Working in and with the more-than-human world (nature)

When we talk about outdoor therapy, we often talk about working in nature. Yet when we talk about nature in this way, it can create separation in our minds, as though nature is something we’re separate from. Realistically, we’ve evolved here alongside all the other species of life we see around us; we are part of nature, not separate from it.

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Outdoor therapy: The more-than-human world

There are various different phrases being used in the world of outdoor therapy to describe outdoor work. Whilst the phrase ‘the more-than-human world’ isn’t exactly snappy, I’ve chosen to use it for two reasons. Firstly, I like that it can remind us of something very important; we humans tend to assume that we are the centre of the world. Indeed, as a society, we tend to exist from a flawed and dangerous assumption - that we humans are superior and can extract endlessly from life around us.

When we refer to nature as something distinct from us, this furthers our sense of separation and our assumption of superiority. When we think of a world that’s about more than just human beings, our vista is broader and more encompassing; our focus shifts somewhat and we’re more open to taking in new perspectives.

Working with the more-than-human world can quickly provide rich material which is not so readily available indoors and this is my second reason for choosing the phrase. The clunkiness of the phrase itself reflects the many nuances and layers involved in outdoor work, along with the discomfort that can arise being in the elements.

Working in the more-than-human-world can be very different to working indoors. To begin with, there’s much more stimulation for our senses to process. There’s movement and sound all around us when we’re in the more-than-human world – the crunch of leaves underfoot, the swaying of grass on the breeze, the flutter of birds and the chirruping of their songs.

Our senses are stimulated and this stimulation can evoke memories and feelings at different levels of consciousness; we might hear something in the soundscape which evokes a memory from childhood, and this is then available to work with. In a similar way, slowing down to notice what you’re drawn to can evoke memories and feelings.


Turbo-charged therapy

There are many different ways of working in and with the more-than-human world. Such a rich environment gifts us many creative ways to work, ranging from the literal to the metaphorical. For example, your therapist might notice how you move in relation to other people you encounter and comment on this.

At the metaphorical level, you might explore the meaning of something you’re drawn to. Movement practices, noticing how your energy changes in different locations and to changes in weather, stillness and tuning into the sensations in your body are all great ways of opening up exploration of issues.

These ways of working can enable much richer material to emerge and be worked with, in a relatively short timeframe. Indeed, working with the more-than-human world can be like having turbo-charged therapy – so much so, that it can be akin to having two therapists alongside you! This is because you’re not just working in a relationship with your therapist, you’re also working in and with the relationship you have with the more-than-human world. Such powerful ways of working not only bring us great benefits, they can also benefit other species of life, enabling us to strengthen our connection with the rest of life around us.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wirral, Merseyside, CH49
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Written by Sarah King, MBACP
Wirral, Merseyside, CH49

Sarah King is a BACP registered integrative therapist, working in Wirral and Eryri (Snowdonia). As a qualified Mountain Leader, she is particularly interested in helping people foster a connection with the more-than-human world, enabling healing and growth.

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