I often walk and talk with clients who come for outdoor sessions on the canal towpath near my home. We do this throughout the seasons and in all weathers. I have been with clients while rain drips from our noses, frost bites at our cheeks or the sun gently warms our backs. It’s a most amazing experience and is my main counselling approach.
Right now, spring is well and truly present on the canal with proud, watchful Mallard parents corralling skittish ducklings into bankside reeds, patient, statuesque herons waiting for a bite, quarrelsome Canada geese couples, and bees, confused by the water reflections, struggling to escape the canal. It’s a great therapeutic space for clients…and for me.
I usually give new clients the option of indoors or outdoors for their initial meeting and I am often surprised by the fact that most people opt for outdoors. The indoor setting is not for everyone. We agree by email or telephone where we will meet. We usually begin by walking side by side and I discuss the usual therapeutic boundaries such as confidentiality, but as we are in an outdoor therapy space I need also to talk through what would happen if we encounter someone we each knew, a dog, a cyclist. In this first session I let clients know how I work, what might happen as we work outdoors and how we could use the natural space for the therapy. I have a definite starting point on all my routes so that the client is aware of when the ‘work’ is starting – a kind of threshold we cross just as I would do in an indoor setting – and it’s not just a chat with a walk.
I find the weather has a different impact on a client’s language, bodily movement, feelings and general mood. And this week, in the welcome spring sunshine, most clients seem buoyed up by the sunshine and newness of everything and this often influences the conversations, thoughts and feelings.
I regularly walk the canal, on my own, with the dog, with friends and see lots of activity. I notice the seasons, the changes in light, colour, texture and generally enjoy the walk, but on my counselling walks with clients the space is different; it appears generous, effusive, communicative, offering comfort, explanation, definition. What is it that changes in these times? The space appears to transform when it is used therapeutically. I believe there is a third, ‘ecological-self’, ‘an active partner’ with us; a guiding, benevolent presence that, if consulted and used, offers us a resource that supports the therapeutic process and is, can be, uniquely transformative. And it is this resource that supports my clients, the work we do together and me as a therapist. This is why I do what I do.