Working in the outdoors
When working in the outdoors we are invited to re-adjust to the ultimate context within which we all live, that is, the natural world. We are all part of nature and every breath we take is a reminder of this profound connection. If I don’t spend regular time in the outdoors I know something is missing. I don’t feel myself. I’m out of balance.
In outdoor therapy and supervision I support you in focusing on your relationship with the natural world as well as with yourself – through your breathing, movement, or bodily gestures or through what you might be drawn to whilst in the outdoors. So, we explore how the natural world can be a source of support to you in either your therapy or your work as a counsellor, psychotherapist or supervisor.
As John Muir said:
till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”
So, by going into the outdoors I am inviting you to go in, to go in to yourself, however that may be.
When working outdoors I work in a location that suits both those on public transport and those who drive. We can stay in local woodland or head out on to the rugged open spaces of the moors.
I work with clients for an hour, or for longer by negotiation. The therapy can take the form of walking and talking or we might slow right down and focus on your emotional and bodily response to the issues you bring to therapy and how the environment we are in can add to your process. Flexibility is the order of the day here depending upon client preference and weather conditions.
All the traditional boundaries for effective and safe psychotherapy and supervision still apply, including a mutually agreed focus for our work and agreements regarding confidentiality. We may occasionally meet other people when working outside and we will agree on how to deal with this scenario.
You don’t need to be physically fit to work outdoors as the focus is on your relationship with the earth as you work on those issues that bring you to therapy or supervision – it is not about fitness, but it is about slowing down enough to be in relationship with both yourself and the earth around and beneath you and seeing how this deeper connection facilitates personal and interpersonal change or, in terms of supervision, how the natural world helps sustain you in your work.
― Rainer Maria Rilke
My interest in the outdoors
Since being a child I always felt at home in nature. It felt a safer place to be in many ways than in my home so I spent many hours in the outdoors. As I was brought up on a farm I was surrounded by green fields and meadows, lakes, streams, hedge rows, farm animals, birds, insects. I had access to so much space and hours in which to roam these spaces.
However, as I grew up my connection with nature faded. I moved to mainland UK and lived in Greater Manchester for many years with its limited natural spaces. For a long time nature just wasn’t on my radar. I worked as a counsellor for many years and spent most of my time indoors moving between office, car, train and home.
However, I slowly began to feel the loss of that connection with nature again and I started to spend more time in the outdoor world. This was made easier in more recent years as I lived in Saddleworth and then Marsden in West Yorkshire, both on the open moors. If felt like home and I slowly deepened this connection, spending lots of slow time in nature and becoming more aware of how I am simply part of the natural world, part of the natural cycle of birth, growth, death, decay and re-birth. This revitalised connection with nature has played a significant part in my healing journey over the past number of years with the result that I realised I needed to offer this same option to clients and supervisees, many of whom also feel that deep connection with nature.
I now also run a range of mainly weekend workshops and closed groups focusing on both our connection with the natural world and mortality. More details of these events can be found on the workshops page of this website.
On death and dying
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms…” (Oliver, 1992: 10-11)
In our society if we acknowledge death at all we typically see it as the enemy. We try to keep it at arm’s length and refuse to acknowledge that it will happen to us all. Of course, one of the consequences is that those who do think about death are stuck with those thoughts because they don’t feel able to speak to others about them. Or if they do pluck up the courage to speak about it others just close down or quickly change the conversation. It’s a no go area.
In my work as a psychotherapist I find a lot of people want to talk about death. For some it is a thought that they have from time to time; for others it is an incessant torrent of thoughts that never leaves them. Most people fear death; many are unable to contemplate this world without them being part of it; many fear the process of dying, worrying about whether it will be a sudden end without time to say goodbye to their loved ones whilst others worry about a long, drawn out and painful end to their life; still others worry about what happens after we die – is there some on-going existence or is it the end?
My experience is that many have a real need to talk about death because it's the one thing in life that we are sure of. We will all die. And when we do talk about death we find a way to come to terms with it; the anxiety eases.
Life and death are also an intrinsic part of the evolutionary cycle that has perpetuated life over the aeons. This is why, when working with clients on death, I prefer to work in the outdoors. In nature, life and death are ever-present. Nothing stays static. We have the wonderful vibrancy of spring followed by the warmth and growth of summer and nature bearing fruit in autumn before the fallow period of winter when things die off. Our human lives follow the same cycle so nature can be our teacher in managing the ever-changing nature of life, and ultimately, death.