A qualitative study of psychotherapists’ experience of practising psychotherapy outdoors

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Lewis, Robert
Issue Date
MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The formal practice of outdoor psychotherapy is still relatively new and, therefore, in need of research. Much of the current research focuses on the practicalities of working outdoors and the clients’ experience of being outdoors. Conversely, this study aims to explore the experience of the psychotherapist when practicing in nature and whether they experience the cathartic and regulatory benefits of their natural surroundings, while managing the difficulties that working outdoors sometimes presents. The methodology used was semi-structured interviews through video calls with three psychotherapists. This data was analysed using thematic analysis. The sample includes experienced psychotherapists who work outdoors, including one male and two females, one of whom is U.K.-based and two Irish-based. Each of the practitioners utilise the Humanistic Integrative model of psychotherapy. Five themes emerged from the data set: nature’s effect on the client and on the psychotherapist’s self-regulation and self-awareness, the importance of boundaries and the contract for the outdoor psychotherapist, the psychotherapist’s experience of working with trauma outdoors, nature and the psychotherapeutic relationship, and the need for standardisation and cooperation. The research supports much of the current literature on the cathartic and regulatory effects of using nature within the psychotherapeutic process and highlighted that these can be experienced by both the client and psychotherapist. It demonstrated that nature is best used within an integrative model and has great potential within the area of trauma.