What?! Ecotherapy through a screen? That’s ridiculous.
Yep. I can’t disagree. When the need for social distancing first became clear, I was ready to throw in the towel (my work towel, not all the towels) until I could see folks in person again. Part of why I set up my work the way I do, (primarily outdoors) is to push against the omnipresence of screens in our lives. To witness and facilitate genuine and meaningful relationships between people and planet in real life, in real time. To help people experience the peace and relief in just being present in a moment in a place with all the beings sharing that moment and place. Not to mention, I dislike screen time. Could I possibly sit still in front of a computer, session after session, when my normal work day is wandering through woodsy trails and scrambling around rocky beaches? Is there really any possible way to do work embedded in nature connection through a video or phone call?
Maybe not so ridiculous???
The answer I’ve finally come to in regards to both those questions, after lots of internal kicking and screaming (maybe even a little external kicking and screaming sometimes), surprises me. The answer is yes. 100%, yes. Not just ‘well, good enough considering our options’ or ‘better than nothing’, which honestly was the best I was hoping for when this all started. But really, truly, yes. Ecotherapy is possible, powerful, and growthful, even with a screen or device between us. I have experienced, as both therapist and client, incredibly healing ecotherapy via telehealth. Part of me is amazed I’m even writing that sentence! Is it ideal? Definitely not. Will I want to continue to do telehealth when we can safely meet in person? Heck, no! (Sitting all day will never be my cup of tea.) But I am discovering all sorts of ways to facilitate nature based therapy online, and I’m definitely seeing clients continue to learn and grow.
What does ecotherapy look like through telehealth?
I’ll be honest–it is definitely different than an in person session. I think we both have to work a little harder to bring the outside in. Luckily, humans have incredible imaginations and powers of visualization. It turns out welcoming our nature allies into a telehealth session is absolutely possible. I have seen and felt the support and wisdom from streams, boulders, buds, emerging flowers, birds, and so much more as clients describe and embody them on other side of the screen. Sometimes, clients are going on a walk while we are speaking, and I love to hear about their landscape and encourage them to notice and interact with it even if I am unable to see what they are seeing. I sometimes will ask clients to bring a special natural being or image to session, either for grounding or exploring more deeply. (On my end, I have an assortment of rocks, feathers, plants, and shells on/around my desk to help me stay connected to nature during an indoor session.)
I am much more likely now to suggest specific activities or exercises for clients to work on between sessions (e.g., spending consistent time in a particular place outdoors while holding a questions relevant to their work, engaging in a new or deeper way with a place special to them, etc.) so that we have a nature based experience to explore during a session. I also am more likely to suggest particular readings or journaling prompts for reflection between sessions. But honestly, I’m not sure if that last one is because I’m supporting ecotherapy through telehealth or because I’m working during a pandemic. All of us (including me) may benefit from a little more intentional and structured support and personal self-reflection these days.
You can take us indoors, but you can’t take nature out of us.
Here’s the most important thing that I lost sight of a bit in the chaos of the initial pandemic response and my own sadness around not being able to meet with people outdoors. We are nature. The wild is in us. It is us. You can put a human all by themselves in a concrete walled room containing only computers and phones, and nature will still be present. If we can fully embrace and live that truth, combining ecotherapy and telehealth is not a stretch. It is not just possible, but powerful. Maybe even necessary. My own nature connection practice is even more integral to my life now than before the pandemic. Beauty, possibility, perspective, connection, physical contact, and gratitude are all very much needed these days, and very much found in reciprocal relationship with nature. Consider giving ecotherapy through telehealth a try. We can discover nature connected ways to more gracefully hold all of the current complicated realities and whatever else might bring you to therapy at this time.
Life is often hard, but it is extra super duper hard these days. If you’re considering therapy, if you need some extra support now (and really, who doesn’t need extra support during a global pandemic?!), don’t let the screen hold you back. Meaningful, nature connected support is still very much possible.