Remember lockdown? As so many in-person gatherings moved online or, in time, outdoors, I read about therapy being held outdoors. Some counsellors and therapists were seeing patients or clients outside, maybe in a garden or park or by going for a walk together. Patients reported feeling more at ease and relaxed during these outdoor sessions.
I’ve never had any counselling or therapy. But I do feel that if I ever wanted to talk to someone like this, an outdoor setting would absolutely feel more relaxed, less intense and more informal. I’d particularly like walking and talking – that seems like a natural way to share. Compared to sitting in an office or room, outdoors would feel more familiar and welcoming, and maybe more equal too, on neutral ground. Some patients found they could open up more easily not having to make eye contact, walking along side by side.
Sitting one-to-one with a therapist or counsellor might feel nerve-wracking, even forced. Outdoors in the elements, the focus might feel less on you, on your words or on how you come across. And meeting outdoors could work well for group therapy as well, as an enjoyable shared experience.
Outdoor therapy, and outdoor wellbeing initiatives, come in so many different forms. Dance for wellbeing is being held outside more than it used to be, combining the physical and mental benefits of movement, dance and rhythm with the added impact of connecting with nature and the outdoors. Whether or not there’s talking therapy as part of this, it is in itself an expressive and therapeutic way to spend time.
The outdoors can seem more open and free. People who have claustrophobia struggle with being indoors, particularly in confined spaces and with other people. And people who have agoraphobia, who find it difficult to leave home at all, might find it easier to go out for a walk than to a therapist’s office. And since Covid, being outdoors can still feel safer.
Nature’s impacts on mood and mental health are well known. So outdoor therapy adds this further element to the therapy itself. Being amidst trees slows heartbeat and lowers blood pressure, so people who get agitated during therapy might find an outdoor session less distressing. Looking at the sky, or at insects or birds, alters perspective as well.
Obviously the specific setting matters, and it may depend where you would usually see a therapist. Some people dread going to healthcare settings like a GP surgery, clinic or hospital, so that meeting in a park would be far preferable. But it won’t be for everyone. For some, sitting indoors in a quiet room could be more helpful and focused. It could be difficult to find suitable outdoor locations nearby. Sadly, many city parks do have issues with safety and anti-social behaviour. Wet or cold weather could prevent therapy going ahead. And outdoors could be too public if you’re concerned about being overheard or being seen by someone you know while upset.
What do you think about outdoor therapy? Could you share any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002? Thank you.