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Outdoor Therapy With Ruth Allen

Dr Ruth Allen is a qualified outdoor counsellor/psychotherapist, person-centred therapeutic coach, and an experienced trainer and facilitator. She specialises in outdoor practice, nature connection and the power of relationship, and is interested in how we make meaning of our lives, the stories we tell, and the things we’ve been through. 

 

She says: "I am a person-centred, existential-humanistic counselling psychotherapist with a special interest in outdoor therapies and nature connection for wellbeing. I work in outdoor spaces across Derbyshire and have an indoor private practice at The Matlock Therapy Centre."

What is outdoor counselling/therapy?

At its most basic level, outdoor counselling/therapy is taking the therapy outdoors, when it has traditionally been held indoors between therapist and client. We might sit together in a natural outdoor space, or as with my practice, walk and talk. I work in a woodland and moorland area, but other people work in urban green spaces or whatever is available to them. There are lots of benefits to this way of working that you don’t get inside, including working with the whole mind and body in movement, which is something I am interested in. Beyond this, outdoor therapy is more than a method – it’s rooted in ecological psychology and encourages clients to consider themselves and their situation as part of a far broader ecosystem of life on a living planet. It brings the rest of nature into the picture and the conversation, opening up new perspectives and ways of thinking, which can be really helpful and healing. 

Why is adventure, wellbeing and a connection to nature so important for our mental health?

Time outdoors in nature supports human health and wellbeing in a variety of different ways ranging from the physiological, through to the emotional, psychological and spiritual. Time outdoors has been shown to boost our immune system, regulate our sympathetic nervous system (responsible for stress and rest), increase positive emotion and the production of hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, lower bloody pressure and sugar levels…all sorts! My particular interest is in human connectedness to nature and how a meaningful connection can support long-term feelings of wellbeing and fulfilment in life. It has now been shown in research that it is meaningful experiences and encounters with nature rather than ‘contact’ alone, that improves mental wellbeing in the long-term, and is a predictor of lower levels of depression. That is, it doesn’t matter so much how many times you go outdoors, but what you do and how you feel when you’re there. This is where adventure comes in! It’s a great way of building a connection with the natural world through rich experience, whilst also supporting other areas of our wellbeing such as confidence building, resilience and problem-solving. Adventures opens us up to peak experiences and feelings of awe and wonder; all important factors in feeling that we are living a fulfilling and meaningful life. One of the most exciting aspects of nature connection research for me, is that people who love nature and feel a bond with it, are more likely to value it and care for it thus helping the wellbeing of the planet too. 

What is your advice for those looking to have a closer connection to the outdoors?

There are many, many ways that you can improve your connection to nature and the outdoors, but it starts with the idea of emotional engagement. You can just go outside and feel the physiological benefits of fresh air, but if you take the opportunity to have experiences that leave you feeling really positive, awe-inspired, energised then these things build your connectedness to the landscape. So my top tips for mental and emotional wellbeing through nature connection are:

 

  • Take time to have proper experiences and encounters outside with the rest of nature – don’t just rush around competing and achieving. Do things that matter to you. 
  • Notice beauty around you – this is available in the mountains, but also in an urban parkland. Beautiful things make us feel good. 
  • Connect with your nearby nature – the regular, persistent, local connection with nature near your has been shown to be important for wellbeing, it’s ot just about getting away for the big adventures. 
  • Be present – use all of your senses to engage with your surroundings, don’t just put on your headphones or chat with your friends, missing everything natural around you. Put away your camera and really be wherever you are. Soak in the ambient, stillness of nature.  
  • Don’t be afraid to go it alone – time outside in solitude offers fantastic opportunities for confidence building and quiet time, allowing us to cultivate nature connection in our own way.