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

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ecotherapy what is it?

According to Howard Clinebell, who wrote a 1996 book on the topic, “ecotherapy” refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth. He also called it “green therapy” and “earth-centered therapy.” Although Clinebell preferred the term “ecotherapy,” which includes work with the body, to “ecopsychology,” the study of our psychological relations with the rest of nature, it is clear that ecopsychology provides a solid theoretical, cultural, and critical foundation for ecotherapeutic practice. For this reason we regard ecotherapy as applied ecopsychology.

As an umbrella term for nature-based methods of physical and psychological healing, ecotherapy points to the need to reinvent psychotherapy and psychiatry as if nature and the human-nature relationship matters. It takes into account the latest scientific understandings of our universe and the deepest indigenous wisdom. This perspective reveals the critical fact that people are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from the rest of nature. Grasping this fact deeply shifts our understanding of how to heal the human psyche and the currently dysfunctional and even lethal human-nature relationship. It becomes clear that what happens to nature for good or ill impacts people and vice versa, leading to the development of new methods of individual and community psychotherapeutic diagnosis and treatment.

Ecotherapeutic work as Clinebell conceived it takes guidance from an Ecological Circle of three mutually interacting operations or dynamics:

  • Inreach: receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature, place, Earth.
  • Upreach: the actual experience of this more-than-human vitality as we relocate our place within the natural world.
  • Outreach: activities with other people that care for the planet.

Closing the circle keeps ecotherapy from narrowly focused self-absorption, further nature exploitation for human purposes, feel-good maneuvers, or thinking good thoughts as planetary panaceas. Ecotherapy as applied ecopsychology employs many methods in disciplined and systematic attempts to reconnect the psyche and the body with the terrestrial sources of all healing.

Some examples of recent ecotherapy research findings:

Ecotherapy is different from psychotherapy in its focus on transforming our relationship to the natural world. Nevertheless, ecotherapy techniques are being taught to practicing psychotherapists, whose concentration on mending relationships and inner conflicts benefits from placement in the wider ecological context in which all human activity unfolds.

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The above text was taken from the Ecotherapy web site to purchase the above book click on the image and a whole range of interesting articles go to their site at

Friday, 29 April 2011

Child, Parent and Adult Egos...

Earth Tree and the Invisibles, as they stand with their feet firmly rooted in the soil with their thoughts and feelings.

We begin to deal with them by excavating the child and parent egos, the adult ego becoming the archaeologist.

There will always be transference in any counselling relationship, it's understanding why it is there, and being aware of potential counter-transference.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Biophilia - Natural Thinking -1st edition Report for the RSPB - by Dr William Bird

I have posted the introduction to this report as I believe it has far reaching implications for the future of Nature Therapy within the UK, you can read the full report on my wilderness therapy articles page

The Value of the Natural Environment

This report, commissioned by the RSPB, looks at the evidence linking wildlife-rich areas and green space with mental health. Past generations have intuitively understood this relationship, perhaps better than we do, yet the evidence needed to quantify the health value of the natural environment is still evolving.

It is a paradox that as a society we find it unacceptable to take wild animals to be kept in captivity, yet older people in residential care homes can stay indoors for years with no access to the stimulation of the outside world. We spend millions to create ideal conditions for our garden plants balancing the right soil with the correct amount of shade and the right moisture, yet we allow our children to grow up in a hostile urban wilderness with concrete walkways, heavy traffic and no contact with nature.

Logic would suggest that after 10,000 generations having to survive in a natural environment, human evolution would have programmed our genes to perform best in a favoured natural environment of water, shelter, food and safety. By the same logic, it would be surprising if the rapid disconnection of humans from nature in just a few generations did not cause some difficulty to adapt to this new environment. EO Wilson, who proposes the Biophilia hypothesis, says that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gene’; a deep genetic sequence may be hard to erase despite our efforts to be technically independent from nature and the natural environment.

Humans are a species with as much need for the natural environment as any other. However, we are also a social species that thrives in towns and cities and has prospered with the use of technology. But neither technology nor cities can replace our need for the natural environment. We have to keep a balance. By disconnecting from our natural environment, we have become strangers to the natural world: our own world. This has challenged our sense of identity and in some more subtle ways has had a significant effect on our mental health.

This report is one step to bring together the evidence in this area of mental health. It is a start, but much more rigorous data is required if we are to quantify the strength of this effect and measure which aspects of mental health are benefited. It suggests that contact with the natural environment may offer considerable mental health benefits and have a positive effect on communities. In essence, this means that the natural environment has a quantifiable health value.

With a dearth of solutions for major problems such as obesity, inactivity, stress and antisocial behaviour, which governments are struggling to solve, the value of the natural environment needs to be understood, quantified and then acted upon. To ignore these findings may result in further loss of natural green space that will never be recovered and so deprive future generations of a “natural health service”.

Dr William Bird

June 2007

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Stop the Battle Group.

I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my experiences with nature from around the world. While serving with the British Army I had the pleasure of doing several tours of BATUS near Medicine Hat in Alberta. Double pleasure as I have family in Calgary so my R&R was spent with them. Prior to going onto the prairie we are given a briefing by the Canadian authority’s, part of which is about conservation.

During this particular briefing we were shown slides of Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) and informed that if we saw any of these birds we had to report it straight away to the authorities’ who said that they would stop the exercise and move us to another part of the prairie in order to protect this bird.

One night I was returning to my battery when I spotted six Burrowing Owls near to our gun position, I made a note of the grid and on arrival went to the command post and informed the officer in charge of my observation and asked him to report this location to the authorities.

His words to me were "you are joking aren’t you" to which I replied "do I look like I am joking sir" please send the message, which he did once he understood he was required by the authorities to do so. Needless to say the Canadians were true to their word, and the exercise was stopped. It took nearly three days to relocate the Battle Group to another part of the range.

The outcome of all this was:

1) The lads thought for once birdwatchers are not so bad after all.

2) I am sure the officers were not best pleased, perhaps due to the loss of training time or with me

3) I got some extra unexpected birding in, this is what I call "In the Bag".

P.S. My Battery Sergeant Major expressed during his dine out speech that in all his years in the army he had never experienced such a thing, as he pointed in my direction and
politely called me a twitcher.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Animal Tag - In Search of the Lost Child (within)

He had all the answers, the expression I might not always be right but I am never wrong comes to mind. He was very much in his head, he was having trouble finding the other person in the circle who was sat down and asked to just imagine that she was a lost child and to send out the thought, I am here, I am lost and I need you to find me, I am scared and I need rescuing.

I asked John if he had a kid brother or sister he replied I have a small sister, OK I said imagine she is lost and she needs you to find her and bring her to safety, how would you go about finding her, get the police was his reply, or get search and rescue, I would not look for her as it is there job to do that. All perfectly reasonable answers to my questions. However, I said the emergency services are not around to help you, so I asked him to try and find her himself instead. I asked him to do this by getting into peripheral vision and to feel her energy and by trusting his feelings.

John went into the circle to find his sister (blindfolded) he walked all round the circle and many times he literally walked around where she was sat down. At times he was so close he could have reached out and touched her. Then he would wonder off in all directions. I allowed this to happen for some time, while asking him at various times to try and get out of his head and into his heart, clearly he struggled with this, and that is OK, this was a new concept for him.

Eventually I intervened, I stopped him and asked him to leave his blindfold on while I got him to re-focus, by helping him to connect with his heart. I then said to him now go and find your sister. I turned to join the rest of the group in the circle, I had only to walk a few paces by the time I turned around I heard the whole group shouting my god you did it that was amazing.

It seems from the point I had left John he had walked in a straight line to the woman playing the part of his sister. At this point I did not need to intervene as the group were doing all the work, they told him with great excitement what he had done from start to finish, they explained how his energy had change just before finding his sister.

The smile on his face was wonderful to see, he seemed to be truly enjoying the feedback from his peers, he could not believe it himself that he found someone while blindfolded. The group’s joy at him succeeding seemed to give them strength and from that moment on his attitude to his recovery had changed...

Picture from my fourth coming book: The Deer (John) is looking for her Fawn (John's sister)

Boy did she jump, in more ways than one...

While working in a rehab I had one of my usual sessions of nature awareness, on this occasion we played a game called animal tag. This game involves many aspects but it primarily works with the energy of the group, in an attempt to show them on a physical level how our thoughts and energy can affect the outcome of others.

The other important aspect of the game is to get people to take on the role of an animal and in my experience when they truly do this and become the animal, their barriers drop, and they are no longer themselves, they are the wolf, the fox, the deer or the rabbit, or whatever role you have given them to play, one might call this shape shifting.

At the start of a game I get everyone to form a circle and from this I choose individuals to play the game, while the others in the circle may not get to play, they do however have to observe what takes place and often will they see themselves in the animals. During the game, I am not just watching those in the middle playing, I am also observing the rest of the group in the circle.

I am watching their body language and their energy. this helps me to decide who to choose for the next part of the game, and it may be that a person may not be in a good space to play the game, therefore to put them into the middle may cause them stress and in these cases I have found letting them remain in the circle is exactly what they need. While others are so resistant that I need to introduce them gently to the game, which often turns out not to be what they think is expected of them, they then tend to get more involved either during that particular session or the next time we are involved in nature awareness.

During one of my sessions of animal tag, I placed one of the women into the middle of the circle, her brief was to get into peripheral vision and her role was that of a fawn (young deer) and she had to remain perfectly still responding only to her feelings and acting on them.

As I walked away to get the next person to play the part of a predator like a fox or a wolf, I realised I had forgotten to tell her the signal I use to start the game with, so I turned around and headed straight for her with the intent to get the job done. As I approached to within a few feet of her, she suddenly jumped up and ran off at full speed, leaping over the heads of the group who were by now sat down in the circle and she was off, with me calling after her, “the game has not started yet”.

It is really worth noting that she was blindfolded at the time.

During each stage of the game we processed events that took place and what she shared with us was that she sensed not heard, but sensed fear and that she was in danger, so she decided to make a run for it. When asked by one of the group could she see them sat in the circle, she replied no I just knew I had to jump then.

I would also try and investigate if the events that took place could be related to their behaviour as addicts and we often do find a connection, either to how someone may think or feel prior to using etc.

So, hopefully in a brief way I have been able to illustrate how our energy and indeed our thoughts can affect someone’s outcome, no words need to be spoken. When you think that speech is only 7% of our communication, addicts can begin to see that there is much more going on. This is because the games take them out of their world and introduce them to other possibilities that may help them get into active recovery.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Tree of Trust - Another reason why I love my work...

Hi Mate.

Julie sent me this, the young lady that said she could not do the exercise:

Just thought I'd share with you a poem I have written about my tree experience. Hope you like it! Feel free to share it.

Tree of Trust

I couldn’t actually see you the first time that we met.
I didn’t really want to play the game but the bar was already set.
I was lead to stand beside you, I felt your trunk, your bark,
I smelt your smell, I breathed your air, all the while in the dark.

When my turn came to find you, I really didn’t believe.
But, loyally, you guided me through the bluebells and the leaves.
I came upon a clearing and felt you call to me
But I didn’t trust myself that you could really be my tree!

But there you were, standing tall, a connection to my soul,
A feeling of complete amazement that I couldn’t control.
With all my doubt and fear, I found you in a wood of trees
But in fact if I look closer, I actually found me.


Sunday, 10 April 2011

River of Life

The river begins its life as a spring and returns to the great ocean at its journeys end. As the water follows it’s Natural Pathways it weaves its paths to survival through its life’s journey, revealing many aspects - mental, physical, emotional and spiritual, and will have many experiences just as we do in our life.

The flow starts slowly and gently as the precious water is introduced to the world. She gently trickles, weaving a path through the channels of Mother Earth, collecting along the way all the knowledge the earth has to offer about her world. Some of this knowledge the water will not understand, but as she is one with her environment she completely trusts by remaining in the moment.

The river awakens to her surroundings; she hears the plants calling to her, plants of all different forms, colour and size as well as scent. They have so much to share; all the knowledge they themselves have acquired over the years of their beautiful and enchanting lives. In exchange for this knowledge that guides the river on its journey, she brings life to them, even the soil, yet untouched by the stream that has so much to share, such as tales about wondrous creatures that have crossed its path.

We too experience the learning given to us by our parents, our teachers and our environment. And at each junction, just as with the river, we make choices about which direction to go in. Sometimes these choices delay our journey, and like the river we too can change direction, only sometimes we refuse to go with the flow. But so long as our path is true, we will reach our union with God. Then the rains come and join as one with the river. They share as true brothers and sisters the journey together exchanging their life’s experiences with each other, learning from the mistakes that have taken place. Some would say that the rains bring trouble but this is not true.

The rains cleanse our air, removing the toxins that prevent our growth and at its own risk, the river helps with this process. As the river flows, many things will have taken place during its journey; the experience of the waterfall and the rocks below; the still pools at the side of the bank; the whirlpool, the rapids and the stillness of the water at places along its course.

All these things occur during our lifetime too. And, just as we grow, so does the river, expanding into an estuary where eventually she kisses the Great Ocean, joining as one with all that is. Just as in heaven, at the end of our journey we too find our beginning.

Written by Geoffrey McMullan

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Belize - Knee Deep in Ray's in search of Flamingo's

In 1998 shortly after leaving the Army I went off to Belize for five months working for Raleigh International as their Logistics Manager, it was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time. However, and perhaps importantly that was the time when I realised that I wanted to work with people rather than do some routine job that I could do with my eyes shut, hence the reason why I got sacked from my first to jobs in civvy street each lasting exactly six weeks.

Over the years of writing this blog I have shared some of my experiences in Belize and this is another one of those story's, there are still many more to come. This is another one of those stories. I was visiting one of the project sites up in the north of Belize not far from the Mexican border. My task at that time as well as checking on how the project was going and how the staff and volunteers were getting on, was also to search for Flamingo's which were suspected of breeding in the mangroves. Having dealt with a few issues at the project site it was decided that we would head out the next day looking for potential breeding sites.

The next morning we were woken up by the call of the Chacalacha's (a type of bird) and after breakfast we set of in our canoes and headed for an area that the locals rarely venture into. As we travelled along the open waters of the mangroves, could see that the water was very clear and at one point I jumped in to feel cool waters. The water bed looked firm however on entering the water I sank up to my knees before making what might have been solid ground. Shortly after a whole bunch of Rays turn up and as I was not sure if they posed a threat or not I opted to leave the water. The Rays were about one to two feet at their widest point and they appeared harmless enough, but you never know.

We pushed on deeper into the swamp and at one point passing close enough to a Tiger Heron that I could reach out and stroke it, it had adopted the typical Bittern pose of remaining perfectly still and bolt upright. The rest of the day was spent searching for a way through the mangroves trying to reach our chosen start point for our search to begin and of course along the way we encountered many different birds and animals.

We eventually got to our start point by which time it was fast approaching four in the afternoon so it was decided to find a place to stay and make camp, there were three canoes full of people and kit to locate a good spot away from any potential danger be animal or flooding. We canoed through the many channels until we broke into a large open area, which was dotted with small islands. One of which we chose as our camp for the night, it was ideal for setting up camp as it was quite high up and the tide mark on the island we had chosen only went half way up the bank from the water's surface.

As night time fell and the camp was all set up, we thought it would be good to just paddle out into the middle of the area we were in, and to just drift along in our canoes looking at the stars. Every now and then we would turn on our torches in response to splashes in the water only to catch glimpses of several sets of eyes looking back at us from the surface of the water. The night sky was amazing, no light population, and no noise pollution either. Eventually we turned in for the night.

Early in the morning as I lay awake in my sleeping bag, the rest of the group were sound asleep still and all I could hear was the rustling of the leaves in the gentle breeze as it passed over my face. I could hear the birds singing and the odd splash as a fish broke the surface of the water. I felt I was all alone in the world, in the land that time forgot and then in the distance I heard a plane it was a twin prop and as it drew closer I looked up and watched it pass overhead.

I felt I wanted to get their attention by jumping up and down, shouting and waving my arms just like you see in the films, but of course I knew they would not see me let alone hear me, so I stay in my scratcher (sleeping bag) and as the plane slowly disappeared into the distance my world fell silent to the wind, the birds and the water and once again I felt I was alone in the world in the land that time forgot.

After breakfast we off to begin cutting our way through the mangroves. I had the distinct feeling that this was the first time that any human had ever stood on this part of the earth, of course I have no way of proving this only to tell you what I felt and it was a feeling that I had never experienced before nor since.

The whole day was spend cutting into the mangroves which oozed blood like sap every time the machete cut into them, the cutting was easy going at first but soon it became more difficult because of the amount of mangroves there were to cut through. As a result we had not moved very far at all, in fact we had only covered two to three hundred metres in a day. Needless to say we did not find the flamingos and perhaps it was a high goal to set but in terms of the adventure the whole experience was well worth having.