By Mia Castagnone
You’ve heard of the Therapaws, now get ready for Nature Based Therapy!
Victoria-based organisation, Nature Based Therapy, offers counselling, group activities, retreats and diploma courses to medical students and professionals in nature therapy. The organisation was founded by Kit Kline, a Canadian-born counsellor and educator in the social and community services sector with 17 years of experience under her belt. Kit realised the positive effect of being outdoors to mental health treatment after taking her counselling sessions outside. She noticed clients seemed more at ease and more willing to open-up, which led her to doing her own research into the benefits of nature therapy and found countries across the world were pairing mental health treatments with increased outdoor activity.
I spoke with her to find out more about nature therapy and to gain her advice for students during these stressful final weeks at university. We all know our exams certainly won’t be a walk in the park, but taking a walk through one just might help!
How can we use nature to help us reach a positive mindset?
“It’s all about visibility. When we see nature, it gives us a sense of calm. Nature has a way of bringing us back to reality. We often lose track of ourselves when we are at our most stressful point,” Kit explains.
Kit’s top tips to bringing the outdoors into your study routine:
1. Sit by a window or out on a balcony.
2. Bring a pot plant into your study space.
3. Change your screen saver to an image of a natural landscape.
4. Organise study groups with friends but rather than going to a library head to your local park.
Pro tip: have you been to the outdoor learning space at the Brennan Maccallum building?
What is it about nature that makes us feel good?
“Some people don’t realise this but we can turn to nature for self-care and to help us make sense of the world. It comes down to feeling alive and we experience this when we feel the wind on our face, the heat of the sun on our skin and when can hear the sounds of the natural environment. This taps into our sensory body and helps us learn and sharpen our focus, which is really important for students trying to study. There is scientific evidence that shows spending time in nature has an amount of physiological and emotional impact on our body. My theory is humans, animals and plants are all part of the natural world and we need each other to survive.”
Technology plays a big role in our lives today, what do you suggest we do to combat the digital confines we might be putting ourselves in?
“Keeping a journal or diary is a great way to relax. Whether you are using it to write your thoughts or using it to sketch, grab an empty book, sit outside for as little or as long as you like and observe how you feel. See the difference it makes for yourself. It is important to spend time away from your desk so, use your study breaks to disconnect from your digital devices and reconnect with something around you that’s real. Nature therapy is all about coming back to what’s real in our lives and looking at the bigger picture.”
Do you think there is an issue among millennials with regards to keeping things bottled up and not seeking help?
“Definitely, the world today is too fast and too isolating. Nowadays, there is a loss of human connection. We buy things from robots not human beings. Nobody gets to know their neighbours or their community. People tend to think it’s normal to not talk about how we feel. But the problem here is that when we suppress our emotions that energy gets stored elsewhere. So, what we find is that this stress manifests in a physical form, whether it’s migraines or muscle aches around the back and neck. If you supress what we feel, it will come up elsewhere in the body. Remember it’s okay to talk about how you feel.”
Why are self-care strategies so important for students?
“A lot of students pick courses because it’s what their parents wanted them to study or they believed it had good job prospects, but if you are studying something you are not passionate about you’re going to be stressed out. You will find spending more time outdoors will help you look more intrinsically and reach better understandings of yourself. This will help you identify who you are, what is your purpose and what your intention is to give back to the outer world.
Some ways you will be able to better focus on your work and essays and whatever it is you are doing is simple – take a break! You don’t need a car to get to a beach or park, if you have a garden and can tend to some plants, evidence shows these outdoor activities and bringing in plants to your house can improve our physical and mental health.”
Final thoughts for students
“Everything in life is very transitional. People come and go in your life. Nothing is ever permanent. If you feel disconnected or not grounded, go sit by a tree and feel the grounding of it. Nature is always there, nature is stable.”