It is a wildly known fact – supported by countless research – that nature and wilderness have therapeutic effects. Wilderness therapy takes place in the wild, usually in a group setting. Participants step out of their normal, everyday environment. They can look at their habitual patterns in a safe, supporting environment and they get a chance to replace them with new ones, so they can create positive changes when they return to their everyday life. Natural symbols and elements, the sense of deep interdependence, and the power of the group play a very important part in this process. Far from the constant noise and chatter of civilization our self-discovery and self-transformation becomes more intense and more conscious.
In our everyday life we are constantly bombarded with stimulus, we play the same games, same roles and often turn to distractions – consuming information, news, services – just to cover up our inner chaos, or aching inner emptiness.
It is a wildly known fact – supported by countless research – that nature and wilderness have therapeutic effects. We need to connect with nature not only for our physical, but our psychological and mental health also.
The unpredictability of natural elements draws us into a deeper sense of present moment. Our actions have visible, tangible consequences – if we set up our tent carelessly we might get soaked during a night storm – and thus the connections between our actions and their consequences also become clearer.
The time spent in the wilderness also makes our interdependency clearer. To set the fire, to choose the right place for the camp, to set up the camp or to cook the dinner – these are better accomplished in a group. Working together, supporting each other in challenging situations can help us recognize our usual – or new -roles in a group. We can experience in a supporting environment how we can work differently in certain situations. Sharing the experiences, reflecting on the events – these are also very important parts of the process.
Working with natural symbols or images can also have a more powerful effect when done in nature.
Faced with the unpredictability of nature we recognize that we cannot control our environment. Achieving control is both unnecessary and impossible. By giving up the illusory control, paradoxically we gain bigger inner control – it becomes easier to relax and to pay attention to our inner and outer world.
Moving into stillness
By leaving our everyday life behind and disconnecting from the virtual reality we create a chance to solely focus on our inner world. In the quiet of nature thoughts become clearer and we can hear our inner voice again.
Contemplation, the sense of being One
In our everyday life we are bombarded with lots of different messages, expectations, tasks that we cannot always process. The time spent in nature allows us to reflect, to integrate different parts of our personality and to create a deeper connection to nature. We can experience how it feels to become One with something bigger than ourselves.
We can engage in a lot of activities in the wilderness – crossing a fast-flowing river, climbing a steep rock – which allowus to break out of the routine, to enjoy a sense of creativity and freedom. Being fully focused on these activities we can get into the state of flow, where we do not feel a distinction between ourselves and our activity and we do not even feel the passing of time.
These programs feature a series of progressively more challenging tasks that demonstrate the value of learning and positive outcomes from using the acquired knowledge.
During unusual situations and challenges we can learn about some unknown parts of our personality, thus expanding and enriching our self-image with elements. Discovering our own resources, helping and supporting others can positively affect our self-image and self-confidence.
Wilderness and physical fitness
Physical efforts in the wilderness offer a number of benefits. The long-term programs – e.g. multi-day or week-long expeditions or weeks – increase stamina and physical endurance. A fit body increases self-confidence and contributes to a positive self-image. The development of physical skills also helps to cope with the psychological problems. The metaphorical messages – one step at a time, etc. – can provide help in everyday tasks also. Physical efforts may be an “outlet channel” for aggression and anxiety as well. In addition, physical effort reminds us to our inherent potential, and may serve as a basis for a method of self-expression.
Wilderness as a metaphor for life
Wilderness can serve as a metaphor for life – this comes from the conscious program design and also from the archetypal quality of the wild. “Sacred Place” can be such an archetypal pattern. Wilderness can be a place where humans recognize the connections in life and can see their everyday lives clearer. Although there is no guarantee but these insights can be transferred into our daily life, allowing us to use new coping methods and and new behavioral patterns.