I sat in front of my clinical supervisor for my fortnightly meeting in which I was supposed to talk about how I was coping, and how my work helping others was going. “I’m feeling really stressed at the moment.” I started off by saying. This was not an unusual way for me to start supervision sessions. I was hesitant to even bring this up, because I’d talked about my work stress often before and things didn’t seem to be any better for doing so. “How would you rate your stress from 1-10 at the moment?” She asked me in response. “I’d say an eight.” “Eight’s pretty high.” She said, then asked: “What are you doing for self care.” I rattled off a few things I was already doing, meditation, running, spending time in nature. All of the right answers, but I was already doing these things, and was still feeling stressed, and truth be told, pretty unhappy. I quietly despaired, pretended that I’d have a go at the further suggestions for self care that she made, and changed the topic to the work I didn’t want to do with drug and alcohol addicted citizens of West Auckland, who mainly didn’t want to get state mandated help from me, either.
Eventually, sick enough of the work and the workplace that skipped over the surface of the real social and personal issues, I left, a decision I never regretted for an instant. Looking back, I see this experience of so-called self care as actually being the managing of both clinicians and citizens - a substitute for real connection and healing, and certainly a substitute for addressing the disempowerment of both workers and the poor of West Auckland.
Read the rest of the article by Michael Apathy here...
This post isn't about some new idea in psychotherapy or counselling, or about the psychology of the social or environmental issues we collectively face. It's about the afternoon that I spent yesterday taking some of my own medicine - a dose of ecotherapy. The first thing I want to say is that it's so strange, that it takes getting a bit sick and run down and feeling like I have to stop running in the rat race, to actually give myself something different.
Weaving through traffic and the unexpected traffic jams, I felt like I was making a prison break. I half expected that some last work commitment or emergency would stop me from getting to the start of the trail I was headed to at the base of the port hills. In hindsight I was actually worried that I'd flake out without a good excuse, and then have to face having sabotaged my own aspiration without even having an external barrier as a justification.
As I began to walk up the gentle (and then steep) uphill start of the trail, this slightly urgent anxiety to escape began to relax as I felt committed to the trail and direction I had selected. Soon this commitment began to shift to excitement and desire to see the view from the next crest of the hillside. I could feel my empty physical and emotional gas tank begin to refill. Pausing often, to turn around look behind, I began to get perspective on the city. No longer a trapping and limiting, stress and anxiety provoking maze through which I madly run, Christchurch had become a sweeping vista.
As I continued to climb, being an ecotherapist, I kept tuning in to the mental and emotional shifts that were happening inside of me. I noticed that as I began to sweat and glow from the climb, I began to feel more robust and confident, feeling my own capacity to work and progress and rise up over my previous foul mood. By the time I had reached the top I had also reached within myself a strong feeling of gratitude. This gratitude was towards myself, for having given myself this experience and worked for it, but also for having the amazing geography of the port hills so close by. The thought occurred to me: "I am made for this." And I think that's true. I, and you, were made to move through landscapes and to work physically, roam, to find new paths, and to trust the instincts of the body rather than a schedule or a fluorescent office environment. I don't happen to believe that a personal deity came along and made this world to suit my needs, but it's a pretty good moment when I spontaneously find myself feeling that evolution made me to enjoy walking, looking out at views, and feeling the wind on my face.
The descent felt less ecstatic, but still important. I'm not going to live the rest of my life (or even much of it) out on a hillside, as much as I can love it for a while. The impulse to escape the city had shifted to a readiness to return, a sense of warmth and tolerance towards the people and activities that I had needed a break from. Descending is not about ecstasy, it is about careful details of placing a foot in such a way that we do not slip or turn an ankle. As much as the details of my life persecute me at times, it was good to feel ready for rather than resistant to the painstaking detailed work of descending.
I'm glad to be able to share this experience with you through this blog post, but I'd like to take this further. A hell of a lot of research and my own experience tell me that those of us who struggle with issues such as anxiety or depression will find this sort of experience at least as beneficial as sitting in a therapy room with me. I look forward to starting up ecotherapy experiences this spring, so stay tuned for that!
Like many of us, over Easter I got away from Christchurch to take a break, and to get a bit of the nature cure. As it does for lots of us, it worked for me, but I also feel that I got some more insight into how we relate to our environment, particularly those of us who have more environmentalist tendencies.
I was looking out over a lake at the view, and began to notice the wind pick up very quickly. This disturbed my reverie. I began to watch the people on the beach below me take cover. Boats out on the water adjusted their course. The trees began to sigh and whistle in the wind. It was then that I got it: rather than my normal environmental thinking that the earth is fragile, and that frankly there are more than enough of us humans to go around, I shifted my thinking.
Maybe it was the vastness of the high country landscape, or the fierceness of the wind, or the human response to take cover. The earth and it's ecosystems are robust, and will survive (albeit changed) us humans, however much environmental havoc we may create. We humans are vulnerable, with precariously teetering economies, ultra specific needs for lifestyles and health, and a sense of cultural harmony and good will that is fragile at the best of times.
Perhaps that is why psychotherapy and counselling are useful for addressing environmental issues - or at least another reason for it's value. Psychotherapy, the art and science of working with human vulnerability, is exquisitely attuned to working with the ways we deny or guard our vulnerabilities - and the consequences of this.
So, if you find yourself as an environmentalist assuming your own robustness, and projecting your vulnerability onto the earth, then try turning it on it's head. See if you feel more refreshed and human, and maybe even feel a bit warmer towards not only yourself, but the rest of the human race!
I've noticed that the recent tipping of the beautiful Christchurch weather into rain, wind, and grey skies has had an effect on my mood. I find myself feeling slightly more serious, a bit more withdrawn, and a little bit somber. (You don't have to worry about me though - I'm not getting depressed, and as a therapist, I'd know!)
We all know weather affects our mood, but interestingly, I rarely meet people who are angry at the weather. We don't tend to look up at the sky and shake our fists in anger at it, even when the weather really has ruined our day or our plans. I think we don't get angry at the weather because we don't personalise it. There's just no point getting angry and geared up to fight the weather, because it really is hard to convince ourselves that the rain is coming down out of a sense of spite and malice or intent to personally hurt us. It's just laughable. This makes bad weather generally a nuisance, but nothing more than that, because we don't add an extra layer of suffering through getting angry and getting into conflict with the weather.
What if we could similarly avoid unnecessary suffering in our relationships? Actually, it is possible. By talking through in therapy our rationale for our anger, we can familiarize ourselves with it, and then often let it go. For instance, if I get angry at my partner, and realise that a belief that reinforces that is that my partner takes me for granted and exploits me, then in therapy I can really examine that. Are there other possible explanations for his or her behaviour, explanations that may move us towards compassion rather than anger? Or, on the other hand, maybe my explanation that my partner exploits me is actually correct, but, will I be better served by examining my own complicit patterns of naivete?
Through therapy we can develop the capacity for emotional balance, in which we may be affected by the storms of our life, but do not become pulled into fighting ourselves and others unnecessarily.
So I came to get therapy to deal with my relationship, my depression, my anxiety, my life crisis... what's all this about ecotherapy? Why should I connect more with nature?
My first answer to this question is you don't have to do anything! Lucid clinicians offer a range of modalities and approaches, only one of which is ecotherapy. It's up to you. But, for those with some curiosity, read on, because ecotherapy is not what you think, and might be relevant to your life than you'd think.
Sitting still is hard. I feel qualified to say this, having done my fair share of retreats involving sitting very still and being aware for hours on end. It's particularly hard when we feel agitated or anxious, as many who seek therapy initially feel. It's harder yet for a lot of men to sit still and talk from the heart, to look into another person's eyes and reveal what we've been ashamed to reveal. It's hard to sit still if you're a teenager, to sit in someone else's world, an office which is designed to evoke an adult professional world that you don't belong to and that you're not sure you ever want to belong to. It's probably hard for a lot of other people, for a lot of other reasons, too. But you get the idea.
What if that teenager could take their therapist to that hill that he found late one night, where he looked out at that view of the city lights that made him hope that his dreams weren't so stupid after all, if he could just dare to believe that someone would listen to them?
What if that anxious and agitated person could walk up and down a big grassy field with a therapist who would help her to experience for the first time her ability to soothe herself through the rhythm of walking, and the way in which a large open space can help her put the crowd of anxious thoughts in perspective?
What if that man could tell his story without resorting to masks and without having to deal with another's gaze, whilst staring out and talking with the sea as his witness, side by side with a therapist who would wait until he had said all he needed to say and until he turned and asked him, so what do you think?
These are just some of the possibilities for working in therapy in a way that makes use of our environment, rather than shutting it out. That said, ecotherapy can also take place in therapy consulting rooms, and can look like a lot of things other than the examples above. Let me know via the comments section, what do you think about these examples? I'd love to hear. Subscribe or check back in for part two, soon.