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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Friday, 27 March 2009

Dhole in Thialand

I was birding in Thailand in the Khao Yai National Park. One day I went of the main track to see what birds I could find, on this occasion I was watching a woodpecker which are my favourite birds. I was there quite a while tapping a stick on a tree trying to bring the woody I was watching closer to me as it was quite deep in the forest.

The time came to move on and as I turned I was confronted with a Dhole who was walking up the track towards me, he was completely unaware of my presence until he was within five meters of me, at which point he was startled by seeing me there, he growled and then preceded to walk around me and carry on up the track.

I felt that because I was so relaxed and in peripheral vision that when I too was startled by the Dhole's presence that my energy changed and that's when he became aware of my presence. It was an amazing experience to be so close to a wild dog.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Concentric Rings – The Squirrel and my Anger.

While out for a walk one day in nature with my girlfriend at the time, we ended up having an argument. I found myself becoming extremely angry with her so I decided that I should remove myself from the situation by storming off towards the car.

I was really fuming and on the way back to the car I became aware that people were giving me a wide berth, when suddenly to my surprised a grey squirrel fell from a branch directly above and just in front of me, to say this squirrel hit the ground like a ton of bricks would be an understatement.

This got me thinking, when have I ever seen a squirrel fall out off a tree? Answer never and nor have I seen it happen since. My point here is that as a result of this event the squirrel showed me how my temper can affect others as well as myself it allowed me too see that I needed to deal with this part of myself.

I now laugh about this and when I tell others this story I will often put myself in the squirrels position, I like to imagine it sitting on the branch eating away at its nuts when it turns because it is sensing that something within the concentric rings has changed, it then sees my energy/aura which is all over the place and spiking out in all directions and probably in strong aggressive colours. The squirrel is so shocked by this and in complete surprise looses its balance and falls from the tree with an almighty thump and in a split second is up and running off like a whippet.

This was a great lesson in self awareness and I now use it on my workshops to show people how powerful their thoughts and feelings are and how they can affect others without a word being spoken.

“I consider myself to have a good level of self-awareness...

but the exercises brought out raw emotional responses as there were no other factors involved" Jack

Thomas Schorr-kon (2008) a colleague shared an experience he encountered from one of his students who is a grandmother, she said to him “I hate coming here (Nature-Awareness Workshops) and I love it when I come here. I always learn something awful about myself”.

The next account is from a counselor (now in active recovery), who wrote to share her experiences of Nature-Awareness.

“I experienced such depths of trust both in my partner and nature… The most important realisation for me in this exercise was that there was some pain involved, and the consequences were positive… My partner didn’t become a compulsive-helper and protect me from rough branches and tree trunks. He let me find my way, alerting me only to oversized obstacles. The result of his letting go, allowed me to come up against smaller obstacles, graze and cut my hands, scratch against nettles and get to my destination. It was only pain. A very profound lesson for me” Jane

Here, there is an ‘Investment in Loss’, both women are recognising something that is both positive and painful at the same time, they are both in a position to deal with change, because of their extrinsic experience their intrinsic self-awareness and motivation increased.

Jane continues by saying…

If I step back and look at this from an Attachment Theory perspective… I knew that my partner was close, and he gave me the space to move away and explore, knowing that I could come back to him or that he would rescue me if I was in any real danger. My partner and I were reunited once I had arrived HOME to the drum” Jane,

It is interesting that Jane makes a reference to ‘HOME’. Jane further, states that in rehab Rogers’ Core Conditions had already been established… which enabled her to trust in the process... Unconditional Positive Regard, Congruence and Empathy were all present… The essence of these conditions were radiating from nature itself”.

She finishes by reflecting… “Five weeks on, I still have a small scar on my left hand from where I scrapped a tree trunk. I’m pleased I have it. It is a constant reminder that it is ok to trust. I might incur some pain and bruises along the way, and that’s ok”.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Alchemy as a philosophical and spiritual discipline


Alchemical symbolism has been occasionally used by psychologists and philosophers. Carl Jung re-examined alchemical symbolism and theory and began to show the inner meaning of alchemical work as a spiritual path. Alchemical philosophy, symbols and methods have enjoyed something of a renaissance in post-modern contexts.

Jung saw alchemy as a Western proto-psychology dedicated to the achievement of individation. In his interpretation, alchemy was the vessel by which Gnosticism survived its various purges into the Renaissance. In this sense, Jung viewed alchemy as comparable to a Yoga of the East. The practice of Alchemy seemed to change the mind and spirit of the Alchemist. His interpretation of Chinese alchemical texts in terms of his analytical psychology also served the function of comparing Eastern and Western alchemical imagery and core concepts and hence its possible inner sources (archetypes).

Source of Alcmemy

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Judge for your self

Below is a letter sent into March's edition of DDN in response to the article on Nature Awareness. I felt it only fair that the sceptics view should also be read. Below that is the article run in February's DDN news after a telephone interview was contacted with my self about some of the effects that Nature Awareness has had on people with addictions.

Drink & Drug News - Plan to succeed (09 March, 2009)

Bark at the moon

Upon opening my recent copy of Drink and Drugs News, I needed to do a double-take on your nature awareness article (DDN, 23 February, page 6) to check that 1 April hadn’t come round sooner than I thought. It appears that while Geoffrey recognises that there is no evidence for the programme’s effectiveness, it works on same principle as equine assisted therapy. While I have my own doubts over the effectiveness of EAP, using Geoffrey’s logic I’d suggest that hamster assisted therapy (HAT) would have the same impact as, like horses and trees, they are also part of nature. Would the NTA perhaps examine the opportunity to fund a study into cockroach assisted therapy (CAT)?

Geoffrey tells us that he doesn’t know how it works but it does. What does he mean by this? Does running blindfolded through a forest while someone beats a drum reduce the likelihood of re-offending? Does holding hands and behaving like a wolf reduce the trauma of childhood sexual abuse – although I must admit that I have little knowledge of the psychology of wolf behaviour. Perhaps Geoffrey has studied wolf behaviour and its similarities to human behaviour, and the lessons we can learn from wolves?

Geoffrey continues by informing us that the programme seems to work better with a younger age group. ‘Up to about 12’, he helpfully reports, continuing that after that it becomes a little bit more difficult. I wonder why? The programme also seems to have better outcomes with women ‘because they tend to be more organised’. This sweeping generalised statement based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, sums up the whole basis of the article. Even if we accept the fact that women are generally more organised – although I’m not really sure what this means – how does it make them better at finding trees while blindfolded or acting like a wolf?

The whole article is frankly insulting to those of us who have spent many years offering service users robust evidence-based programmes that have demonstrable outcomes. The whole idea that the worldwide addiction field has missed a major treatment intervention is also offensive to those who have devoted significant portions of their lives studying and researching addiction. I’m disappointed that DDN sees fit to publish an article more akin to alchemy than science. As a practitioner and commissioner with nearly 20 years in the field, I subscribe to DDN to hear about programmes based on research evidence and best practice. I’m sorry Geoffrey, I don’t believe in fairies or the power of trees to assist in recovery from drug and alcohol problems.

Derek Wilson.

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Drink & Drug News - It's in the trees (23 February, 2009)

Recovery | Alternative therapy

Seeing the wood AND the trees

David Gilliver hears how nature awareness therapy has been helping clients with substance misuse issues not only re-connect with nature but also with themselves ‘I didn’t understand how trees and nature could be so powerful. I felt something I never felt before – I can’t really explain it. I felt happy, got in touch with my feelings for the first time. I started to feel spiritual as well – it was amazing.’ Lucy is talking about her experiences of nature awareness, an intervention for people with addiction issues using nature-based games. It’s designed to build trust, increase self-awareness and self-confidence, boost creativity and promote communication, problem solving and relationship skills. It is also based on the theory that connecting with nature – and stepping outside of your self – can help change established behaviours and encourage people to take responsibility for their actions.

Nature awareness therapist Geoffrey McMullan used the method with clients from Kent-based 12-step centre Promis, as well as a Christian rehab centre, as part of research for his MA in addiction psychology at Southbank University. ‘I’d been involved in nature awareness work for around 10 years, but when I ended up working in rehab I had no prior knowledge of working with addictions,’ he says. ‘It was like a blank sheet of paper.’ The games include ‘meet a tree’, the aim of which is to locate a specific tree while blindfolded, and ‘the drum stalk’ in which participants move through the trees to the sound of a drum beat. The games are based on Native American ideas, but have been modified through use with substance misuse clients – they also incorporate elements of ‘wilderness therapy’, which challenges people by removing them from their comfort zones.

So how does it work? ‘Nature awareness is very much about going into nature but allowing the events to unfold before you,’ he says. ‘There’s no set procedure other than the games I use. If a situation arises, we go for the intervention there – we sit down and work as a group.’ Rather than an alternative to traditional treatment methodologies, however, he sees nature awareness as a means of helping people get more from mainstream treatment. ‘I had a counsellor say she’d tried every possible way of intervening with a client with no success, until she went on nature awareness – it was an integral part of her recovery that focused on the here and now. A consultant psychologist told me it helped clients respond to more traditional treatment methods, and counsellors have also told me that it works on the spiritual side, which can be hard to deliver.’ He cites the example of equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP), which uses interaction with horses to boost emotional growth and non-verbal communication skills. ‘Nobody really understands how that works, but it does work,’ he says. ‘A horse is part of nature – we’re not separate from nature, we do have that connection, and it’s about firing that up. I say to people ‘I’m going to help you remember what you already know'.'

With some clients, the therapy also seems able to put them back in touch with aspects of their character they may have lost touch with. He describes how a woman with an eating disorder felt intense frustration after becoming caught up in brambles during one game. She persevered, however, and later said that the frustration she felt was the same as when she started to binge, but the fact she had managed to get out meant there was hope for her.

Another said that for the first time in her life she listened to what her body was telling her. ‘That could only be achieved by being outside in nature,’ he says. ‘You couldn’t achieve that within four walls. So it’s not a stand-alone intervention, it’s very much a complementary one.’ Another client, now a counsellor himself, described the ‘drum stalk’ game as being like steps one, two and three of the 12 steps. ‘The person being blindfolded was him in his addiction, going through the forest blindfolded was him recognising that he’s powerless over that situation, his sight guide represented his sponsor and the drum beat was the higher power calling out to him,’ he says. ‘That was a good analogy.’

Established behaviour patterns are challenged through asking clients to ‘become’ animals and completely lose themselves in the role. ‘I had a group of guys blindfolded, holding hands, who took on the role of a pack of wolves,’ he says. ‘They were hunting someone who was a rabbit, and one of the guys broke away from the group. We challenged that, asking him why, and he suddenly realised that that’s what he does when he wants to go and use. That wasn’t picked up within the four walls – it wouldn’t be he’s not breaking away from the group there. When you get them to take on the role of an animal, after a while people drop the barriers they’ve put up – there’s no need to hide anymore. It’s quite amazing what comes from that, because they’re not them, they’re the animal.’

He’s now used nature awareness with around 100 clients with substance misuse issues, covering a broad range of addictions. Does it work with certain age ranges better than others? ‘Nature awareness works from a very young age all the way up,’ he says. ‘Children up to about 12 respond very well to nature-based activities. After that it becomes a little bit more difficult and for me that’s where the wilderness aspect kicks in – taking them out of their environment and into a wilderness where they can’t just pop down to McDonald’s. You’re putting them in a challenging situation where eventually they have to do something about it.’ As yet no one else seems to be using this in substance misuse treatment. Are people usually open to the concept or are they likely to be suspicious or cynical to begin with? ‘Cynical, totally,’ he says. ‘But I kind of encourage that. I give them very little information because I want to challenge them. Some people will claim that they know everything about nature and there’s nothing I can teach them, some will be suspicious but curious and others will use it as a reason not to go to group or counselling sessions. But then they take part in the game and suddenly get challenged. It doesn’t work with everyone – I’ve had one or two people just walk away and not engage at all.’

Once clients have overcome their initial reservations the feedback is usually positive. So does any one group seem to get more out of it than another? ‘What I did find with the research is that women tend to perform better than men because they tend to be more organised. Nature awareness is about getting people into that ‘heart’ space, rather than the ‘head’ space, which is all factual and statistical, and once men do that they perform just as well as women. One man who was on Detox came back a year later and said it was still having a profound effect on his life.’ He’s now in the process of setting up a workshop to teach nature awareness to other counsellors. Clearly, however, a lot of people will take a good deal of convincing – what would he say to the sceptics? ‘A consultant psychologist asked me if she could come and observe and my answer was the same as always – ‘yes you can, but only by taking part. If you want to stand on the sidelines you’re not going to have that experience.’ She came and was very cool about it, looking at it from a professional point of view, and at the end she told me that it created a bridge that traditional methods couldn’t. I’m more than happy for anyone to challenge me. You can get lulled into a false sense of security about what you’re doing, and that’s wrong – I’m always open to change.’

And would he like to see nature awareness ultimately becoming a part of mainstream treatment? ‘That’s in my heart of my hearts,’ he says. ‘I’d love to see it used throughout the country and for the evidence to be built up. Ultimately I want to set up my own wilderness centre working with people from all different backgrounds, not just addictions, and I’d also like take the research further if anyone’s interested. One of the problems with the alternative or spiritual-based side of things is that there’s not enough evidence, because the other side – the scientists – don’t want to go there. I do believe that nature awareness can close that gap – not entirely, but a little bit. I’ve had real sceptics come along and I’ve just thought ‘great, the more sceptical you are the better.’