This month sees new growth in my practice, but not quite how I imagined it following the partial lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on 4th July
At the time of writing, social distance is reduced to 1 metre where 2 metres is not possible, more public places are open and more people are back at work. Friends and families can gather together in their homes and venture further afield for summer holidays. Bubbles are expanding and multiplying and live music is being heard and enjoyed in open spaces.
There is a sense of expansion and growth, whilst caution remains.
There are new challenges to how people come together
Due to the 50/60 minute duration of the therapy session, the soft furnishings in my room and the shared space this room provides, it is still not possible to hold a session here without full personal protection equipment.
Unable to meet in our usual space, I have moved my practice to the great outdoors.
Working in Nature
I had considered ecotherapy some years ago. Living and working surrounded by trees, water and woodland, it seemed a natural development of my practice.
Martin Jordan (Nature and Therapy: Understanding counselling and psychotherapy in outdoor spaces, 2015) presents the theories of many of our founder psychologists and psychotherapists including Jung, Klein and Bion, along with the work of Casement, Hillman and others, interweaving these with research and findings of ecotherapy giving a rich blend and compelling argument for taking work outdoors.
Inner and Outer work: our psyche and our environment
My clients become familiar with my reference to the ‘inner and outer’ parallels; if we are experiencing inner turmoil (anxiety, grief, distress) and at the same time unrelated outer turmoil (loss of job or health, house renovation, breakdown of relationship) we are less able to manage; our resources are under too much strain and we are depleted. This can cause us to become overwhelmed.
The environment we live in reflects and affects our inner, psychological world; working in nature takes us into a natural, organic and healing realm, rather than the four firm walls of a consulting room where artificial aesthetics, light, smells and material objects can affect our state of mind and have a very different influence on our thinking and feeling states.
Working in a natural outdoor space therapeutically, where all the stimuli is natural and organic has a pure affect on our state of mind and offers a less challenging and more encouraging affect on our senses. This in itself is healing, and so an aide to the therapeutic work.
Our environment as container: a challenge in a world under attack of a virus
As a therapist, my conscious attention to containment and boundaries is expanded as we move outdoors. The firm brick walls which offer a physical boundary are no longer there. Instead, we may encounter other beings, wild or domestic! This is now part of the work and my responsibility to manage, consider and use to continue to provide care and attention to the client’s inner and outer experiences.
COVID-19 renders all of us vulnerable in our environment. I find it striking that it is also the cause of us venturing out into nature
From the beginning of lockdown, when we were permitted to go outside for exercise (wellbeing and self-care), to now many businesses only able to function in this way; the open air is now our holding place.
Any rupture to a person’s wellbeing and sense of safety is grist for the therapeutic mill; COVID-19 is no different and will be playing its part in how we develop beyond this point. This virus has threatened our emotional security in so many ways; not just our livelihoods, social interactions and way of life, it has stopped us gathering together, shaking hands, sharing spaces, hugging.
From early development of infants and animals, we know that touch and intimate relationships are essential to healthy development. Parent and child relationships, as well as other intimate relationships, thrive on touch, communication, mirroring and sharing. This is what creates a sense of safety, trust, containment. It is from this we learn to feel safe, confident and contained within ourselves.
Holding and containing within the therapeutic relationship is supported by the natural holding and support nature provides
Containment of my client’s internal and external world in therapy is primary; taking this outdoors extends the boundaries and adds to the panoramic view I draw from.
Working outdoors brings us into contact with another relational realm – our natural environment is opening, moving and holding in the most natural way possible. It is interesting to see how we relate to it: can we let it hold us? Do we feel freer outside? Less inhibited? More comfortable, or less?
Ultimately, this natural therapeutic space is what now invites and allows face-to-face, personal contact. This is our new safe space.
There is an African proverb – ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.
And it takes a community to heal a soul. And this is not just a community of people, but trees, leaves, grass, wind, sun, rain, squirrels, birds are now also very much part of the healing process.
I have to finish by expressing my deep gratitude to my colleagues, my family, the residents of Brooklands, and, most importantly, my clients, all of whom have supported, created and validated this most significant new space in place of what felt lost.
This is our new growth.