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

Monday, 17 December 2012

What happens when we are in Nature

There is a great deal of research into the experiences of adolescents, in the wilderness and very little on adult experiences, particularly relating to addictions. While nature is considered the primary facilitator for change, the shared-experience is without doubt an integral part of the therapeutic-process, and the use of wilderness-living-skills, meditation, alone time/sit spot, story telling (including life story) and metaphor all help to support a wilderness-programme, not only because they have therapeutic-value but because it offers individuals practical life skills.

The Sit Spot gives individuals an opportunity (Bird, 2007; Russell et al. 2000; & Raymond, 2004) to reflect on their lives. Research has shown that, 92% describe “Alone-Time" (Greenway, 1995, p.129), as the first most important experience of their programme whereas in a traditional residential-environment individuals are surrounded by peers/counsellors for the majority of their time in treatment.

Bird (2007) has shown that people with Addictions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) “…benefit from nature” (p. 74) the use of gardens helps the elderly including Alzheimer’s suffers and supports people in coming to terms (Linden & Grut, 2002) with trauma. Russell et al. (2000) found that three out of four wilderness-based programmes in the USA worked well for “…ADHD; Alcohol, Drugs, Behavioural Problems, Depression, and ODD... however, it does not appear to work well with …Anorexics, Violent or Suicidal tendencies or for younger people” (p. 211), although Russell does not clarify what was meant by younger people, whereas Bird (2007) suggests children under 12 years are strongly influenced by nature, resulting in the development of “…positive behaviour toward the environment” (p. 10).

Once, the initial trauma of entering into the wilderness has been overcome, which may involve fear, anger, depression and boredom, known as the (Harper 1995) “…mid-course blues” (p. 187) a transformation begins to take place, feelings of being at HOME, no longer feeling like an outsider manifest, individuals become more willing to confide in their ‘Field Counsellor’ as opposed to a ‘Residential Counsellor’ who is constrained within walls and a time frame. The ‘Field Counsellor’, needs to be someone who is hardy, has a wider repertoire such as wilderness-living-skills, awareness, vision, metaphor and is capable of dealing with nature’s elements and sharing the experiences of hiking, cooking and setting up camp.

Participants tend to develop a different relationship with their ‘Field Counsellor’ who they see more as a friend, thus helping to breakdown barriers, particularly around authority. Research has identified differences between the sexes Bird (2007), reports that women appear to benefit more from nature, and Greenway (1995) found that 27% of men compared to 57% of women viewed ‘coming HOME to nature’ as their major goal (p. 129). Prior to this study my observations over the years of teaching practical wilderness-living-skills supported this view. However, with Nature-Awareness if men truly engage with their ‘Heart’ they produce similar results to women.

In summery the theoretical basis of wilderness-therapy allows the natural consequences of nature to act as the primary healer, supported by the use of wilderness-living-skills etc, thus becoming an integrated process of the experiential-learning and change. By integrating Nature-Awareness experiences with residential treatment-programmes a ‘Bridge’ is formed between the wilderness and residential treatment-programmes, offering addicts the opportunity to understand themselves better by helping to balance their feelings (Heart) with their Linden & Grut (2002) “…conflicting thoughts” (p. 11) (Head) thus creating a sense of place and potentially spiritual-awakening, whilst being supported by an established treatment programme.

Geoffrey McMullan
Exploring how people with addictions experienced
Nature-Awareness as a Therapeutic Intervention

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