Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Choosing the 'Right' Space to Work In: Reflections Prior to a Nature Therapy Session

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Choosing the 'Right' Space to Work In: Reflections Prior to a Nature Therapy Session

Article excerpt


This paper explores ways in which a nature therapist considers the issue of space when choosing "the right setting" for a session with a new client. Drawing upon the therapist's thoughts prior to the encounter, the paper illustrates ways in which nature's influence is incorporated into the choice, using this reflection to highlight new concepts. The article begins with a review of relevant theory, to place the issue within the larger context, continues with a reflexive description, and concludes with questions and themes that emerge from the case.


Placing things in context: A theoretical overview

The issue of space

Traditionally, psychotherapeutic discourse makes it appear as if the therapeutic process takes place in a vacuum; there is scarcely a reference to the environment in which the process occurs (Barkan, 2002; Pendzik, 1994). Over the last few decades, with the emergence of environmental psychology and other post-modern disciplines, an increasing number of writers have become aware of different influences that the environment has upon counsellor--client transactions (Lecomte, Berstin & Dumont, 1981; Pendzik, 1994). There is growing evidence that the aesthetics of the surroundings affect a person's display of emotions (Maslow & Mintz, 1956), as well as an individual's social behaviour (Barker, 1976; Orzek, 1987; Pendzik, 1994). However, much of this evidence relates to indoor settings in urban environments, built and shaped by humans. As such, the classic (indoor) therapeutic environment is usually controlled by the therapist, who has organized and furnished it for the purpose of seeing clients and conducting therapy (Barkan, 2002). This status, in which the therapist owns or controls and constructs the location in which the work takes place, creates some basic assumptions that influence important elements such as the therapeutic setting, the therapeutic alliance, and the issues of hierarchy, authority, and contract.

Nature is quite a different environment. It is a live and dynamic space (entity) that is not under the control or ownership of either the therapist or the client. It is an open and independent space, one that has been there before their arrival and will remain there long after they have departed (Berger, 2003). Many authors have written about the therapeutic aspects of nature and of contact with nature (Burns, 1998; Davis, 1998, 2004; Naor, 1999; Totton, 2003; Ulrich, 1983; Ulrich, Dimberg, & Driver 1991). However, few have tried to reconstruct their knowledge to create a therapeutic framework using the relationship with this natural space as the key reference point for therapy.

Nature therapy: An innovative therapeutic approach

Nature therapy is an innovative experiential therapeutic approach that takes place in nature. It broadens the classical concept of "setting" as static, permanent, and under the control and ownership of the therapist (Barkan, 2002; Bleger,1967), relating to the dynamic natural environment as a partner in shaping the setting and process (Berger & McLoed, 2006). It develops a framework: theory, concepts, and methods that assist its operation in this live and open environment while using its healing elements (Berger & McLoed, 2006) to support therapeutic processes and open them to additional dimensions. Nature therapy is a post-modern approach, based on the integration of elements from art and drama therapy, Gestalt, the narrative approach, eco-psychology, transpersonal psychology, adventure therapy, Shamanism, and body-mind practices. The approach also includes an educational aspect, using the process with nature as a way to bridge between people and nature and foster love and care for the environment. The conceptualisation, analysis, and development of the approach emerged from the process of my doctoral research. Today, nature therapy is implemented with diverse populations in individual, group, and family settings in the private, educational, and health sectors in Israel. …

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