Nature’s Gifts: 3 Therapeutic Reasons to Get Outside

Nature is an often overlooked, yet abundant resource for healing.  As a therapist, it is my job to sit with clients when they are feeing distress, overwhelm, and anxiety. In order to redress these challenges, I often provide strategies and coping skills that utilize nature as a resource. As an ecotherapist, I see the natural world as a co-therapist in the healing process.  This blog serves as a beginners guide for increasing your healing capacity by engaging the free and accessible benefits of the natural world. 

Find below 3 reasons to get outside and corresponding activities that can help meet our nature needs:

Nature Increases Wellbeing

Spending time in the nature or even just viewing pictures of nature are both associated with psychological wellbeing.  Being outside in nature is correlated with a decrease in blood pressure, the relaxing of tight muscles, and an increase in alpha brains waves which incite feelings of calm.

Action: 

I often prescribe nature outings during the week for clients who are struggling to stay grounded or feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety.  Plan outside activities after periods of stress or anxiety for you and/or your family – doing yard work, going on a walk around Lady Bird Lake, or spending time on your porch can all be helpful transitional activities that can calm you down after the work/school stress or blues.

Nature Creates Avenues for Positive Sensory Intervention

The latest research states that new, repetitive interactions with sensory experiences help grow the brain and create positive, healing neuropathways.  Healing sensory experiences are positive experiences that engage the senses. The natural world is full of novel, sensory experiences – these experiences are especially important for our kiddos and teens whose brains are still developing. Note: it is also important for adults.

Action:

Play the “5 Senses Game” with your family after school.  Go on a nature walk and ask each family member to notice something they saw, heard, tasted, and touched.  (I generally leave out the taste sense and have a handful of mint or rosemary sprigs to pass out unless you’ve got a family of gardeners who know what is safe to taste and what is not).  At the end of the walk, ask each family member to share their experience.  

Nature Encourages Physical and Emotional Healing

A landmark study by Ulrich found  that having access to a nature scene through a window expedited the healing process for those undergoing gallbladder surgery.  Patients with nature access via a window healed faster at a statistically significant rate compared to those patients who did not have access to a natural scene.  Additionally, research suggests that there are microbes in soil that are associated with increases positive mood.  Many hospitals and healing spaces are  now incorporating gardening as an addendum to healing protocols.  

Action:

If possible, create work and play spaces that have access to windows with natural views.  Place a plant next to your bed, or at your desk at work. Not keen on watering?  It’s Texas – get yourself a cactus or succulent!  If you do not have access to light or windows, place pictures of the natural world in your office – this too is supported by research to increase feelings of calm. 

This week, take a deep breath, and walk outside.  The healing capacities of the natural world are ready to help.  Feel free to reach out if you have any nature-related therapy questions.  When in doubt, go outside…

By: Amber Jekot, LMSW under the supervision of Lindsey Humphrey, LCSW-S

How to Find a Good Fit with a Counselor

The journey to finding a counselor can feel very overwhelming. There are internet search, phone calls, and insurance questions…it’s already hard enough, but then when you add in the personal connection counseling requires, it makes it feel like an even harder to-do. Sometimes people are pretty lucky and they find a counselor that checks all the boxes:

  • They have a license. CHECK! (That is pretty important after all AND is a requirement when seeing anyone in a professional capacity).
  • They are in your budget. CHECK!
  • They have your specific need listed in their specialties. CHECK!

They even have a great smile…AWESOME! But what about your feelings when you are actually with them?

The relationship & rapport you have with your therapist is imperative. So here are some additional qualities to think about in your search for a counselor to help find the best fit for you. 

Ask yourself what you are missing from other loved ones in your life.

Think about who you have in your life: friendships, family, relationships, work colleagues, etc. What do these people have in common in the way they connect with you and what might be missing? Do you need more accountability? More warmth? More validation? Your counselor’s nature and approach might need to meet a type of connection that is lacking elsewhere.

How do you feel when you think about being vulnerable? 

Vulnerability is challenging in any situation with almost any person (just ask Brene Brown), but does it feel do-able with this individual? Do they feel trustworthy, dependable, or safe to you? Being clear about what you want to work on will help you filter if this therapist will be able to meet your counseling goals early on. Notice their reaction and response when you are open. If you do not feel comfortable, they are not the right one.

Can you ask for what you need from your counselor? 

Maybe you REALLY like this counselor but they sometimes talk too much or too long. Maybe they don’t talk enough, and it feels like you are talking to a brick wall. Tell your counselor what you are or are not needing. They should be able to hear this and make a correction. After all, this is YOUR time, not theirs.

How is your counselor’s nature?

Are they motherly? More serious? Do they act like your old BFF? Whatever you are needing, look for a vibe that feels comforting to you. You need to be at ease for the hard work you are about to do.

In the quest for looking for a counselor, I generally recommend asking for a 15-20 min consultation call. (Note that not all counselors offer consultation calls–and that’s also okay). This helps give you a feeling for these things to filter out the easy no’s. Schedule with someone you feel most confident about. Go to the session. Trust yourself. If it is an easy no – don’t reschedule. If you are not sure – I recommend going at least 3 times before making a decision. This allows time for you to become more comfortable and for the therapist to show what most sessions will likely look like. 

Written by: Grace Shook, LPC

Beating the Back-to-School Blues

Sometimes it feels like sweet summertime will never end. Then, all of a sudden, it’s August and you’re scrambling to get school supplies, sign up for extracurricular activities, and getting used to the idea of waking up at 6AM. Meanwhile, your child is feeling anxious about the new school year, as shown by tearful outbursts, or even declaring they’re not going back to school.  It can seem like this time will always be stressful, but there are concrete things you can do to make the transition into the school year go smoothly for you and your kids. 

Practice School Routines

Get on a good sleep schedule a couple weeks before school starts. This will help alleviate morning grumpiness and help your child be prepared for the school day. Pick out new school supplies with your child and have them packed. This will help your child to feel some control over the process. In addition, let your child help plan their lunches for the first week. This doesn’t mean packing cupcakes and cookies! Emphasize to your child the need for healthy lunches to make them feel their best. 

Get Familiar

If going to a new school, tour the school beforehand, especially if you know where their classroom or locker will be. Your child will feel better being familiar with a new place. Walking your child through their class schedule will help them feel more confident those first weeks. If possible, meet the teacher! Meeting the teacher in a low pressure setting will help your child feel more confident about what to expect from this school year. 

Make New Friends

If your child is going to a new school or one in a new area, set up a few play dates with other children who are going to the same school before it starts. A few familiar faces will greatly ease your child’s nerves! For older children, find spots where kids their age like to hang out. 

Reflect on the Positives

Ask your child what are some of the things they liked best about their last school year. Maybe it was being part of a certain club or sport. See how you can incorporate these things into their new school year to help them get excited about it. 

Identify Fears

Listen to your child’s fears about the upcoming school year. Letting your child talk about any worries they may have will help them release the burden of carrying these fears by themselves. Sometimes all kids need is to be listened to. 

Empathize

Change is hard! Change when you’re a kid can be downright scary. Being nervous is a normal reaction to change. Let your child know that you are there to help them through the process. Point out the exciting parts of starting school, but empathize with them when they’re feeling nervous. Both are necessary to helping your child overcome their fears.

Get involved

Knowing what to expect will help you and your child feel more prepared. Meet members of the community and school so that you know what to expect. Join the PTA or volunteer within your community. Being friends with other parents in similar situations will help you feel less alone and able to conquer this time of transition. If you ever feel overwhelmed by the stress of the school year, meet with a mental health professional who can help you find ways to better balance and manage the stress. 


By: Michelle Beyer, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S

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