Was this Ecotherapy?

I first met Mark in the January of 2020.  I needed counselling as part of a training I wasPhoto of Teignmouth Beach doing, but also in need of support navigating a personal loss. We met, at the time, as most counsellors / 'counsellees' did, in person, in a room in a local spot.  In the intervening 8 weeks or so, we met weekly and made a lot of progress as well as building trust. 

Readers will know how the story goes... we had to stop meeting when measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic were put in place. 

Over time and as measures initially eased, I came to realise I wanted to talk more with Mark and keep working together.

By then the days were long, people could meet at a distance.  I was pleased when Mark agreed to work together on the local sea front. We agreed to try it out - he was conscious of making sure privacy was maintained in terms of people overhearing us talk.  I'm sure he was considering lots of factors, that I didn't need to worry about.

I was very happy with the spot we chose - on a bench in full view, but set back - with a 180 degree view of the sea and the cliffs at either end of the beach.  The weather was mellow.  Kids and dogs were splashing around in the water.  Boarders were paddling, swimmers were swimming, it was 7pm in the evening - a lovely time to be on the beach in July. 

But on the beach....well, it's full of life, a buzz with people and nature. During our beach side counselling sessions, I was able to gaze at the gently rounded horizon, marvelling in awe at the ever so slight curve of our tiny blue planet where sea meets sky in a line of brilliant white. 

During my therapy on the beach, I think both Blue Mind and Awe were at play and no doubt plenty of more natural phenomena that is yet to be quantified and described by science. 

In the sessions, my mind would be busy considering, analysing, recognising and ultimately shifting whilst simultaneously at ease. I can still take myself back to that bench now.  I recall the feeling of being supported, I know the sounds, I know the bouys bobbing in the distance. With occasional skulls caps of swimmers coming into my awareness.  I can recall the feeling of being at ease and in awe of nature's bounty. 

What I dont know is how that was for Mark as a counsellor. I dont know if it was easier to work out in nature. Or if he was more relaxed.  What happened for him personally? What did he write in his book as I left? Maybe he'll tell us sometime.  

I had the feeling we made progress and that there was a sense of freedom and relaxation in the work.

A Giant Sand Tray

I knew Mark was keen on Sandtray work as he'd mentioned his regret at not having access to it at the place where he hired a counselling room. 

He may well have been over the moon when I agreed that it might be a good idea to do my own *timeline on the beach. We were literally in the sand tray. Luckily, it was a balmy evening and the front beach in Teignmouth is spacious when the tide is out with plenty of dry soft sand as well as driftwood and offerings from the sea....a child's pacifier, a bit of a doll, seaweed, rocks, random bits and pieces that magically found a place in a 3 meter long timeline of my life! 

I thought about taking a photo - which would have been great for this article, but actually I was quite happy to let the sea take my timeline away. 

*A 'Timeline' is a therapeutic tool that allows a person to take a birds eye view of their life, including events and shifts, both positive and negative. Its purpose is to help being about positive changes in emotional health. 
Was our work by the sea 'Ecotherapy'? 

Personally, I think so.

But, I feel it's incumbent on me to seek out any definitions of eco-therapy.. here's two that I have found: 

Mind (mental health charity) say

Ecotherapy is a formal type of therapeutic treatment which involves doing outdoor activities in nature. There isn't one single definition of ecotherapy, but it's often used to describe a regular, structured activity that:

  • is led by trained professionals (sometimes therapists), who are there to support you
  • focuses on doing an activity, rather than on your health
  • takes place in a green environment
  • is related to exploring and appreciating the natural world
  • involves spending time with other people, although you can always choose to interact at your own pace.

Anna Freud Centre takes a simpler view: 

'Ecotherapy aims to improve your health through engaging in outdoor activities in nature. This could be any number of things, including a walk to the park, growing plants, fruits or vegetables, or even having a little cactus on your windowsill.'

Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology are relatively new disciplines and will find their way over time, but for an uncomplicated approach talking therapies out of doors is a winner for me.

Personally, I am happy to focus on engaging in as much Soft Fascination as possible, one of my favourite pastimes is sitting on the beach, watching the kids play and occasionally daring to get into the sea!  That to me is a nature fix!

Tracey Warrener - CPD Programmes Lead


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