At the Wilderness Foundation UK, our therapy programmes encourage clients to explore issues around the challenges they face with their mental health while actively participating in a natural setting. For example, the associate wilderness therapist will sit with a client around a fire and enquire about the client’s experiences, whether it involves issues with struggling with school or in their personal life. Such an interaction takes the client out of their familiar routine of being at home, school or an urban environment they are used to.
Our outdoor therapy places them within an environment that has evolved from our primitive years as a species, and actively evokes a sense of adventure within them. To a child/young person this activity is exciting but also awakens a primal instinct to belong. Nature doesn’t discriminate and activities like being in a wood, walking through a field or sitting by a stream not only initiates a feeling of belonging but also creates a space for the client that often has no direct relation to their everyday lives. In essence they are just there, experiencing themselves in a neutral place. Taken out of the environment that they are used to and placed in a natural setting they are more likely to be themselves and engage with the problems they are facing. Whereas a therapy room could remind them of a classroom or a room in their house, the outdoors experience and sitting on a log in a wood allows them not to be triggered by familiar inertia; rather the wood surrounds them acting like a place of sanctuary.
Studies of guided meditation reveal that client’s often think of natural spaces when they think of a place they are comfortable in. Actually being in a natural environment creates this sense of ease and tranquility allowing the client to be more engaging with the challenges they are facing. Introducing therapeutic techniques within a natural environment are more effective as the client is more likely to gain a new perspective of their issues as they are on the outside (being in nature) looking in (their lives within a modern urban environment). Once engaged, therapeutic techniques like Cognitive behavioural therapy, Transactional Analysis, Psychoanalysis and being person centred can be applied to the client’s experience. A client can explore their processes by unblocking streams to allow them to feel they can achieve something. Walking through muddy terrain which can represent their struggle in life or simply by feeling the cold and likening it to a feeling of being alone. A client immersed in nature and encouraged to engage with therapy can metaphorically reflect and emancipate problems that they face in an urban environment.
The importance of Wilderness therapy in a world where children and young people are overwhelmed in an urban and virtual environment is paramount. Social media and restrictive social pressure cause children to withdraw deeper into their rooms. We need to encourage the next generation to have a balance between an interaction with the natural world, their mental health and the modern lives we need. Once this is achieved I believe the benefits of this would enable people to face the challenges that they face.