“After a number of traditionally orientated counselling sessions, Geoff introduced me to the concept of Wilderness Therapy as close as we get to the concept in the local woodland. I found this experience to be of huge importance in my life. I found it an incredibly powerful way to address issues which had haunted all of my adult life. I was able to process feelings about my childhood in a way which I had never been able to before. The symbolism of “leaving” feelings in the woods for the trees to look after for me is something I still practice today. Issues such as anger, confusion, blame and abandonment have left me. I am able to live peacefully in the day without carrying around the baggage of my past thanks to this amazing form of therapy.”
The above client comments brilliantly illustrate the process of Wilderness Therapy where metaphorical dialogue comes to life once a human being stops living and thinking on auto-pilot and leaves ‘clock-time’ behind to engage with Nature on Nature’s terms, more mindfully and with greater awareness of our ‘inner wilderness’ and how it can be reflected in the ‘outer wilderness’. Nature has always provided for those who inhabit it and is there to teach us if we are prepared to engage with it.
In the outdoors, we become more physically and emotionally aware of the internal environment of our bodies and sensations, our hopes, fears and frailties, our dreams and our personal power, as well as our external environment. Our internal and external worlds can connect in an authentic meeting between our senses and nature. With societal niceties stripped away, or as much removed as the client feels safe to strip away, deep reparative work can be done quite quickly and very effectively. As one client said – “Out here in the woods, I can hide from everyone, but I can’t hide from myself!”
I have found that the process works very effectively on a sessional basis against a background of existing and on-going indoors therapy with individuals, where traditional therapy sessions intersperse with the outdoors work.
It is also very valuable to work over the longer term, an intensive 5-day programme for example, where I have worked in North Wales, using a comfortable property which is set beside a waterfall. Some Wilderness ‘purists’ would contest this as not being ‘wilderness enough’ but my own extensive experience-based view is that many ‘wilder’ wilderness experiences have the capacity to create at best a misadventure and at worst a traumatic experience for some. My clients find that one or two nights out camping give them more than sufficient solo experience and personal reflection time and the sense of community that is formed within the base is valued as part of the overall experience.
Working effectively in the outdoors tends to take the client out of their traditional comfort zones, raising their personal awareness and insight – they don’t need to tough it up by not having a hot shower for week! In my experience, people who are comfortable to actually survive in such environments are likely to be running the programmes, not attending them!