Introduction to Wilderness Therapy
Since the dawn of mankind humans have lived in relationship with the natural world, the earth on which we walk and depend upon, albeit that the relationship cannot be assumed to a happy one. Wilderness has been a constant source of retreat, refuge, guidance and inspiration for iconic figures, prophets, mystics, poets and scientists alike.
Modern life and urban development have far removed us from Nature’s Elemental balancing forces of Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Space and there is a tendency to relate to Nature’s cycles and seasons only in terms of turning the central heating and air conditioning up or down! Along with this physical distancing from the earth is an increasing emotional disconnection and this is often found to be the cause of much of the psychological difficulties we may experience at times in our lives.
When people think of Wilderness Therapy there are automatic responses along the lines of it being something allied to school outward bound programmes, boot camps, adventure therapy, bush craft or survival skills courses and this is an understandable misnomer where providers promote the concept of a ‘therapeutic experience’, where anything might happen, rather than an agreed ‘Therapy Contract’ with agreed issues to explore within an agreed context.
The confusion can continue and contaminate the Therapy or, indeed, the therapeutic experience, if the Wilderness Therapist is not suitably experienced in the outdoors environment, ending up fearful for their own safety and survival, let alone the physical and emotional well-being of their clients. For this reason therapists who are not experienced outdoor practitioners will often enlist the support of wilderness guides, to ensure safety of the clients. For my part, I have more than40 years’ experience of relating to wilderness and remote environments, from the UK hills, to the Alps and the greater ranges of the Himalaya and the Andes. Armed with this experience, my preference is to keep any group work limited in numbers, up to six, where I know that I can properly manage all aspects of the work and avoid the risk to confidentiality that can come with the recruitment of non-therapists. When working with larger groups, I usually arrange co-facilitation with a qualified therapist, using an outside guide merely to help organise and move people around but in a way that they are not exposed to the sensitivities of the deep work with clients.
People often ask me “Where is true and absolute wilderness to be found in the world?” and this is a very pertinent question since true wilderness is hard to find and is under pressure and constant threat. To be able to spend time in complete wilderness requires the availability of plenty of spare cash or generous funders and this is hard to sustain, beyond the short term, and can be environmentally costly. This situation leads many people who experience Wilderness Therapy to actually only experience a seductive but brief affair with nature, which is difficult to integrate beyond the short term.
For these reasons my approach, ecologically, pragmatically and philosophically, is to view this medium as being ‘Wilderness and Nature- Based Therapy’ and my aim is to encourage clients to form a relationship with Nature in a way that they can readily and sustainably access, interpret and relate to it. I’ve worked with a variety of clients in their local open spaces, woodland and even rocky beaches in a way that has proved to be transformational and life affirming for them.
I hold a formal qualification in this medium, in a format that has been exhaustively tested, challenged and affirmed by colleagues and the accrediting body – Not all therapists claiming the title of Wilderness Therapist to actually have this level of qualification.
In addition to my counselling qualifications, I hold a formal professional qualification as a Mountain Leader, awarded by The Mountain Training Association, having passed their rigorous qualification and assessment criteria. I also hold a formal first aid qualification which is specifically designed to consider remote rather than simply urban issues. I believe that it is an ethical imperative for anyone who works therapeutically in the outdoors to be formally recognised as being a ‘safe practitioner’ in the fullest context of addressing the duty of care, here both emotional and physical, that we have for our clients.
Apart from working in environments local to my clients, I am resourced and able to work with small groups anywhere in the UK, given appropriate notice.