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

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sometimes its nice to repeat things.

The Special Mother by Erma Bombeck

Most women become mothers’ by accident, some by choice, a few by social pressures and a couple by habit.

This year nearly 100,000 women will become mothers of special children. Did you ever wonder how mothers of special children are chosen?

Somehow I visualize God hovering over earth selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As He observes, He instructs His angels to make notes in a giant ledger.

"Armstrong, Beth; son. Patron saint...give her Gerard. He's use to profanity."

"Forrest, Marjorie; daughter. Patron saint, Cecelia."

"Rutledge, Carrie; twins. Patron saint, Matthew."

Finally He passes a name to an angel and smiles, "Give her a special child."

The angel is curious. "Why this one God”? She's so happy."

"Exactly," smiles God, "Could I give a special child to a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel."

"But has she patience?" asks the angel.

"I don't want her to have too much patience or she will drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wears off, she'll handle it."

"I watched her today. She has that feeling of self and independence that is so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I'm going to give her has her own world. She has to make her live in her world and that's not going to be easy."

"But, Lord, I don't think she even believes in you." God smiles, "No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect - she has just enough selfishness." The angel gasps - "selfishness? Is that a virtue?"

God nods. "If she can't separate herself from the child occasionally, she'll never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn't realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a 'spoken word'".

She will never consider a ‘step’ ordinary. When her child says 'Momma' for the first time, she will be present at a miracle, and will know it!"

"I will permit her to see clearly the things I see... ignorance, cruelty, prejudice.... and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life, because she is doing my work as surely as if she is here by my side".

"And what about her Patron saint?" asks the angel, his pen poised in mid-air.

God smiles, "A mirror will suffice."

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Wilderness therapy reduces risk of homelessness amongst young

Wilderness therapy enhances the social and life skills of ‘at risk' young people who may exhibit problem behaviours, use drugs or have difficulties in school, reducing their chances of experiencing negative life outcomes such as depression, suicide and homelessness.

This is the conclusion of research by Sandy Allen-Craig and Lisa Ronalds which will be presented today, Wednesday 9 September 2009, at the 5th International Adventure Therapy Conference. The event, hosted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), is taking place from 7-11 September at Pollock Halls, The University of Edinburgh.

The research aimed to evaluate the life effectiveness of participants involved in a wilderness therapy program in order to determine its value as an early treatment intervention for youth ‘at risk' of homelessness and educational disconnection.

Participants took part in a 7-10 day wilderness experience. In addition they completed pre and post-experience questionnaires measuring factors such as time management, communication skills, self-confidence and problem-solving.

It was found that the majority of factors increased from pre to post-test, with the greatest improvements seen in task leadership, time management and social competence. The results suggest that the program provides an appropriate and effective mechanism for enhancing the personal development of participants.

Sandy Allen-Craig said: "Previous research has shown that wilderness therapy helps young people overcome emotional adjustment, addiction and psychological problems. It can also improve self-perceptions and increase social adjustment and reduce the chances of adolescent participants reoffending.

"The results of the current study give support for the use of wilderness therapy as an intervention to help prevent young people prematurely disengaging from family and the education system. Further investigation may now be needed to develop the program further."

For more information please contact: Alison Croft, BACP Press & Public Relations Manager, on 01455 883342 (office), 07989 416665 (mobile) or or BACP Media Consultant, Phillip Hodson, on 07961 401685 or

Ref: 192
Date: Monday 7 September 2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

All eyes are on the Fox...

As he walked through the woods one day a fox passed within feet of him, it paid him no heed, it seemed to be on a mission.

He wondered, where was the fox going, what was he up to? Suddenly the fox climbed a tree, there were no birds taking flight, no animals running for cover, what on earth could he be doing up there in that tree?

Then, down he sprang trotting passed him, again paying no attention to him standing there in bewilderment at the sight of a dead bird in his mouth.

Today I learnt that foxes can climb trees as well as hunt like a cat, have whiskers on their feet to sense vibrations in the ground. I did know that they bury eggs to return later to feast on them.

Nature Awareness represents...

a sense of personal-internal accomplishment that is real, from which strength can be drawn from in the future thus creating a sense of well-being which can lead to increased self-esteem, bringing participants a step closer to personal growth and perhaps active recovery.

It seems to give participants a deeper understanding of self and how important our natural surroundings can be and that humans are not separate, but in fact are an integral part of the whole. Nature-Awareness as an intervention appears to help addicts to get in touch with their raw emotions enhancing their self-concept and a sense of empowerment they leave Nature-Awareness knowing that their personal healing and perhaps spiritual-journey has just begun.

Nature-Awareness as with Wilderness-therapy removes the potential for an individual to place barriers in the way of their journey into active recovery that may not be possible in the traditional residential setting for example if someone repeatedly enters rehab, they know the format of what is expected and required of them। Some will have also learnt how to play the system, so they can come out the other end having not truly moved on. Nature-Awareness takes the individual out of their comfort zone in effect the opportunity to play the system has been removed as new rules now apply - ‘Natures Rules’. No one situation can be manipulated or controlled by the individual because nature is her own master and in my own experience I have to let go, because I am powerless over her.

Therefore each experience is unique, creating unique circumstances and a unique relationship of understanding oneself, through each individual’s grounded-experiences of Nature-Awareness, be they professionals or not, indicating that they have benefited from their participation in Nature-Awareness. The main themes of Awareness, Trust, Nature and Spiritually, I believe demonstrates that Nature-Awareness synergistically compliments mainstream models as a therapeutic-intervention. Schorr-kon (2008) “At Home in Nature - Alive in Spirit” uses this phrase in his teachings. I truly believe this sums up the experiences of those involved in this study and with Nature-Awareness over the years and that it may well be considered as the ‘Emerging Theory’ into Nature-Awareness.

Photo: Rhiannon Williams

Friday, 20 November 2009

We learn to hunt through play...

It is necessary to understand the importance and ‘value of play’ in relation to Nature-Awareness and addictions. Play is an important part of our growth, it can give us positive-experiences where today, play is all but ignored (i.e. lack of sports in schools), from play we learn about our boundaries and capabilities and according to Stuhlimiller (2003) “…learning from a positive encounter can thus become as permanently etched on the brain as learning from a negative experience” (p. 3).

Nature-Awareness is one such positive-experience that addicts, seem to enjoy and benefit from as one addict put it.

“I learnt in a playful way that I can trust my instinct and other people”
(Kaagman, 2008)

In Nature-Awareness participants are not just asked to take on the role of an animal (physical) but to actually become an animal whether it is as a wolf, bird or fox. By using different scenarios and playing the games in silence using positive/negative intentions, (energetic) and connecting with their heart, the addict has an opportunity to observe their behaviour in others (and the power of their thoughts manifesting in the physical), without feeling judged.

In Nature-Awareness there is no right and no wrong, there just is, by becoming aware of their inner-landscape through the experiences of their external-environment they may experience a power greater than themselves (spiritual).

Fredrickson (2004) informs us that research into animals has found that through play, young animals put in place behaviours needed to survive as adults i.e. ‘Predator Avoidance Strategies’.

Play “…with its shared amusement, excitement and smiles, builds lasting social bonds and attachments” (p. 148). As the Nature-Awareness games unfold and behaviours begin to manifest, appearing initially to be an external event, (however, the reverse is true) individuals learn to surrender to the process and to fully engage in play, their need to hide is potentially removed and they form a social identity based on their shared-experiences.

Nature-Awareness provides an alternative way of looking at oneself. According to Fredrickson (2004) the resources accrued personally while experiencing positive emotions are long-lasting and increases “one’s personal resources…”, which can be drawn on later to “…improve coping and odds of survival” (p. 149), e.g. (Ward, 2007) an addiction counsellor believed Nature-Awareness was integral to Jackie’s (her client) recovery. Jackie found something in Nature Awareness that, gave her joy and pleasure which enabled her to re-connect with herself through play, giving her the tools to work with her treatment-programme and hopefully to later draw on her experiences to maintain her in active-recovery.

Her counsellor said that of all the therapeutic approaches she had used with Jackie none had helped her, it was only when she had experienced Nature Awareness Jackie began to understand herself.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

My help is in the mountain ~ Nancy Wood:

My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds
That people give to me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle
And the trees which one by one give me company.
So must I stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away.
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Will the Internet take over from Nature?

We already have Farm Town on Face Book...

This is an excerpt from research carried out on the compulsive use of the Internet

Explorative research into the causes and consequences of compulsive internet use

Prof. Dr. S. W. J. Lamberts

Although there are obviously many positive aspects related to the development of the internet, for more than 20 years indications have been emerging that some people can become overly attached to computers and certain internet functions, resulting in serious psychological, social, and professional dysfunctioning (Davidson & Walley, 1984; Goldberg, 1997). The idea that the internet, or at least certain internet functions, might be addictive, initially met a lot of skepticism: “… IAD (internet addiction disorder) is not a disorder and IAD does not exist; there is little research to show otherwise (and much of that is done poorly)” (Grohol, 1995). Or as Hughey put it: “I prefer to think of these people (internet addicts, GJM) as pioneers.

Eventually, we will all be “connected” all the time. A new age has arrived. Let’s not invent DSM IV classifications for those who are just a little ahead of the rest of us in embracing the future” (Hughey, 1997). Meanwhile, however, it is recognized that certain internet functions may indeed bear an addiction risk and that internet functions such as online erotica, internet games, and online chatting are “activities that may carry greatest future risk for behavioural addiction” (Orford, 2005). Nonetheless, research in the field of ‘internet addiction’ is still explorative and no consensus has been attained on the validity and reliability of the construct or on its causes and consequences. There is even no agreement on which term to use for the phenomenon. In the literature the behaviour is referred to as internet addiction (Young, 1998), pathological.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Drum Stalk working with families and addictions

Continuing from my last article on Natural Awareness and the game called ‘Meet a tree’, I wish to present to you another game which is called the ‘Drum Stalk’ this game is a lot of fun to play with your family and friends in your local woods or even when camping out, it can be played at night as well, playing in the dark produces different experiences for the participants, for example they appear to relax a lot more and are less distracted. My aim is also to describe in brief how I use it as an intervention for people with addictions. The purpose of the game is to help increase the level of awareness both internal and external for an addict seeking active recovery.

The first game is always done raw, which means they will get to the drum by using their hearing to locate it and some will be convinced that the drum moved during the game when in fact it has not, what they are experiencing is the sound of the drum bouncing of the trees giving the impression that the drummer is moving around, this is the point were I get them out of the head and into the heart by getting them to understand that not all the information (i.e. the sound of the drum) they are getting is being interpreted correctly.

The game is then played again this time in peripheral vision and in a heart space the drum now gets beaten every sixty seconds and as each game is played the time between drum beats, increases even to the point when there is only one beat to get the game started and then no more beats after that, to peoples astonishment the majority find the drum, not every group reaches this level. I judge each situation separately which is based on how the group or individuals respond to the games. I have even removed their sight-guides during a game without them being aware and the majority are still able to complete the task, for the sight-guides this raises many questions and the sceptics among them certainly have lots of questions, the game can and does bring up lots of emotions, which I and their peers, then work with them in terms of their addiction and old behaviours, there have been times when the game does not get finished because it requires that we (the group) process the emotions it has brought up for them.

The whole point of this game is to challenge their behaviour in a safe way, but in a way that it is so out of the box that it raises questions hopefully motivating them to seek the answers to their questions. I have very few rules when playing the Drum Stalk I observe how the group or individuals are responding to the game and I act accordingly with an intervention. For family and friends the game is played for fun with a level of awareness taking place, were as for addictions the game may not even finish in terms of actually playing the game to its physical completion, issues may arise which requires immediate attention which I process using the power of the group to help the group and individuals reach a new understanding of themselves and it is only done if the person wants to go there as it has to be for their higher good.

One rule I do have is that if other professionals wish to observe how Natural Awareness works. I ask that they do so by taking part and not by being passive observers from the sideline, it is important that they encounter similar experiences to what the addicts are experiencing. However if an addict does not want to take part in Natural Awareness they do not have to as it is about keeping them safe. I do however, try to encourage them to observe from the sideline as I believe they can gain as much from this experience as taking part, in fact I have seen patients later joining in Nature Awareness having either observed the first game or having seen and heard the effect it has had on their peers later on in rehab.

Natural Awareness has been shown to create a bridge between how we perceive our world and how we experience it, this opens us up to a new understanding of ourselves, and in terms of addicts if they are willing it helps them to recognise their old behaviour, thereby creating an opportunity to change, consider if you will what (Dorell, 2006) a consultant psychiatrist working in a 12-Step treatment programme for addictions had to say about Natural Awareness “it was able to create the bridge that we were unable to create… enabling them to respond to more traditional treatment methods”. Mortensen (2006) a 12-Step counsellor had the following to say “I highly recommend… nature awareness… not only in the field of addiction; I feel any part of the population could benefit from this programme”.

He continues by saying that “It works on the spiritual side of the disease, which is hard to deliver to the patients… Nature Awareness workshops have been of great help to the treatment team it has helped us to explore areas that we would never have got by conventional therapies” (Mortensen, 2006). While (Ward, 2007) an independent counsellor, referring to Jackie (her client), who had also taken part in Natural Awareness, stated that it was an “Integral part of her recovery… which focused on the here and now”. We can now see that Nature Awareness can be used in a verity of ways.

This is also a great game to play with your children and a great bonding exercise here is what one parent had to say about the game and what it meant for him and his son. “When Geoff first mentioned we was going to do the drum stalk I was intrigued, the thought of being in the woods blindfolded and devoid of my main sense, my eyesight was going to be something I have never done before! I spend a lot of time in the woods teaching bush craft skills so I feel comfortable and at ease there and the thought of having my other senses heightened by removing one was interesting to me to say the least”.

JP continues with “My self and my son Connor both took part in the drum stalk and I was amazed at how much I saw not with my eyes but with my senses, for example at one point as I walked through the wooded area I stopped as I could feel something close (you have to do it to believe it!) I saw an orange glow in front of me, sounds weird I know but stick with me! I took a couple of steps to my side and walked around the what seemed to me to be a tree, once the drum stalk had finished and we all had reached our goal, my son said how amazed he was that I stopped at a stump of a tree! I could still see the trees energy before me it was like the trees roots had not realised the tree had been felled! A most strange feeling”.

Connor JP’s son when it was his turn to be blindfolded and to take part in the game it would appear he too had produced some amazing events as JP describes what happen “at one point he was walking towards a low branch, I quietly reached over and lifted it from his path and allowed him to continue, it was as if he was laser guided watching him pick a track through the woodland to the direction of the beat of the drum, when he reached his goal Geoff asked Connor what he had experienced he said two things that stick in my mind, he said he could see a glowing track in his minds eye and he felt it was the right thing to follow it and also at one point he saw a glowing object reach in front of him and move something from his path! Now this all may seem a little too fantastic to the uninitiated but Geoff gave me something that day, he gave me and my son the ability to trust, to trust our senses and our selves”.

In conclusion JP had this to say “if you ever get the chance to spend time actually doing and playing nature awareness games… I suggest you embrace it and take the opportunity, but go with one thing, and that’s an open mind”. I have observed many addicts encountering new experiences that helped them to either engage or re-engage with their treatment-programme, in particular with the spiritual aspect of the programme. A counsellor in active recovery had this to say about the Drum Stalk. “Nature awareness was 50% of my recovery”.

I would now like to briefly visit the issue of eating-disorders were it is generally believed that they do not do well in a wilderness setting. However Rust (2008) describes how Rosie (a client) explained how her thinking becomes stuck in the lead to a binge and then narrows when she binges, for Rosie the same issues go round and round until she is unable to find a way out, then when her frustration reaches its height Rosie stops thinking and the binge takes over. (p.76). According to Rust, what helped Rosie stay centred were her trips out into nature (external) and “…her journeys into her inner-nature” (p.77). With eating-disorders there are areas of ambiguity and inadequate evidence.

The following accounts are my own personal observations and on the experiences expressed by Mary and Janice (both anorexics) while playing the ‘Drum Stalk’ in a local woodland near our rehab centre. Mary said that for the first in her life she had listened to her body, and Janice related her experience of the frustration she felt while caught up in brambles as the same frustration she feels when she is binging (see Rust, 2008).

Because Janice had been able to get herself out of this situation, she believed the experience might help her in her recovery. In Janice’s case the initial frustration she felt in the brambles might be seen in the context of a cognitive de-construction? However, she believed, that as a direct result of her experience of getting herself out of the brambles after some considerable time, meant for her, that nature might help her get into active-recovery, this experience may have allowed for, a cognitive re-construction to take place?

According to Greenway (2000) 57% of women compared to 27% of men “… stated that a major goal… was to “come home” to nature”(p.129), it would appear that both Mary and Janice by shifting their thinking may have had a meaningful and reflective sense of awareness in fact from what they said it would appear that they increased their level of awareness rather than narrowing it. It is not suggested that Natural Awareness has the answers to this complex addiction (or indeed addiction as whole), however compared to wilderness-therapy both Mary and Janice it would seem were better placed with Natural Awareness by doing the Drum Stalk in a local woodland, were they also had the safety of their rehab-centre to process events within a controlled-environment, this is where the Field and Residential Counsellors can work together complimenting each others work for the greater good of the addict.

In Conclusion
According to Dorell (2006), “in the scientific community, experiences like Nature Awareness are still widely unknown and unexplored. I strongly believe though… this kind of experience is able to create the missing link between them and a life of emotional fulfilment”.


Greenway, R. (1995). The Wilderness Effect and Ecopsychology. In T. Roszak., M. E. Gomes & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind (pp. 122-135). The University of California Press.

Dorell, K (personal communication, February 13th, 2006).

Kaagman, P (personal communication, July 22nd, 2007).

Mortensen, T (personal communication, February 12th, 2006).

Ward, G (personal communication, June 26th, 2007).

Rust, M. (2008). Nature Hunger. Eating problems and consuming the Earth. The British Psychological Society: Counselling Psychology Review, 23, (2), 70-79.