Nature Connection Philosophy

Our senses are our connection to the world.  What we perceive, and what perceptions we choose to focus on, is what creates our individual map of the world.  Over the last several hundred years we have allowed ourselves to become increasingly disconnected from the natural world and the sensations it creates.  We have come to view nature the same way we see animals in the zoo, as a wildness that can be fenced in and managed, as an entertaining or educational activity.  But nature is a pervasive and ubiquitous presence in our lives that we can learn to reconnect to, for our own benefit and for the benefit of the world around us.  

Like anything that grows, humans require the correct setting to flourish.  In the same way you would not expect sunflowers to grow in a basement, you would not expect any combination of pharmaceuticals, therapy, or good intentions to create health in an environment that cannot support it.  When we learn to engage all of our senses in establishing a connection to the natural world, we prepare the soil for healing and growth.  

Nature connection comes naturally for some people but is learnable for anyone and does not require strenuous or adventurous activities, specialized clothing, or intentional suffering.  It only requires the time and space to mindfully engage our senses in a way that builds anchoring connections to the natural world around us. At every appointment, we spend time helping foster these connections to help fill in the map of the world that our senses create with undiscovered beauty and wonder.  With a more accurate map, the path towards well being is easier to navigate.  

A Conversation with our Clinical Director 

The following information is excerpted from an interview with our clinical director, Kaity Horseman LCSW, LCAS who has extensive experience in using experiential nature connection as a therapeutic modality.  

What is nature connection?

"Nature connection is a multidimensional construct that is highly personal, it incorporates aspects of your cognition, your personality, your emotions, and the direct experiences that make up your interactions with the natural world.  It is the degree to which you possess a sustained awareness of your interrelatedness with nature. Nature connection informs the degree to which you see yourself as connected to the larger world. Research shows that the more a person feels connected to nature, the more they are predicted to have a variety of health benefits. Psychologically, we see an increased sense of meaning, connectedness, and purpose in life.  Physiologically, we see reduced anxiety and increased sense of resiliency. Also, with increased nature connection we see people are more inclined to preserve and protect nature, which is good for everyone"

Why is it important?

"Research, and my own experiences, show me that connecting to nature supports human health and well-being, inspires creativity, and fosters environmental stewardship values that lead to a commitment to keep nature and natural systems healthy."

How is nature therapy different than just being outside?

"Nature exposure can certainly be helpful, but nature therapy, like any therapeutic modality, depends on some basic assumptions and follows a specific process.  I hope you're ready for a long answer on this one; it is something I have put a lot of thought into.  Nature therapy is a subset of a broader approach to therapy called experiential therapy. Experiential therapy is a client-centered, strengths-based approach that views the client as the expert of their life and believes that each person carries within them, inherent strengths and unique qualities. Experiential therapists’ goals are to guide a client towards more self awareness about inauthentic versus authentic emotional states and promote expressing true emotions as an agent to healing and lasting change. 

Broadly, this is done in three ways, by being in authentic relationship with the client, by being present with and working with what comes up spontaneously in the moment, and by incorporating exercises or activities to enhance learning.  The learning aspect is really the key to the process.  David Kolb said that “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”  With experiential therapy, a therapist aims to move beyond traditional perceived barriers with the client by engaging in activities together  to overcome roadblocks and integrate new health promoting thoughts, emotions, and behavior. These are exercises that help the client experience embodiment and move beyond default processing that stays just in the frontal lobe where problem solving, analyzing, and our critical minds tend to stay.  The process of learning through shared experience makes it possible to create new ways of thinking and behaving and move away from habitual thought and old patterns of behavior.

Nature therapy is one type of experiential therapy and is an umbrella term that covers therapeutic approaches such as eco-therapy, outdoor therapy, adventure therapy, and wilderness therapy. Defining each of these approaches can be confusing because each approach overlaps somewhat. Often times, people assume that nature therapy must happen outdoors, in remote settings. But, this is not always the case. Because we are nature, we are air, we are water, we can never truly separate from nature, we can only think of ourselves as separate. And, when we learn to realize that we are not separate, we can access the nature, landscape, and wilderness within us at all times, no matter where we are. The nature therapy process depends on having a practitioner that has a relationship with nature and who regards nature as a co-therapist.   A nature therapist's tools include enacting full-body and sensory engagement, inviting play and measured amounts of risk, and using learning through experience to create restoration and regulation, bonding and belonging."

How is experiential, nature-based therapy used at Asheville Integrative Psychiatry ?

"Again, there's no short answer to the question.  Our therapists come to us with various backgrounds within the realm of experiential and nature based therapies, as we believe that diversity is a key ingredient to a thriving community. All therapists have formal training and experience in working with clients using embodied approaches and in working with non-ordinary states of consciousness. During the first two weeks of your process, your therapist will work to build authentic relationship with you, assess your level of relationship with nature, and collaboratively create dynamic goals for your journey. With the idea that we are not separate from nature, wherever you are at in your relationship to self, others, and the world at large is just so. And by being open to new experiences, you invite changes on a cellular, communal, and spiritual level.

We will find ways to bring nature elements into the process so that you can access these elements any time. On the literal level, this will be done through direct experiences on our property by bringing natural objects into indoor spaces or conducting sessions in outdoor offices. We also prescribe practices at home that will foster enhanced relationships with nature. Activities at home may include re-engaging in a hobby that you enjoy, disciplined self-care, practicing assertive communication and boundary setting, guided visualizations, somatic experiencing techniques, mindfulness practices, nutritional wellness, or spending time in nature and with loved ones. It may also include “awe-walks” that tap into the childlike sense of wonder of the world, barefoot walking on grass, creating nature art, or intentional sensory contact with nature elements like pets, sunlight, birdsong, and flowers.

One of the things I get most excited about is our adventure therapy groups that we do with our Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy, or KAP, clients. Adventure therapy is defined by Russell and Gillis as, “the prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by mental health professionals, often conducted in natural settings, that kinesthetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels.” 

 

In the weeks between KAP sessions, clients return to our property in small groups to focus on nature connection as a way of accessing and maintaining the unique perspective that psychedelic therapy offers.  We focus on pro-social development because, as social creatures, we have an innate need for community and when we are in social learning environments, we are more likely to access learning and to integrate it. The goal is to improve mental or behavioral characteristics such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social skills.  Often times people think about adventure therapy and they think about rock climbing, backpacking, challenge courses, kayaking, canoeing, and camping. While these activities are indeed adventurous, nature therapy does not have to be that active. It is more of a way of doing things. A therapy session becomes an adventure for participants if an element of surprise  and challenge exists. Adventure is about taking risks—not necessarily physical risks, but emotional and behavioral risks. Risks occur when there are inescapable consequences, novel experiences, and the potential for loss. You know you are taking a risk when you are doing something uncomfortable. Having these experiences in constellation with others who are taking a similar journey gives our clients an extra level of connection that can foster healing.

We try to set down any desire to be the expert, and to instead meet people where they are to join them in their journey and discovery process. This way, direct experiences and connection to nature become therapeutic tools and a vehicle for change. This perspective also overlaps with the idea of inner healing intelligence, which is that a person holds within them everything they need to heal in the right conditions. If we can help foster a setting and mindset that encourages openness, curiosity, a safe place to experiment and step outside one’s comfort zone in order to learn and grow, then we are aligned with health."