Founder of Fern Counselling Louise Allen joins Happiful’s podcast to talk about outdoor therapy, how working with nature can be so beneficial, the role of Death Cafes and connecting to nature wherever you are
Nature has played such a huge role in our collective wellbeing since the pandemic began. When our usual routines and life as we knew it came to a grinding halt, the natural world around us continued business as usual. As we contemplated how to live in our new and everchanging normal, the birds sang, the seasons changed and trees grew and shed their leaves, and began the process all over again.
Nature is all around us in varying degrees, wherever we are and, as Integrative Counsellor Louise Allen reminds us, we are all part of nature. It’s within us - not a separate entity.
Sharing her thoughts on working with nature as a co-therapist and drawing upon the cycles within nature, Louise expands upon her practise and its benefits.
The benefits of outdoor therapy
We all have a different relationship with nature, perceptions and our own mental health, so therapy settings that work for one person may not work for another. What outdoor therapy offers, Louise shares, is a wonderful flexibility for each individual.
“One of the beautiful things about this approach and the fact that it can be open to everybody, is that we move in the space in the way that works for you. So, if you struggle with walking for long distances, we’ll find a route that is comfortable and allows you to sit for a while, or we can interchange sessions so that they’re on the phone one week, then sitting, or walking the next. If you use a wheelchair, we can work with that - nature finds a way, so we’ll find a way too!”
Who might benefit?
Louise believes that everybody can benefit but outdoor therapy might especially appeal to people who dislike the idea of sitting in a room, talking face to face with others, with consistent eye contact.
Walking side by side can be very equalising. So, if you’d like to enter a therapeutic relationship where your counsellor is physically alongside you, then outdoor therapy can be great for this.
If you’re feeling stuck in your life, having outdoor therapy can be wonderful, as you’re actually moving and considering your thoughts, as you journey. This can really help you to gain a different perspective.
Understanding death and loss through nature
“Death and dying is a really important part of life,” Louise says. “And we see it everywhere in an accepting, sometimes unforgiving way, in nature. It’s not always sunshine and flowers, there’s decay and violence as well. It’s all part of life, and our ecosystem.
“So, when we’re navigating transistions in life, whether that’s bereavement, terminal illness or separation, working with a nature-inspired approach and working with life cycles can also be really beneficial.”
Louise is particularly passionate about opening up conversations around our mortality and addressing some of the fear and stigma associated with death and dying, and regularly facilitates a Death Cafe.
“Death is one of life’s greatest paradoxes and dilemmas. There’s this internal drive to survive, to live and grow and, yet, we know we’re going to die,” Louise notes. “Death cafes are informal gatherings, to talk about death and dying with everyone who is going to die, and that’s all of us.
“Death Cafes happen all over the world. They’re open to everybody, you don’t have to have a terminal illness or have been bereaved, anybody can join. They’re often really comforting spaces.”
Despite the sombre image the name might initially conjur up, Louise shares that Death Cafes can bring about a sense of release and lightness. “We get feedback from people who have gone away from the cafe feeling really liberated and comforted. It doesn’t necessarily make people feel happy, but it can do, because we’re talking about something that we might fear discussing, because we fear feeling upset and out of control.
“Talking about death and dying can really help to ease some of the anxiety around it. It doesn’t stop it from hurting emotionally, but it can help us feel less scared.”
Connecting with nature, wherever you are
Louise explains that not everybody has equal access to nature, and that being and working with nature as a co-therapist comes with privilege and the ability to pay for that.
However, she believes that we can access the therapeutic benefits of nature by adjusting the way we approach our view of what it is. “Nature is there, it's around all of us,” Louise says. “Even if we live in a tower block, and in the inner city. The sky is there, you may have a bunch of flowers or a stem of broccoli that’s starting to flower in your fridge.
“There’s nature everywhere. You don’t have to be able to get out to the woods, mountains or the beach to connect with nature.”
How to work with nature
To reconnect - Try to be present when you’re looking at nature. Look up at the clouds and and notice what is, rather than what you think they might look like. Observing and drawing can really help you connect with nature - and it doesn’t have to be perfect!
If you’re feeling trapped in your head - Getting out and moving can open up your mind. If you haven’t got access to a green space, go for a walk down your street. Are there daisies pushing up through the cracks in the pavement? See what you can see.
Experience nature at a different time of day - If you’re able to, and it's safe for you to do so, try taking a walk at a different time of day. Maybe very early in the morning before the world has really started to wake up. This can give you a very different view of the place you live in and it can be a magical time of day.
Upcoming Event - Knowing Where We Are
Louise is hosting a series of events with fellow therapist Nick Langley, over the coming months.
Knowing where we are will be a series of workshops of nature-based exploration into being, connection and purpose. You’ll spend the day outdoors in a secluded outdoor classroom and local woodland, using the natural environment to explore how we all relate and connect to the world around us, ourselves, others, and to our hopes and dreams.
To find the right therapist for your needs, visit Counselling Directory.