Nature-Based Therapy and Walk-and-Talk Therapy
We are surrounded by nature, sometimes it is easier to see this on a trail head that is more distant from our urban environment then it is looking out of your window at crows or pigeons. Nature-Based Therapy has long been considered inaccessible for those in urban environments and if we are thinking about wilderness therapy (those distant trail heads), it still is. However, this does not mean that we cannot build a connection with nature in our urban environments and utilize what is accessible to us to do so. In fact, by re-establishing a tighter connection with nature in the city it not only benefits you but the care for the environment around you (again benefiting you… a beautiful cycle like so many things in nature). Let’s rebuild and maintain our connection with nature whether it be within office walls, in an urban park, or walking down your street!
Nature-Based Therapy and Ecopsychology
Nature-Based Therapy is rooted in ecopsychology. Ecopsychology sometimes is called nature therapy or green therapy. Ecopsychology looks at the relationship between the natural environment and human beings from both psychological and environmental perspectives (read here). Ecopsychology can bring up your deep interconnectedness with the world around you while maybe also examining those hard to touch experiences that you may have like ecogrief, ecoanxiety, or climate change distress. While discussing such big topics with your counsellor there will also be space held your other social, emotional and cognitive concerns often addressed in standard psychotherapy. Often these topics might overlap. Here are a few examples:
You may be grappling with having children, or how many children to have, due to environmental changes/impacts
You may be wanting to move away from the urban environment and grappling with economic impact and sustainability (on multiple levels)
You are not feeling heard by others around you regarding the impact of climate change or ecogrief compounding the emotional toll, including feelings of helpless
You are impacted by the data and/or witnessing of the world around you changing
If these topics resonate with you, you may benefit from having an ecopsychology, or Nature-Based Therapy lens added to your counselling sessions.
Nature-Based Therapy is one form of ecopsychology. Some other common ecopsychology practices include:
Walk and talk therapy
Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing
Other activities that might be included in ecopsychology include cultivating awareness of the environment around you, nature-based arts, nature-based crafts, and physical activities in nature such as running. What we do know is that by adding in nature to our therapeutic work it enhances positive outcome and increases growth in certain areas.
What are the Benefits of Nature-Based Therapy?
Why nature… because we know nature is beneficial. For many of us it is not a question of why because we have already had experiences in nature that have helped us regulate, be closer to ourselves and/or feel more interconnected to the world around us. For those of us that like some research behind the knowing, we also know through empirical studies that some of the benefits of being in nature, or even viewing pictures of nature, can include:
Helps to reduce cognitive fatigue
Reduce depression symptoms
Improve recovery from stress
Decrease anxiety symptoms
Improve overall mood and life satisfaction
Improve attention in both kids and adults
Improve self esteem and confidence
Improve your mood
Have a read of a couple of extra articles talk about the benefits of nature-based therapy through Good Therapy, American Psychological Association, National Library of Medicine and the Yale School of Environment publication Environment360.
Nature-Based Therapy and Play Therapy
You'll notice a lot of natural objects in the play therapy that I offer. There are a couple reasons for this. We know that nature increases our nervous system's ability to regulate. This is why kids sometimes can settle their bodies while engaging with sand and water. In fact, sand play or sand tray, is often incorporated in play therapy for this reason. The child can then directly regulate themselves with the sand and express themselves through their play through buckets, shovels, strainers, miniatures/figurines, and other natural objects that may create imagery they wish to use to express themselves in the playroom. In addition to sand other natural items that can be found in the play room include felts, wood, silks, cotton, recycled plastics/materials, pine cones, shells, rocks, gemstones and minerals. Often I have children choose a treasure that the end of their session and often they choose a natural object like a stone, wooden toy cut out, or felt ball.
Have more of a read on the Play Therapy I do here!
Nature-Based Therapy in the Office
Adults and teens will often incorporate natural objects in their sessions. This incorporation can include having a desire to hold a stone in their hand while talking, or fidgeting with a soft piece of rope, felt or wooden item. In addition hearing the sounds of nature as well as viewing natural objects also can have a regulating effect for many people. When your nervous system is able to regulate you are better able to discuss more difficult topics in a therapeutic manner with your counsellor; you can discuss the hard subject while keeping one foot in your actual presence in the counselling room so as to not get lost/overwhelmed in the memory/subject. This is not only helpful to integrate the concerns that you are navigating but also in building up skills for navigating future concerns that may arise.
Nature-Based Therapy and Walk-and-Talk Therapy in Urban Spaces
There are plenty of spaces to enjoy nature in urban environments. This can be walking through neighbourhood streets to view the flora and fauna that is present. Sometimes having a mindful walk such as this on your own, might be eye opening to the amount of wildlife and plants that are visible even in such urban environments! There is a great article on the impact of urban planning and streets with trees on mental health you can read here.
Walk and talk sessions can occur by walking those tree lined streets or by visiting an urban park. You might want to walk the whole session or maybe you want to sit the whole session at a bench or table that you enjoy. There are so many options when considering increasing the benefits of both nature and counselling in your life at the same time.
Are Outdoor Sessions a Good Fit for You?
Nature-Based Therapy in the outdoors is not for everyone. Some people may have had a traumatic outdoor experience that has led to a lack of feeling safe when outdoors. This could be an overall lack of felt safety and needing the containment of an office for felt safety. This could be a fear of animals, from untamed to domesticated dogs. The unknown if the feared animal/plant/object will present itself is enough to not allow deeper work in a session to occur due to the hypervigilant state of the person waiting for the possibility of being in the presence of their fear.
Outdoor sessions also might not be a good fit for a child if they have a tendency to run away. For safety reasons, due to the urban environment, you may consider an indoor session for your child at first.
If discussing deeply personal or traumatic material, you may also want to have the benefit of containment and privacy that an office space or virtual session can provide.
For those that are comfortable, and it is the right time in therapeutic process, to be outdoors there are other considerations to keep in mind.
- What would you say/do if we ran into someone in the park that you know?
- How would you label/introduce your counsellor to the other person as your (counsellor, friend from work, acquaintance)?
There are no wrong answers here. In knowing the risks to confidentiality that might occur and how you would like to navigate them prior to being in the moment you allow for a more relaxed and therefore potentially more fruitful session.
What about the Weather?!
We know it rains in Vancouver! Snows even – once in a while! It can get cold and wet with strong winds. It also can drizzle and mist most of a way or just be overcast. If you are wanting to take your sessions outdoor let’s plan together what you are comfortable with.
Do you want to meet under a shelter and have a session watching the rain – should I bring blankets?
Or do you want to stroll through an urban park with our umbrellas?
Maybe, we cannot dress for the weather, and it won’t be comfortable for you outside – should we have a virtual session or come into one of my in-person locations in New Westminster or Surrey?
It really is up to you and what you are comfortable with and need for your healing journey. Part of us deciding on if outdoor sessions are a good fit for you will also be knowing your boundaries around weather and creating back-up plan for you to easily maintain those boundaries.
Nature-Based Therapy Options in Qayqayt and Coast Salish Peoples’ Territories in New Westminster, BC
We have a good handful of urban parks here in Qayqayt and Coast Salish Peoples’ Territories also colonially known as New Westminster, BC. Here are a few parks for consideration. Please feel free to contact me and we can discuss if any of these parks meet your needs or if we might need to consider different spaces or how we can bring nature to an indoor space for you.
Queen’s Park practically needs no Introduction. There are perimeter trails around the park as well as benches in various locations to sit and chat in various surroundings. Some of those surroundings may include the rose garden, in an open grassy field or under one of the many treed areas of the park. This is a great location for those with mobility concerns as there is ample places to sit and some of those spaces are fairly close to parking lots and wheelchair accessible. There are also multiple washroom facilities in the park.
Glenbrook Ravine Park
Glenbrook Ravine Park is a lovely spot near Queen’s Park. It can be a fairly secluded trail for an urban park depending on the time of day. Glenbrook does not have seating is for those that want to walk and talk throughout their session. Please note that Glenbrook does not have washroom facilities on the trail.
Sapperton Landing Park
My family calls this lovely little park “secret park!” I suppose it is not much of a secret anymore with our ever-growing population in New West though! It is a lovely walk that is between the railroad tracks and the Fraser River. It is a smaller walk which means the 1km trail might be enjoyed a couple times in a session or maybe it is fitting to enjoy one of the multiple viewpoints or benches for various pauses. This park does have washroom facilities.
Tipperary Park might be known to locals as the park that has the lovely Friendship Garden within it, hosts the Thursday Farmer's Markets and is located near City Hall. This park does not have washroom facilities located separately in the park but rather inside City Hall which shares a space with the park. There are multiple benches for sitting an chatting as well as water features along half of the park.
Moody park is a lovely urban park with multiple sports fields, a large playground, an
off leash park as well as a section with ample trees to stroll through or sit at one of
the many benches or tables for a session. This park also has both Century House and
the New West Youth Centre located within it. This park does have washroom facilities.
Grimston Park is known for its lovely splash pad for kids in the summer and large sports field up top that hosts many activities throughout the year. The park also has walking space below where more trees were planted in 2022. The walking space here can also go around the outdoor rink and basketball court and circle back. This park does have washroom facilities.
Another well-known park is Hume Park. It has an upper and lower section. The playground and splash area is located in the upper section as well as an outdoor pool and sports fields. In the lower section there are lovely little trails that give access to view the Brunette River as well as a large field. This park does have multiple washroom facilities.
Queensborough has such lovely walking spacing throughout it that it is hard to narrow down one space. There is of course Ryall Park and Port Royal Park and also the lovely Queensborough Perimeter Trail and Queensborough Landing Pier. If Queensborough is a destination that you are considering don’t hesitate to contact me and we can find a lovely spot that will meet the needs that require whether it be proximity to water or underneath tress or both!
Of course, there are other local parks in close proximity to New Westminster like Byrne Creek Ravine Park, Burnaby Lake Park and Deer Lake Park as well.
Telehealth and Walk-and-Talk
Do you live remotely and have access to nature where you still have reception for a call? Feel free to contact me about a telehealth walk-and-talk session where you can be in your favourite outdoor space while having a telephone counselling session.
If you are interested in moving your sessions outdoor please email me (email@example.com) or directly book a free 15 minute consultation so we can discuss what is a good fit for your current needs.