oak tree.” She was ready to return to the place where her violation had occurred. To confront the oak tree that had stood witness. The sessions that followed were characterized by imagery and preparation for Anna’s journey to the location of the assault.

Finally, she was ready. We met at the site of the rape. We got out of the car and slowly walked to the tree — a huge ancient oak whose branches, now bare preparing for the winter rest, stretched out, welcoming Anna. I could never have been prepared for what happened next. Anna ran to the tree, wrapped her arms around its wide girth and began to cry, “Thank you!”

Anna had now slipped to the base of the tree and continued, “Thank you! During everything, you stood with me. You held me up. You never left me!”

Anna’s mother and I just looked at each other in astonishment. Anna was grateful to the oak tree for holding witness to her assault and remaining with her throughout the entire atrocity. Anna’s rape is remembered through, with and in the context of the land and seas, and air, and creatures. She wanted to honor the old oak, so she planted bulbs at its base. In the early spring, Anna returned to find the most beautiful small white flowers peeking up through the late frost … a sign that life can hold beauty even after devastation.

 

Conclusion

Nature provides us with the context of our experiences. It is not separate from, but a container for — a co-journeyer of — our lived experiences. As Berger and Lahad found, “Through the direct contact and connection with nature, people can also touch their own ‘inner’ nature. One can feel authenticity and develop components of personality and important ways of life that might have been hard to express amidst the intensity of modern life.”

As clinicians, we have the ability to facilitate this type of deep healing as we venture into the eco-cultures of our clients and invite them to reconnect with the natural settings of their lives.

 

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Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland. She is affiliate faculty for Loyola and Fordham Universities. Her research interests include examining sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer, nature-informed therapy and geek therapy. Contact her at cyfisherphd@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Nonprofit News: Edible ‘offices’: Adding beauty to your program while helping the hungry

By “Doc Warren” Corson III May 26, 2017

Multitasking is a way of life for many of us, although it would appear that with ever-shrinking budgets, counselors in nonprofit settings have made a true art of it. We can no longer afford to do something that only covers one area. Instead we need to reach deeper to do more with less.

Thankfully, there is a way to mix therapy, education, recreation, nature, beautification, nutrition and holistic health — planting a vegetable garden. The best part? The effort requires little in the way of money for startup and even less in future years.

 

What is needed

  • South-facing areas: windows, pathways, greenways (anyplace that gets direct sunlight daily)
  • Access to water
  • Planting space: garden areas, pots, planters or anything that can hold soil and seeds. Be creative. We once used a windowsill and gallon milk jugs with the tops cut off.
  • Basic tools: Depending on the size and scope of the project, you might need common gardening tools or nothing more than the ability to open a bag of soil. For larger areas, you will want a hoe, garden shovel, watering can or garden hose, and clippers.
  • Seeds
  • Fertilizer
  • Storage area for tools, supplies and vegetables
  • Patience

 

How it’s done

All you need is a basic desire to plant and grow vegetables. If you use non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and nonhybrid seeds, you can collect seeds from the vegetables you grow for use in future planting. This allows for minimal startup and sustainability costs. (Note: GMO seeds can be controversial, and at times you are not allowed to collect and save the seeds because of arcane laws. Hybrid seeds are poor choices for saving because they are made from a blend of plants, and the resulting seeds are unpredictable.) If space allows, you can compost any nonedible or spoiled greens. Reusing this compost limits the need to purchase supplemental fertilizers.

Starting the program can take many paths. It can involve simply recruiting a few interested staff members, or it can involve putting out a call to the community (including those whom your nonprofit serves) to look for volunteers. I recommend having a key point person to supply basic information to interested participants. This includes educating them on how this effort ties into positive mental and physical health. The point person will also provide basic training.

Have folks commit to an activity either on a one-time basis or as an ongoing chore. A feeling of ownership will help develop their sense of belonging to the greater community. It can also help to build self-esteem, responsibility and confidence.

 

What to do with the products

Some nonprofits sell the vegetables they grow as a fundraiser. Others simply share the vegetables with those who participated in the project, and still others share with the volunteers and with the greater community. There is no right answer.

 

Case study

Here at Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm, we elected to go big with our community growing program by making field areas open to volunteers. The idea was that we could educate on nutrition, share what is harvested with volunteers and those in need, and add a small “take what you need, leave what you can” farm stand.

The first few years were marked with both successes and challenges (broccoli remains my greatest foe, as we have yet to have any real success with it). Starting with a few shovels in the dirt and water collected by hand from a nearby brook, we regularly invested in programming as possible. Applying for competitive grants and other income resources led to a $10,000 “Seeds of Change” grant, as well as other grants, which enabled us to expand our offerings greatly.

We invested thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours to build infrastructure such as year-round water access to some fields, seasonal access to others and drip irrigation with timers to help preserve water and reduce labor. We also built two large greenhouses (“seasonal high tunnels” in government nomenclature), complete with lights, power outlets and several ADA-compliant planting beds.

We put periodic calls out for volunteers and tried to have volunteers take on leadership roles whenever possible. By modifying our planting processes, we were able to include those who are normally excluded from such programming, including older adults, those with disabilities and those who have allergies to the sun (lighting allows for nighttime planting, care and harvesting). The greenhouses, though unheated, allow for nine to 10 months of garden programming in our area of New England. In fact, April marked our first opportunity of the year to harvest cold-weather crops. We have had limited harvesting go into December.

All told, we have received very positive feedback from volunteers and the community at large. We have helped provide high-quality organic food to those who otherwise would not have access to it and have helped inspire other programs and individuals to start pocket-garden centers and personal plots. We have also seen the emergence of a real community where once there was only unused land.

 

Results

Results will vary of course, but with a little effort, some time, minimal money and community involvement, you may find that adding beauty to your nonprofit counseling program will not only help the hungry but also fill a need in your program and community.

My advice? Start as small as you need. A few cups on a windowsill in an inner-city office might lead to a rooftop garden or other community garden program.

 

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Here are some links to gardening resources for those who are interested:

  • seedsofchange.com — We have used this company’s seeds and were fortunate to win a competitive grant from them. They appear to be very community minded, and their prices are fair.
  • seedsavers.org — We just discovered this company, and this is our first year using their seeds. We were very impressed with their commitment to seed saving and promoting education on seed saving and gardening practices. You would think that educating about and promoting seed saving would be contrary to a company that sells seeds, and it is, but their greater mission is to help folks be self-sufficient and to also promote education, gardening etc.
  • johnnyseeds.com — I haven’t ordered from this company myself because I already had sources, but many of our garden friends swear by them and the quality of their seeds.
  • reimerseeds.com — I have read some negative reviews online, but in the three or so years that we have ordered tomato seeds from this company, we have had nothing but good experiences. They came highly recommended by a local commercial gardener.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it an endorsement. There are many other great seed companies out there. It is important to explore seeds and companies to see what works best for you in terms of customer service and results in your particular environment and soil type.

 

 

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Dr. Warren Corson III

“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at docwarren@docwarren.org. Additional resources related to nonprofit design, documentation and related information can be found at docwarren.org/supervisionservices/resourcesforclinicians.html.

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Preparing for the mental health impact of climate change

By Debbie C. Sturm and Lennis G. Echterling May 10, 2017

Around the globe, coastlines are encroaching on communities, summer days are sweltering and reports of weather catastrophes often dominate the news media. These examples represent only a few of the monumental and pervasive environmental effects of our changing planet.

Climate change may be the most crucial issue confronting the inhabitants of our world today. The dramatic consequences that scientists have been predicting, such as rising sea levels, record-setting high temperatures and an increase in devastating natural disasters, are no longer theoretical. Although some still argue the point, climate change is now a grim reality, not a vague possibility in the distant future.

As devastating as these consequences are on our physical world, climate change also poses enormous threats to our psychological well-being. In a report released in 2012 by the National Wildlife Federation’s climate education program, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers predicted a sharp rise in mental health issues resulting from events related to climate change in the coming years. These issues include depression and anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, suicide and outbreaks of violence. The elderly, the poor, children and members of the military (and their families) were identified as being among those who will be most psychologically vulnerable.

We believe the counseling profession, which has its conceptual roots in the promotion of human growth and development, must play a more active role in addressing the mental health impact of climate change. For many decades, counselors have worked closely with countless individuals to help them achieve fulfilling careers, realize self-actualization, strengthen personal resilience and seek social justice. Recently, counselors have gained greater acceptance as valuable members of crisis and disaster response teams.

Our extensive training and experience in enhancing well-being enable us to serve as effective catalysts for positive change. Now more than ever, counselors are in a position to shape messaging and lead the way in effective prevention and intervention related to the psychological implications of climate change. This includes promoting climate resilience, strengthening disaster response programs and advocating for vulnerable populations.

Climate resilience and climate refugees

In January 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a $48 million grant to move an entire indigenous community from Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, before the land disappears into the Gulf of Mexico. This marks the first allocation of federal dollars to permanently move an entire community impacted by climate change. These displaced people are now known as climate refugees. The main purpose of the grant is to work closely with the inhabitants of this community through a process that will honor their choices. By empowering the people and giving voice to their preferences, choice builds resilience.

Although this tribe is the first to be formally identified as climate refugees within the United States, climate refugee status is not a new phenomenon. The crisis in Syria, for example, has become so complex and tragic that it often eclipses the fact that a climate-related drought was the catalyst for mass migration to the cities, instigating intense cultural and economic conflicts.

Climate change threatens to become a tipping point in more and more areas of the world. Between 50 million and 200 million people could be displaced by 2050, according to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security. Populations that are economically and culturally vulnerable, such as those whose livelihoods depend on farming and fishing, will feel the impact most especially.

Climate resilience is the notion that we should not wait until there is no choice and people are traumatically displaced by the effects of climate change. Instead, we can help create resilience plans so that those who are impacted have both choice and voice in the matter. The International Red Cross has embraced the notion of climate resilience as a necessary element of preparation for what is to come, and as an opportunity to anticipate the physical, psychological and cultural needs ahead. Climate resilience, which is an integral component of disaster response within the International Red Cross, places significant emphasis on trauma and mental health response.

Place attachment

Consider again the people of Isle de Jean Charles. Although efforts are in place to help with the transition, residents still feel a deep attachment to their home. This isle holds their cultural and spiritual history. Their identity is deeply rooted to the story of this place.

Just as we are connected to our early attachment figures, we also share a deep and abiding attachment to our early places, both individually and culturally. In a 2016 article in The New York Times, Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, the ancestral residents of Isle de Jean Charles, observed sadly, “We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture.”

Place attachment is the powerful bond that links a person to a place. It develops throughout one’s lifetime and even evolves over centuries throughout the history of a culture. This sense of connection to a specific place provides a profound source of meaning, belonging and sustenance. Simply put, this place is one’s home. Place attachment and sense of place are often interchangeable. Place identity considers attachment in terms of emotional or symbolic meanings, as internalized and integrated into a person’s identity.

Much like other aspects of attachment that we explore with clients struggling with any number of issues, place attachment is seated in a deep part of ourselves that connects to ancestry, early recollections, sensory experiences and story. It relates to the larger question of Who am I? — a question that can be partly answered through place identity.

In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently engaged in a battle of culture and human rights against the Dakota Access pipeline, the construction of which threatens tribal land and clean water. Many have called Standing Rock a new civil rights moment encompassing a convergence of environmental rights, human rights and cultural rights. Tribal representatives from all over North America joined the Standing Rock Sioux in an empathic and familiar stand to protect culture and identity.

Journalist Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Guardian, spent time in Standing Rock to cover the movement. She gave eloquent voice to the tribe’s heartfelt commitment and place attachment: “Victors like to forget how they got their spoils, but the despoiled have long memories.” With a growing sense of awe, Solnit observed how the tribe relied on peace and prayer, valued humility and revered their ancestors.

Place matters as an integral piece of cultural, historical, existential and personal identity. The stories of people and their places, whether in Louisiana or the Dakotas, are as important as any other attachment issues or identity concerns that we consider when we counsel our clients.

Environmental justice as social justice

Issues that impact the planet also directly impact the people who live on the planet. At times, it seems as though conversations around environmental justice and social justice are happening with equal intensity and depth of passion but are taking place in two separate silos.

As the climate changes, families, communities and lives are affected. And as is true with so many other aspects of change, our most vulnerable neighbors — individuals with low incomes, communities of color, immigrants, indigenous peoples, children, pregnant women, older adults, people with disabilities and people with chronic medical conditions — are most subject to the impact. Understanding the issue and engaging in advocacy on behalf of the climate is also advocating on behalf of the people whose lives depend on a healthy planet. The global climate is interconnected — environmentally, psychologically, socially, culturally
and spiritually.

In 2010, the Council on Social Work Education declared sustainability and climate issues to be the social justice issues of the new century. In 2011, the American Psychological Association released a report highlighting the broad contributions that psychology could make, with continued research and advocacy, to understanding the power of the human-environment relationship. It included a call to action for scholars to bridge the gap between the science of environmental issues and the study and practice of psychology.

Our moral obligation

In a 2016 article on the ecoAffect website, psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren posed a challenge to those in the helping professions. She noted that we work with people who are faced with fears, traumas, unexpected changes and crises. We help our clients navigate this difficult terrain even as we view larger societal issues through a social justice and advocacy lens. She wonders, then, if we can ethically turn a blind eye to the approaching crises that our changing planet will bring. Do we have a duty to warn, to protect, or, at a minimum, to acknowledge that the changing climate is a significant variable in mental health?

The American Counseling Association has a long-established relationship with the American Red Cross as a model for and partner in disaster response. In 2002, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies established the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. This organization supports national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in their work to reduce loss of life and damage to livelihoods from climate change and extreme weather events. Goals include implementing information and education activities about climate change and extreme weather events; supporting the development of climate-adaptation activities and disaster-risk-reduction programs; and bringing concerns about the impacts of climate change on vulnerable people to the broader public. Considering the global movement toward acknowledging climate change in disaster response and preparedness, we believe it is vitally important for ACA to expand its vision for the future of disaster response.

As professionals who believe that all individuals deserve basic human and civil rights, we need to challenge ourselves to see the climate crisis as an imminent threat. Counselors are positioned to bring a trauma-informed and resilience-based perspective to the front lines of crisis and disaster response. We must recognize that environmental injustices and environmental racism — such as what we have witnessed in Flint, Michigan; with Hurricane Katrina; with the 2016 Louisiana floods; and with the standoff in Standing Rock — are enormous social justice issues.

Given our knowledge and skills as counselors, we have both the responsibility and the potential to contribute to environmental advocacy, disaster response and preparedness for building resilient communities. It is our basic duty to promote and deepen human beings’ most fundamental attachment to our natural world.

 

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Debbie C. Sturm is an associate professor at James Madison University in Virginia and a licensed professional counselor with more than 10 years’ experience in counseling survivors of trauma and community violence. She engages in research related to nature connectedness and mental health, sense of place, the psychology of sustainability and environmental justice as social justice. Contact her at sturmdc@jmu.edu.

Lennis G. Echterling is a professor at James Madison University with more than 30 years’ experience in crisis and disaster response, supporting first responders, and international stabilization and recovery in war-torn regions. As a doting grandfather to two young boys, he believes it is important that we give greater consideration to the health of our planet and our children.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org

Counseling Today reviews unsolicited articles written by American Counseling Association members. To access writing guidelines and tips for having your article accepted for publication, go to ct.counseling.org/feedback.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Ask your doctor if nature is right for you

By Bethany Bray January 3, 2017

Happy-looking people take a walk in the woods as small-print disclosures scroll across the bottom of the TV screen and a soothing voiceover explains possible side effects. As the scene closes, one of the actors looks squarely into the camera and says, “Ask your doctor if nature is right for you.”

The tongue-in-cheek NatureRx video campaign has the look and feel of the prescription drug commercials that inundate television in the U.S. The difference, however, is that they are “selling” something that is widely available and has proved to benefit mental health and overall well-being — without prescription drugs.

NatureRx is the brainchild of Justin Bogardus, a filmmaker and licensed professional counselor candidate in Boulder, Colorado. Everything seems to have a marketing campaign in this modern age, he says, so why not nature?

Rather than relying on a heavy-handed “you should” directive, the films use humor and a witty message to emphasize the benefits of getting outside, Bogardus explains.

“As a trained counselor myself [but primarily a filmmaker now],” he says, “I really wanted to create a message like NatureRx because I resonated with it so much personally. … I think people really resonate with the message and the humor because it’s fun, funny and inspiring to remember the little things that were always there, but sometimes we forgot about them, like nature and getting outdoors.”

NatureRx “commercials” have been screened at film festivals and shared widely online since the

Justin Bogardus, NatureRx filmmaker (Courtesy photo)

first video was released in the summer of 2015.

Bogardus has a film degree from Vassar College and has worked as an editor, writer and producer for several documentaries on wrongful conviction/incarceration. In 2013, he completed a master’s degree in Buddhist psychology and contemplative psychotherapy from Naropa University in Boulder. Although he primarily devotes his time to independent filmmaking and speaking engagements, he does occasionally see clients, lead group therapy and teach Buddhist psychology at Naropa.

 

 

Is NatureRx right for you? CT Online contacted Bogardus to learn more about the campaign and its connection to counseling and mental health.

 

The holiday season can be especially tough for people with anxiety and other mental health issues. At the same time, the weather is getting colder and the days are shorter and darker. Do you have suggestions on how to find “NatureRx” throughout the winter?

Research shows [that] as little as 10 minutes outdoors can reset the nervous system, especially if you can be mindful and present with nature for those 10 minutes. … Taking a walk and tasting the cold brisk air makes a big difference even in small doses.

I get asked about winter a lot in regards to NatureRx, and I love that question. I love winter. The outdoors seems particularly tranquil and quiet to me in the winter. There are no studies about this, but I actually think the positive impact of nature on our minds happens faster in winter. Something about a little temperature change and a change of scenery from the indoors in winter really resets my mind and body pretty quickly. Yes, it can be a little harder to motivate putting on jackets and boots when it’s cold and the sun sets so much earlier, but the colder air is more refreshing, I think. I also like to remember that our bodies were built for the outdoors, including the cold weather.

I also love this thing from Denmark called hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). Everyone knows how cold and dark winters in Denmark are, and the Danes have come up with a great word and lifestyle to make the most of it. It’s basically the idea of cultivating coziness, slowing down and taking in simple pleasures. It’s like NatureRx for the indoors.

I like that with the idea of hygge, you bring an overall sense of coziness to the winter and holiday season, which you bring with you both outdoors and inside. A 10-minute walk in the cold air, all bundled up in all the scarves, mittens, hats, puffy coats — whatever makes being outside a slowing down and cozy experience too. How great is a warm fire and hot cup of tea after a short dose of outdoors? How cozy and relaxing is that? So yes, back and forth with outdoors and the family, back and forth with getting warm and then getting refreshed outside with an overall sense of hygge. That’s a perfect recipe for the holiday season I think.

During holiday get-togethers, people and families can go stir crazy if no one is getting outside. Togetherness is great, but too much togetherness in an enclosed space is well … cue the commercial … “are you feeling tired, irritable [and] stressed out?” Who isn’t feeling tired, irritable and stressed out at some point during the holiday season? That’s the cue for a dose of nature, even a microdose. It really works and so does hygge.

NatureRx has been a lifesaver for me during the holidays. Now it’s fun because as I get outdoors for short breaks during each holiday season, the rest of my family has started doing it too. … Maybe they saw how happy and relaxed I was after a little time outside.

 

What do you want professional counselors to know about nature’s connection to wellness and mental health?

I like to remind even the most self-described “I would rather do anything besides camping” indoor people that it’s all about discovering the dose of nature that works for you. [Moving] more plants inside or gardening, or having a great view of the outdoors from a window, whatever brings nature into your life in a way you like, I think, can support our well-being [and] slowing down, which is incredibly helpful, especially in [the] busy, screen-time, information-overload, never-stop-world so many of us are meeting these days.

I once met this great group counselor in New York City — a real expert and guru of counseling. I was telling him how I like to get outside and to meditate. He told me, “Getting outside and meditation are like rocket fuel for healing in therapy.” I think that’s the best way to put it. NatureRx helps on its own and in conjunction with all the others things we need for rich, healthy lives.

Yes, there’s a new big study from big-name institutions almost every week it seems about the positive impacts of the outdoors and nature on all kinds of well-being metrics, especially mental health for all kinds of symptoms and challenges [and] for healthy development of kids. But really I think NatureRx got millions of views and has made such a splash because on a deep intuitive level, we already know this. The healing impact of nature is a story as old as humanity itself.

Being outside in nature supports our well-being. Of course it’s not a panacea. It’s not a cure-all. But who knows? For some people it might be. I think it’s like good rest. It’s something we all know on some level is needed and super helpful for whatever life throws at us. And like good rest, you don’t want to overdo it or go outside with too much of an agenda, expecting nature to fix everything. Nature doesn’t work that way, but if you can hang back a little in nature, let its beneficial impact come to you more and more … it works! I could go on and on. The magic always happens eventually.

Since the dawn of human civilization, we [have] lived increasingly in busier spaces. Every culture and every civilization from every time period has countless stories about the need for nature — a respite and restorative space to not only heal, but find your truer and deeper voice in. NatureRx is that same story, updated for our times. I think nature is a timeless space, a great place to discover your authenticity and who we really are — outside the din and distraction of culture and civilization.

 

Do you have suggestions for how counselors can bring nature into their work with clients?

Well, first have clients watch the NatureRx commercial. Self-promotion? Maybe, but really it’s true. First-time viewers love the humor and then love sharing the videos with other folks — it just resonates with so many people. That was certainly part of the goal with NatureRx and the humor behind it. I didn’t want to prescribe nature and getting outside as a “should.” I wanted to playfully invite people to look at getting outside and nature from a fresh perspective, and of course spoofing a prescription commercial was the way to do that.

So for counselors of all kinds, I say … find ways to invite people into thinking about nature and getting outdoors as a fun, healing space rather than imposing the idea on them in subtle or not so subtle ways. I think [it’s] always good to start with some curiosity, asking people questions about nature, [such as] plants or places they may like. It seems almost everyone has some memory or some animal or plant or some outdoor smell or nature activity they already remember or enjoy. I think that’s a great starting point. Later on, it can also be good to offer some of the evidence-based information about getting outdoors, which some people like to know because it can increase their time outdoors and their perceived benefit from nature. But some folks don’t even need that didactic information.

I’m amazed how many folks already have some NatureRx practice in their life without even realizing they’re intuitively getting benefit from nature — even smokers I meet. Many smokers talk about enjoying the break outdoors as part of their smoking habit. It’s interesting how many, when they quit, still like to get outside, but this time just for a short walk or to sip a cup of tea or something. What they didn’t think about was how smoking was a tool to take a break outside, even in the cold. Without the cigarette, they still get to benefit from getting outside with a lot more enjoyment.

I met a woman I’ll never forget who liked to check the weather for the sunset time. She rarely ever watched the sunset. She just found herself always checking in on what time the sun would set. She didn’t care too much for camping or the outdoors; she would never describe herself as a nature person. I worked with her some, and we talked about what she liked about the sunset and knowing the rhythms of the sunrise and sunset from season to season. Before long, she told me she had started to actually take the time, even if it was just five minutes toward the end of the workday, to not only check the sunset time, but take some time outside to really enjoy watching the sunset. Simple. Relaxing. Restorative. I’m pretty sure she still does that today and loves it.

 

Who is your target audience for the NatureRx campaign?

When first creating the NatureRx commercials and the NatureRx movement online, I intended to target millennials with the humor and the particular disconnection millennials might feel around nature. It’s the first generation that may not have been exposed to the outdoors readily as kids and, consequently, that millennial generation — which I’m a part of, but on the older side — may feel that lack of nature more acutely.

I grew up in the city myself. I was lucky to have a father who took the time to take us to national parks and [go] hiking. That’s probably how I first fell in love with nature. But I had a lot of city friends who didn’t get those experiences growing up, and I always imagined those lifelong friends and what might appeal to them when crafting this message and writing NatureRx content. The millennial generation is so used to getting tons of information on their laptops and phones all the time, so certainly it was an important goal of mine in creating NatureRx to craft a fun-filled message that could connect with them in short form and on social media in a way that they could really enjoy and consider.

It’s food for thought for any age — even kids love our G rated versions of the commercials. It’s something we can all relate to.

 

Do you think medical and mental health professionals sometimes overlook nature and its therapeutic benefits?

Yes and no. I think the medical and mental health professions as a whole have some real ambivalence about nature and the outdoors. [But] I think a lot of that’s changing now as we see the alternative — being inside, disconnected and sequestered, and how that is having terrible health and well-being impacts on our bodies and minds. I think there’s a big shift in medical and mental health professionals around embracing the benefits of nature and getting outdoors because of this.

I think all this research coming out about the benefits of getting outdoors reveals this movement and paradigm shift. For the last few decades in medicine, culture and in parenting, the view was [that] getting outside and in nature is how you get sick or hurt. I think lots of folks are seeing now how wrong that view is.

 

In a nutshell, what inspired you to start the NatureRx campaign?

Nutshell? I love nutshells. That was a big inspiration. That and climate change. I wondered, how could I speak about the human relationship to nature in a way that connected with people personally, whether they believe in human-caused climate change or not? I don’t say anything about climate change in the commercials, but I think it’s in there nonetheless.

I was inspired by how nature is something I need in my personal life. It’s helped me in countless ways, and nature is something we all need as a valuable space for all earthly inhabitants. I hoped the message and humor would convey that — both the personal and universal value of nature. It was a way of giving back for me.

 

What do you want professional counselors to know about why your campaign is needed?

As a trained counselor myself, I like this phrase: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt.” For professional counselors, I think NatureRx is needed because there are many paths to healing and recovery for clients. I think it’s also true to make sure some of those paths are made of dirt. A dirt path in the woods is the real-life metaphor we can experience at anytime. It’s a great ready-at-hand place where we can see that natural healing isn’t like a manicured superhighway to health. There are twists and turns.

Getting outside reminds me of my most human qualities. It reminds me that I have a body that likes to be in nature, to look at nature and be healthy. It reminds me to take time to just be. I think that’s the energizing trail mix we all need on whatever path we’re taking in life. That’s the need I hope NatureRx fills. It’s an empowering message about how you can take back your life at any point by simply stepping outdoors. I think healing and counseling works well when people feel empowered with real solutions, and getting outdoors is most certainly one of those solutions.

 

 

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Find out more about NatureRx and watch Bogardus’ TED Talk at Nature-Rx.org

The NatureRx “commercials” are available there as well as on the YouTube channel: bit.ly/2h1MCZp

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook at facebook.com/CounselingToday.

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

The Counseling Connoisseur: Nature-informed counseling for children

By Cheryl Fisher October 13, 2016

“Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy” — from The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

 

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I recently returned from a wonderful week in Nova Scotia featuring painted clapboard cottages against blue skies and a seascape of majestic hills and swirling tides. With a history rich in forts, fur trades and complex propriety, Nova Scotia also affords miles of pristine trails for the avid (and not so avid) hiker.

On one such hike, I ventured up Cape Split, which offered a spectacular view of the Bay of Fundy following a two-hour uphill jaunt. The inland path was lush with evergreen and paved in centuries-old rocks. Snarled roots from ancient maples protruded from the narrow trail, and patches of mud provided slippery terrain. At times the trail seemed endless and unforgiving. However, just at that moment when body and morale were failing, the forest opened to a grassy knoll that blanketed the age-old rock formation overlooking the (now) returning six-foot tides of the Bay of Fundy.

Damp with perspiration from navigating the trail, we sat down and unloaded our backpacks, laying out a feast before us of lobster rolls and blueberry lemonade. The cool breeze from the bay mingled with the warmth from the sun. In that moment, I was sure there was nothing sweeter than communion with nature and the physical and emotional exertion and spiritual nourishment it afforded.

 

Camps and communion

For many children (and their excited parents), the end of summer signifies a return to school, studies and schedules. It is a time when we bid farewell to the lackadaisical whimsy of carefree days. Summer memories of camps, cookouts and canoes fade, making way for the cooler activities of autumn. However, for many children, summer camp did not include nature hikes, bonfires or kayaking; it involved indoor activities centered around a theme such as weight management, music acquisition or computer skills.

photo-1447875372440-4037e6fae95dResearch suggests that connecting to nature can result in reduced stress, increased energy, improved sleep, reduction of chronic pain, and accelerated healing from injuries and surgery. In particular, Peter Kahn and Stephen Kellert have argued that “a child’s experience of nature exerts a crucial and irreplaceable effect on physical, cognitive and emotional development.”

Yet modern living has insulated us from the positive ionic exchange between grass, trees, river and sky, resulting in a physical, psychological and often spiritual connection from the Earth and her creatures. According to researcher and therapist Martin Jordan in his book Nature and Therapy: Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy in Outdoor Spaces, this detachment is associated with a variety of dis-ease, including epidemic rates of obesity and depression.

Richard Louv, author and founder of the Children & Nature Network, coined the term “nature deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods to refer to a generation of children who no longer spend time outdoors hiking, camping and otherwise interacting with the natural world. Direct contact with nature appears to benefit children physically, emotionally and spiritually.

 

Physical

Interacting with natural elements provides a varied and complex terrain and physical stimulation for children. Negotiating inclining hills or slippery declines, catching and releasing tadpoles or crickets, and chasing butterflies, for example, create opportunities for skill-building in a variety of areas, including large and fine motor skills, balance and hand-eye coordination. Most people can remember the challenge of a new skill … and the thrill of successful mastery.

 

Emotional and cognitive

According to Kahn and Kellert, a child’s experience of nature “encompasses a wide variety of emotions” and an “unfailing source of stimulation.” I remember the awe and wonder I experienced when my childhood naturalist neighbors taught me how to look for the tiny green caterpillars grazing on the cabbage leaves in the garden; then observing their transformation as they ate their way to chrysalises; and the unbearable waiting and waiting until these dormant creatures emerged into beautiful white butterflies.

More recently, I ventured into raising the threatened monarch butterfly. Still with the curiosity of a child, I planted my milkweed, purchased my microscopic caterpillars and watched in amazement as larvae transformed into J’s hanging from the top of my butterfly shelter. Sadly, a virus attacked my precious guests and killed each before they could take their first flight. I experienced genuine grief over this loss.

 

Moral

Nature provides endless teaching opportunities around issues of moral conscience. Kellert identified nine values of the natural world:

  • Aesthetic: Physically appealing
  • Dominionistic: Mastery or control over nature
  • Humanistic: Emotional bonding with nature
  • Moralistic: Ethical or spiritual connection to nature
  • Naturalistic: Exploration of nature
  • Negativistic: Fear and aversion of nature
  • Scientific: Knowledge and understanding of nature
  • Symbolic: Nature as a source of language and imagination
  • Utilitarian: Nature as a source of material and physical reward These values tend to emerge in a developmental manner, generally shifting from more self-centered, egotistical values to more social and other-centered values.

 

Nature-informed counseling

Nature-informed counseling refers to a vast array of scientifically based psychological therapies that use nature in clinical practice. Among the foundational assumptions of nature-informed counseling are that we are not machines; we are human beings who are sensual, curious and creative. We are interdependent with the full ecosystem in which we reside.

Furthermore, ecotherapy is an organic model of care that tends to the whole relationship between humans and the other-than-human. Here are several ways to incorporate nature-informed methods into your counseling practice:

1) Animal-assisted therapy: I am fortunate to be able to bring my goldendoodles to my office to be co-therapists. However, in addition to dogs, there are other smaller pets that may work more easily in your practice. For example, I had a betta fish (who was named Olive by a client) that I used with clients. Or place a bird feeder outside your window (if you are fortunate enough to have a window).

2) Horticulture therapy: There are numerous ways to integrate plants in a therapeutic manner. Have clients plant seeds and tend to their care. Or keep small pots of herbs in your office, providing an opportunity to explore aromatherapy. It is a wonderful release to pinch off a bit of rosemary, mint or thyme and inhale the calming, soothing or energizing fragrance.

3) Wilderness therapy: I have used “kayak therapy” with trauma survivors with great success. However, you may not work in a community with easy water access or even know how to kayak. Therefore, your wilderness approach might be more in line with taking clients on a walk on a trail or observing wildlife with them in a nearby lake or pond.

You can also co-create homework around nature walks. For example, I was working with a couple who seemed stuck, so I asked them to go for a walk together (without talking) and collect items along the way that reminded them of their marriage. When they returned to my office, they emptied their treasures, which included a rock (“that used to be how I saw our marriage”), a feather (“we are drifting away”) and a few twigs (“we have roots still”). After a discussion centered around the items gathered, I had the couple finish the session by using the items to create a sculpture that reflected the relationship they wanted to craft.

4) Other ideas:

  • Assess your clients’ relationship with nature. Where is their “happy place”? How often does they get to visit it? Where are their favorite memories housed?
  • Invite a family with which you are working to spend the night in a tent in the backyard and reflect on this experience in session.
  • Teach cloud spotting. Teaching clients mindfulness takes on a fun twist as you lie on your back and gaze at the ever-changing cloud formations.
  • Use transitional objects. I keep a box in my office filled with seashells, sea glass and rocks lovingly collected by my own mother when she walks the beach. I use these as transitional objects when clients might benefit from imprinting an image or experience to an object that they can carry in their pockets or purses throughout the day.

 

Ethical consideration

As with all forms of practice, ethical standards must be followed to avoid harm and litigation. So what are the ethical considerations when utilizing the wisdom of nature in psychotherapy? This depends on the extent and type of nature-informed therapy you are using. For example, the ethical guidelines for hiking a trail with a client may look a bit different than the guidelines forphoto-1469440317162-d9798b137445 planting a sunflower seed and tending to it as metaphor for self-care and growth. However, in general the following issues must be addressed.

1) Do all parties feel physically and emotionally safe? Although you may thrive sitting in a field of poppies, your client may possess strong allergies to flower pollen that render therapy outdoors a physically uncomfortable experience. In addition to allergies, the client may exhibit phobias around the outdoors that need to be understood and appeased. Temperature and air quality may also be variables to consider.

2) Framing the relationship. For some therapists and clients, an office space with a designated chair arrangement signifies a professional relationship and the tasks that will ensue. A client may feel uncomfortable with the more lax and familiar atmosphere of sitting cross-legged on a hollow log while disclosing current therapeutic issues. Trading leather chair for log stump may alter the relationship in ways that prove unsettling for either the client or the therapist.

3) Is it confidentiality compliant? I have clients who love taking a walk during therapy. Some lament that it is the only time they have for physical activity. However, if we are walking in a heavily populated area, their confidentiality may be at risk. At the same time, an area that is too isolated may not be prudent should an emergency situation arise.

4) Get appropriate training. If you do not know how to kayak, taking clients on a wilderness kayak expedition probably isn’t wise. Always get training before using any modality in therapy.

5) Informed consent. It is always prudent to have clients sign an informed consent form that stipulates the possible risks and benefits of any therapy used in session. Therefore, a specific consent form that addresses the specific type of nature-informed therapy — including possible benefits and risks — needs to be explained and signed prior to taking that walk in the woods or a stroll in the garden during session.

 

Conclusion

Nature provides endless opportunities for metaphors, messages and meaning construction. Incorporating nature-informed approaches into our practices is not only creative but also clinically sound. It is as easy as taking the time to reflect on the sights, sounds, and smells just outside the door.

 

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For more information:

  • Ecotherapy: Healing With Nature in Mind by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist (2009)
  • Nature and Therapy: Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy in Outdoor Spaces by Martin Jordan (2014)
  • Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations by Peter H. Kahn and Stephen R. Kellert (2002)
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv (2008)

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Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is currently working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically-Based Organic Practices, of which this article is an excerpt. Contact her at cy.fisher@verizon.net.

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.
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