Nature’s therapy room: a day in the life

As a container for therapeutic interaction, nature is dynamic and always changing. Sometimes the therapy room is decorated with sunshine, cloud, rain, birds, people, flowers, leaves or bare branches. It can be dark or light, cold, hot or wet. We never know how she will present herself, in much the same way that my clients don’t fully know what emotions will present themselves. Here I share a glimpse of my therapy room throughout the day.

It’s an autumnal morning in a south London park that’s still vibrantly green. The many oak and plane trees are still in leaf. During my first session the sky is hazily overcast with the faintest glimmer of blue and the feeling that the sun is waiting to break through. There’s a chill in the air.

By the second session the sun has made it. My client, Peter, feels sad and withdrawn. He comments that the sun is too bright for his eyes; in autumn the sun is low and the angle beams sunlight straight at him. He reflects that when it’s dark, during winter days, He finds the cold greyness difficult as it makes him feel heavy. Summer is a challenge too, as the warmth and the sunshine make him feel that he should be more active than he wants to be, and he feels guilty and ashamed. There is a sense of struggle during all the seasons, mirroring how he feels about life.

In the third session I’m outside of the park. For Teresa nature is scary and dirty. She didn’t spend time in nature as a child; her mother told her it was dangerous. Her attachment to nature is not yet strong enough to feel safe inside the park. Instead we walk on the pavement, by the road, with the noise of traffic passing.

My afternoon session is with David, and we’re sitting with our backs against an oak tree doing a sensory meditation, tuning in to the smells, sounds and textures around us. David wanted something different from his usual fast-paced walking. He very much enjoys leaning against the tree, the sun on his face, looking out across the park. It is his favourite way of being in nature. It feels grounding; he is able to find a stillness, something he doesn’t usually allow himself. He usually prefers lots of movement to generate adrenaline which keeps him busy and distracted from his feelings, focusing instead on ‘doing’ things. He is enjoying lying with his back on the ground; it feels like a cuddle, something he doesn’t feel safe to do with humans. He is very dismissive of affection and physical contact in his relationships, but here is a way that he can allow himself to feel held and supported.

It is evening, and my final session. By now dusk has been and gone, and the therapy room suddenly has a night sky as its colour slips from blue to black. The grass and trees disappear, leaving silhouettes on the horizon. The groundscape can’t be fully seen, but is smelt and heard. The sky calls our attention. It’s overcast again but there’s a gibbous moon, creating a hazed glow. I’m with Rachel, who also finds it hard to be still. She has a lot of responsibilities and seemingly never enough time to meet others’ demands. The sky clears and we sit on a bench gazing up at the stars and the moon, and we contemplate the stillness at night. It is a stillness that feels different from being in nature during the day. There is beauty in sitting, talking and exploring with the moon’s light shining down like a nighttime sun. It gives Rachel reason to pause and breathe. It makes her tearful to find some calm and space for herself. It is a release.

I end the day feeling blessed that I get to enjoy nature in the park and all that she brings throughout the fullness of the day. I feel the benefit to my own wellbeing in experiencing all of her different moods and energies as I sit with other people as they talk to me about theirs.

* Client names have been changed


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