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Why work outdoors as a therapist? Out of the Box and into the Tree.

This is an interesting one for me, as I think there are many as answers as there are reasons to work outside and indeed how to work outside with people. Ultimately, each therapist will have their own reasons for taking therapy outside and so long as precautions have been taken to ensure client safety there is (nor should there be) one way of engaging in therapeutic activity in natural environments. In this blog I'm going to focus my attention on taking young people outdoors for therapeutic intervention and discuss some of the reasons I took my work outside and why I continue to do so.



My why - because not all boxes are helpful.


In the wonderful words one child announced in a Forest School I ran, "We [children] need less screen time and more green time!" The child in question said this with the sun shining through the tree leaves above with a smile on their face and a knife in their hands, whittling happily with friends surrounding them all smiling the same, lost in the moment. This led me to think of the boxed in culture we have developed. Classrooms are boxes, bedrooms are boxes and games consoles are boxes with games shown on a box and yes often therapy takes place in a box of sorts. That's the physical boxes children and young people often find themselves in (this blog won't go down the rabbit hole of the pigeon holes (boxes) our youth are also placed in).


So, for myself working outdoors just made sense, especially when I reflect on those I have supported over the years who didn't do well in the "box". Usually these were young people who had been diagnosed with ADHD/ASD and or behavioural concerns, had experienced various abuses and more often than not were and are young boys. Working outside brought new dynamics to therapy, movement outdoors enable those I work with to relax more and natural objects such as trees offer sources of inspiration for therapeutic dialogue. Trees indeed are great friends to therapy.


The Talking Tree


I always fondly recall a particular tree in a school I worked at and still do every time I get chance. It is a small tree, field maple with sturdy low hanging limbs which most find easy to climb. The tree has prefect branches for sitting in and two people can do so quite comfortably and getting down is great fun as there are plenty of safe places to swing from. One young boy I worked with loved this tree and it was in this trees branches we spent our therapy sessions. As it was on the edge of the school grounds there was the odd occasion when a passer by would look up surprised, which delighted the young person who would often claim "This is the talking tree!" And that is was it was forever more called The Talking Tree. In this tree our sessions explored a variety of themes important to the young person but ultimately we addressed death, loss and grief. During our sessions the seasons were changing and the Talking Tree had a lesson to share, that loss is natural and that just like the tree letting go of its leaves there is life beyond death, however we wish to view that. For me it was a beautiful moment, brought on in a wonderful little tree, on the edge of a school playing field during the changing of the seasons.


So boxes are okay but not always safe and ladders are easy to climb but don't offer much more than a step up. But outside the boxes and amongst the trees there are lessons to be learned and healing can be done in a new yet very ancient way.


Thank you for reading.


Luke Wild N' Well







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