It’s fairly common knowledge that spending time outdoors can be immensely beneficial to one’s mental health. But did you know that some therapists actually offer therapy sessions outdoors? What does this look like and who can benefit? One such therapist is Layla partner therapist Zenia Mihevc, who offers counselling both in and out of the office through mindful movement, forest hikes and nature walks. We sat down with Zenia to learn a little more about what it looks like to take therapy outdoors…
What does doing therapy outdoors look like in your practice?
The topic of taking therapy session outdoors and into the forest often comes naturally during the first few sessions. Most individuals that have chosen to work with me have heard I offer forest therapy in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy either through my website or social media.
All initial sessions take place in my office in order for myself and the individual I am working with to build trust and a connection. When we collectively decide to take some sessions outside we head to a forest trail or park that I am familiar with. We start the forest therapy session with a guided opening mindfulness experience, followed by incorporating traditional Forest Bathing (or, shinrin-yoku), mindful walking, intentional breathing exercises, and connecting to nature with all of our senses. Throughout this session there is also time for verbal expression and process of feelings and thoughts in the moment.
How did this come to be a part of your practice?
I believe we belong in nature. I have always found a deeper sense of self and clarity when I have entered the forest. After years of practicing psychotherapy in hospitals, medical buildings and schools, sitting on hard chairs in rooms that often did not have windows, I began exploring taking individuals outside into nearby parks, or green spaces. The positive feedback I received from the individuals after going outside was powerful. Many shared that they felt they had more space to process their thoughts and feelings and had a deeper sense of self.
What are some of the positive outcomes of taking therapy outside?
Getting outside and spending time in nature has so many benefits. Receiving Vitamin D from the sun, fresh air, and the exchange of oxygen with the trees and plants alone can be powerful.
Many people suffer from Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) during the winter months when there is less available sunlight. People who work in offices, commute by train, travel through underground/sheltered paths to get from the train to their office building are at greater risk, as are our children in schools.
Author and Journalist Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, suggests that as we spend less and less time outdoors in nature we are more prone to suffering physical and emotional distress.
Who can benefit from taking therapy outdoors?
I believe everyone can benefit from spending time in nature! When it comes to adding forest therapy into psychotherapy sessions, individuals need to feel safe and comfortable with their therapist and with the chosen location. Confidentiality is key and those accessing service need to be aware that when sessions are taking place out of the office, there may be less control of who else is around. In my experience, those who participate in Forest Therapy sessions are not worried about this as they find a deeper sense of self and peace from being outside.
As I love to say: Get Outside to Get Inside.