Outdoor therapy therapist, Ellie Hobson has a Diploma in Integrative Counselling, which is person-centred & psychodynamic. Before launching Wild Therapy, Ellie had previous experience of working in a residential setting with children who have been in care. She has three years of experience working for Crossreach Counselling, Inverness and Imagine If, Newtownards, as well as launching her own therapeutic organisation, Wild Therapy.
Why Wild Therapy?
For some of our most complex problems, nature provides quite a simple solution. Wild Therapy is the product of two of my passions in life – the outdoors and helping people on their journey towards emotional wellbeing. Since qualifying as a counsellor, I wanted to create a fresh and organic approach to counselling. I wanted to take it outside, beyond the four walls of the therapy room. It would appear I’m not the only one who thinks that nature is a great cure. This article from The Guardian tells how doctors on the Shetland Islands in Scotland are now promoting nature prescriptions to patients who are suffering from long term chronic illnesses.
For me, a breath of fresh air does something physically, mentally and emotionally. It makes sense to me that if we absorb trauma through our bodies, then the best release will also come through our body – which means getting outside and moving so we can help this shift.
It doesn’t matter how fit you are.
Through Wild Therapy, I work one-to-one with clients, walking and talking along the coastal path at Helen’s Bay or through the forest at Crawfordsburn Country Park. I also offer wild swimming as an option for anyone who wants to brave the cold Northern Irish seas. I’ve been doing this myself weekly for over a year now and the uptake has been huge. Helen’s Bay on a Saturday morning looks more like the Costa Del Sol! I’m a huge advocate of the benefits of cold water swimming. It’s worth saying that this isn’t about how good a swimmer you are, or how fit you are, or how fast you can walk, like other outdoor activities. It’s about connecting with the natural environment, and then, essentially, reconnecting with yourself.
I tend to spend at least a portion of our sessions in silence and I make a point of stopping at certain points along the way to be still, where we can ground ourselves and just ‘be’ for a while. I think now, particularly as we emerge from this pandemic, there is a new appreciation for the simple things we have found through being in the great outdoors. The time feels ripe for this kind of approach as people seek to recover from being cooped up at home during various lockdowns.
Slow down and pause.
I think if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s been how to slow down or pause. There’s something about the simplicity of it that I love. There is so much research out there these days confirming what we’ve all probably known for years: that green spaces improve our well being. This article, published by TIME magazine, shows how even 20 minutes spent in green spaces can improve your mood. It also reiterates that doctors are beginning to recognise this and are actually using nature as a prescription. Outdoor therapy can help all of these things.
How do you incorporate more green into your day?
You don’t have to climb a mountain or anything extreme like that for Outdoor therapy, just decide to take a wander to your nearest park or green space today. Adopt a morning walk into your routine before your work day begins or for the not so early risers, an evening walk. Watch a sunset. Organise a walk & coffee with a friend. Nature is so accessible. This is not about performance, it’s about well being. Notice your surroundings, pay attention to a tree, a river, a bird or a flower for a minute. The key is to make it a practice in your everyday rhythms of life. Make a walk part of your routine and try as best you can to prioritise this time in your day for you. Put it in your diary if you need to!
Benefit from the simplicity of nature.
I started Wild Therapy because I have a vision to see people benefit from the simplicity of nature, where we can have meaningful connections with one another and ourselves, and where we can reconnect with whatever feels like has been disconnected. Wild Therapy has been going now for just over a year and our client base is growing by the day. I think more and more people are waking up to the simple benefits of walking and being with nature.
I love what I do and over the next year I hope to expand Wild Therapy to provide a space for younger ages to come to a forest school kind of idea, where kids can come and play in the woods, learn how to bake bread rolls on the fire, build a den from sticks or experiment in a mud kitchen.
Re-discover your wild.
I was very fortunate as a child because I naturally just did all these things, but sadly, I think this experience has been lost for children growing up these days. I’m in the process of planning Outdoor Therapy journeys for young people and adults, as an opportunity to come away into the mountains for 3-7 days and learn what it might mean to re-wild. These trips will be a time for disconnecting from devices so you can reconnect with yourself, nature and the people you come away with. Here, you’ll learn quickly what it means to be self-reliant. You’ll be carrying your own camping kit and cooking for yourself each night.
There’s so much good work being done by an organisation called The Wilderness Foundation in England and Scotland over the past 20 years and we hope to collaborate with them this coming year to offer experiences for young people in Northern Ireland. We hope you’ll think about joining us someday to re-discover your wild!
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