Psychotherapist Beth Collier explains why counselling in natural settings is a breath of fresh air…
By Margaret Nicholls
Being outside in nature makes us feel good for all sorts of reasons. The colour green is soothing, fresh air is energising and uplifting, blowing away the cobwebs of daily life. And in London we are lucky enough to have plenty of beautiful parks all around the city. According to Beth Collier, nature can play an active role in counselling, too.
Beth is a nature-based psychotherapist who conducts her counselling in London’s parks and woods. ‘People feel less intimidated outdoors,’ she says. ‘Clients work through their issues more quickly, both during the sessions and outside of them.
Nature is a co-counsellor
‘The counselling is three-way: the client, the therapist and nature,’ Beth adds. ‘Nature itself plays a very active role in the healing process. It acts as a co-counsellor and becomes part of people’s emotional support system. The lovely thing is that clients often return to the same place afterwards in their own time. They associate it with a supportive space.’
The benefit of using nature as a therapy room is backed up by research at the University of Stanford, which showed that a 90-minute walk in a park makes you less likely to focus on negative emotions. Research has also found that volunteers who look at urban scenes showed more activity in the amygdala, which processes fear and anxiety, whereas those who look at natural scenes showed more blood flow to the areas associated with empathy.
‘Just 10 minutes in a green space triggers a meditative response in the brain,’ says Beth Collier.
Beth used to conduct all her counselling indoors, until one day she was working with a young boy with anger issues. ‘This triggered the idea of going outdoors. Soon after, I took a group of children outside and immediately, their negative energy dispersed. The transformation was automatic and completely natural.’
Rain or shine, we go outside
Now Beth runs all her sessions outdoors, whatever the weather. ‘The conditions become a metaphor for what is happening in their lives,’ Beth explains. ‘For example, if it is raining we talk about how that might feel miserable and uncomfortable and perhaps compare it to a difficult relationship.’ She finds this approach especially useful with people who find it hard to speak about their problems. ‘Talking about the weather or the surroundings is a gentle way in, especially if it is mirroring how they are feeling.’
Depending on the client, we will walk or sit. The pace and movement often match their emotions. ‘In the sessions we reflect on how they are moving. It can reveal a lot,’ says Beth. ‘For example, people who follow the paths may tend to follow rules. Whereas those who go off path often want to explore their own path in life as well.’
If a client is feeling tearful, Beth steers them to somewhere a little more private, such as a secluded bench or glade. ‘Some people feel embarrassed about crying in public, in some cases it’s not just because they’re outdoors, but they might feel awkward inside too,’ says Beth. She has found that evening sessions are popular in winter because people often enjoy the privacy that darkness brings. ‘But as the evenings grow lighter, we explore how that makes them feel too.’
Beth’s psychotherapy sessions take place in London SE24, SE25, W2 and SW7, with other areas by arrangement.
Nature-based psychotherapy is growing in popularity. Beth is seeing an increased demand from other therapists wishing to be trained in this type of counselling. She also supervises qualified counsellors and psychotherapists as well as trainees, using a nature-based approach.
‘People are seeking to re-connect with nature,’ Beth says. ‘Even silence feels beneficial in the outdoors. You can gaze at the view, reflect and feel grounded and secure.’
For further information about working with Beth, go to www.bethcollier.co.uk