This is the final article in a series of four.
The first article established the diverse and rich nature of ecotherapy as a practice and concluded by asking what qualifies someone to use the term ‘ecotherapist’ to describe their profession.
The second article explored this question through three themes: intention, context and risk. It continued by proposing an ecotherapy beyond the obvious synthesis of outdoor leadership with psychotherapy. It concluded with a note about the importance of the ‘embodied’ ecotherapist.
The third article took a look at some practical considerations like governance, insurance and supervision. Along the way it raised a few questions and offered some thoughts about the future directions of ecotherapy as a profession.
This fourth and final article provides a check-list to get you started, or to help you develop your existing practice.
An Ecotherapy Practice Checklist
The idea of this check-list is to help you think through some of the issues around becoming an ecotherapist. Please bear in mind - as we have seen through the preceding articles in this series - that ecotherapy can be practiced in wildly diverse ways, with many different interpretations.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, authoritative or even correct! It is just some guiding questions that have emerged from reflecting on my own research and experience of professional practice over the years.
1. What is your purpose?
Is your practice primarily about therapeutic outcomes for the individual or do you see your work as a reciprocal process where the rest of nature must benefit too?
Do you want to practice big “T” therapy where you are working with mental health issues that are likely to have been referred. Or do you want to work with little “t” therapy in more of a personal development, coaching, wellbeing or supporting capacity?
2. What’s your intention?
Who do you want to work with? Why do you want to work with them? What are you hoping to offer them? What are you hoping to receive? What changes are you hoping to support in the world?
3. Where do you want to work?
What’s your context? Do you want to work indoors, in a garden, allotment, community farm, park, local woodland, by the sea, in forests or in mountainous regions? Do you want to work near where people live, or somewhere remote? Or perhaps a combination of these and other places?
Do you want to work in short sessions, whole days, regular intervals or in a residential context? Do you want to work in environments that are new and different to those which your clients might experience in their everyday lives?
4. What risks are there?
Where is there a potential for loss in your work? Could people get physically hurt, what are the psychological risks? What is the role of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities in your practice. What is the potential for your clients to experience some form of loss around these?
Can you see all the risks? Who can help you see them?
How can you mitigate loss? How can you take responsibility properly for your role as an ecotherapist? What responsibilities do your clients have in their work with you? Do they know what they are - are they comfortable to accept them?
What happens if something goes wrong? What’s your plan? How can you demonstrate that you met your duty of care?
5. Do you embody what you hope to offer?
What’s your own ‘Earth story’? Where, when, how and why do you feel part of the rest of nature? How does nature inspire, motivate, heal, empower and support you? How do you contribute to the wellbeing of nature yourself? Are these questions even relevant to you - perhaps the way you embody this work is different?
6. Have you made time for regular personal practice of your own?
Do you walk your talk? Do you practice the processes and techniques you might use with your clients on yourself? Can you empathise with your clients?
7. Are you qualified, experienced and registered in at least one profession relevant to your ecotherapy practice?
While there is no one ecotherapy professional qualification, are you qualified and experienced enough to take on the primary risks present in your work in a professional and ethical way?
8. Are you committed to Continuing Professional Development (CPD)?
When is your next CPD event? How often do you engaged with CPD? Where can you find out about CPD opportunities? What CPD do you need?
9. Do you get regular supervision?
Do you have a supervisor to work with? Do you work with them regularly? If not, when do you work with them? When was the last time you sought supervision support?
10. Do you have a peer-group to support you and moderate your practice?
Who is in your peer group? Do they have the diversity and depth of experience needed to support you properly? How do you connect with them? How often do you engage with them? Are you able to give and receive feedback openly in your peer-group? Do you respect their advice and counsel?
11. Do you take care contracting with your clients?
Do you have a written contract with your clients? Are they clear about what you are - and are not - offering? Do they understand the risks and responsibilities of working with you? Do they know about insurance and what to do if they have a concern or complaint? Are you charging them and do your clients know how much and what the terms are? Do your clients understand their boundaries of confidentiality and under what circumstances these must be breached?
12. Do you have professional, product and public liability insurance relevant to a core aspect of your ecotherapy practice?
Whether an outdoor leader, psychotherapist or other healthcare worker, educator or coach - are you insured for that bit of your conventional profession which overlaps with your ecotherapy practice? If not, what is your strategy for providing you and your clients with adequate insurance cover?