I was talking with a colleague the other day about a comment we (counselors) often hear from people who don’t work in this field. So many times people say some version of, “Why would you want to spend all day listening to really sad stories?” I do understand at least in part
where this question comes from. Our job does sound pretty depressing, if you’re not in the room with us to know that along with the sad stories are countless moments of strength, resilience and growth. Every single day, I get to see people heal. Our work can be hard, for sure, but it is also incredibly inspiring and joyful.
There are many reasons people assume my work is depressing. I believe one of the biggest is that generally, as a culture, we make so little space for difficult and complex emotions/experiences. On a social level, we are focused on image, goals, accomplishments, appearances, and a very narrow definition of ‘success’. Individually and socially we can get so wrapped up in these things we end up disconnected from natural and entirely human experiences of things like loss, grief, transition, confusion around identity and purpose, etc. Sometimes, I wonder if we had to create therapy/counseling because our culture has evolved in such a way that we don’t support human experiences authentically. Instead, we to go to a little room with a total stranger, often in secret, to share our deepest pain and figure out our naturally complicated lives and selves. It sounds kind of bizarre, doesn’t it? A counseling room/relationship is a place where being fully, messily human is not only expected, but honored, and that is far from a typical experience in our world. My hope is that one day my profession is obsolete. I hope one day we figure out how to re-connect with our full experience of humanity, with each other, and with the earth. That we can support each other through community, ritual, ceremony, and relationship with each other and the earth, in the darkest and brightest moments.
Something I love about nature based therapy is that nature holds the dark and the light and everything in between without judgment. By intentionally re-connecting ourselves with natural systems, we re-connect ourselves with an entire system that accepts life and death, sunrise and sunset, winter and spring, as part of existence. There is room in nature for all of our human selves (and no space for our social norms of accomplishment, appearance, etc.). In nature based therapy, the counseling room extends far beyond 4 walls and provides countless relationships that accept one’s full human experience, no matter how messy or hard. We don’t yet live in the society that supports us to be healthy and whole. But we can put ourselves back in touch with the systems that do.