A Personal Journey Exploring the Meaning of Outdoor and Adventure Therapy.

In every walk with nature one receives more than one seeks.
— John Muir

I’ve just had a really interesting weekend exploring what outdoor and adventure therapy might be and was it a direction that I might like to take my own work as an expedition leader and International Mountain Leader.  It was great fun, very informative as well as experiential and sociable.

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Stephan (Natynczuk of My Big Adventure http://www.mybigadventure.org.uk/) who set up and led the weekend is organising several further events and I would really encourage anyone interested in this field to go along and find out more for themselves.

I found this event a great opportunity for sharing stories and experiences of the outdoors as a therapeutic environment and although I have no experience as a therapist, I do value ‘my office’ and all that it offers as a therapeutic asset.  I was particularly keen to discover what it might take for my own practice to qualify it as outdoor and adventure therapy.  As an outdoor professional I loved that the weekend included a very practical and physical aspect with a trip to Symonds Yat and an exploration down a cave there.  As with all ventures outside I am never disappointed and they are always worthwhile.  In terms of exploring the therapeutic value of caving it was good because it took me out of my comfort zone; I am not particularly fond of caving; and it enabled me to understand a little from the client perspective but then also to explore the role of the leader/therapist.

A big part of the weekend was meeting the others and finding out their different approaches to Outdoor and Adventure Therapy.  There was a counsellor who also does a lot of outdoor work with the Duke of Edinburgh’s award and saw an overlap between these two disciplines.  There was a director of an outdoor company in Norfolk, “believing whole-heartedly that adventure in the outdoors has the power to transform”. Another was undertaking a Diploma in Solution-focussed Therapy and had a personal passion for outdoor adventure and was assisting Stephan in taking a young female client into the outdoors.  And a psychologist, undertaking research to support outdoor and adventure therapy with little outdoor experience but belief in it.Symonds Yat is a stunning location with the River Wye meandering at the bottom of a very steep-sided and wooded gorge.  The cave was easily accessible under the competent guidance of Stephan – to add excitement we had to negotiate a narrow ledge with a very considerable drop on one side.  Stephan protected this with a rope to which we each in turn clipped via a cow’s tail, but this was done without drama and was simple enough.

My initial nerves were soon put to rest with a quick circuit in a practice cave necessitating hands, knees, and at points belly crawling, reminding me that it was all quite do-able and I would be fine.  The main exploration involved more passages that needed crawling along interspersed by larger chambers where we stopped and gathered ourselves and our thoughts together.  In one of these chambers we took some time to switch off our headtorches and explore the silence in the dark.  Eventually, we exited the cave via a different entrance from the one we had entered via a final twisty squeeze before popping back out into fresh air and daylight.

All the while during the activity underground, it was interesting to notice the different aspects of our surroundings:  the coolness of the clay under our hands as we crawled along, to see the shiny wet and smooth areas where limestone had been re-deposited, forming stalagmites and stalactites; in some chambers it was clear that ceilings had collapsed long ago as boulders there were jumbled up and scattered around; the silence underground was bliss in contrast to the busy-ness of the car park and rock-climbing going on outside.

We saved our discussion of the activity until the next day and instead enjoyed the companionship of a cup of tea and then wandered over to the lookout on the edge of the escarpment, way above the river valley, with the tiny cows below and the nesting sites in the caves across the way, and the trees and hillsides of the surrounding countryside.  We all got on very well and there was plenty of discussion and chat in the car both to and from the activity.  Having helped put away the equipment, we then went our separate ways for the evening.

The next day during our discussion I was very interested to understand how therapy might take place during such an activity as caving and for us all to identify when moments for disclosure were most likely.  We also explored how the ultimate need for safety could jeopardise the client-counsellor relationship if not negotiated carefully and if expectations and contracts had not been set up properly beforehand.  Was there a clear distinction between the activity leader role and the therapist role; or was there a smooth transition between one and the other; or was there overlap or concurrent behaviour?

In addition to our experience of the cave there were tales from Stephan and others about occasions when the very nature of the environment really helped the nature of the therapy experience.  For example, a narrow valley opening up into a big wide vista that took a child from a time when his behaviour would dominate the situation to a time of awe that allowed a mind-shift that created an opportunity for the development of more positive behaviour.  Or another example where the landscape cocooned the campsite and its welcoming fireplace and the cooking that took place over it, creating a safe place to talk and let go of previous experiences.

Later on we also explored the scope of setting up an organisation for outdoor and adventure therapists to share knowledge and experiences and to network. Hopefully this would ultimately become a professional body which could formalise the process of becoming an adventure therapist and promote the practice of adventure therapy.

I found the weekend great fun; I love finding out more about other people and what they do as well as reflecting on how it might inform my own practice.  I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get out and go caving together and I was really interested by what Outdoor and Adventure Therapy might mean.  By the end of the weekend I understood a lot more about counselling; not least that there many different approaches and ways to become a counsellor and to practise counselling.

Ultimately, I think that for me, becoming a counsellor is probably not the right path.  Instead I see my role as offering people the opportunity for increased well-being, accompanying them outdoors and undertaking adventures and expeditions and in so doing discovering and experiencing its intrinsic mindfulness and sense of well-being.  A more preventative approach, maybe?

 

Links:

http://www.mybigadventure.org.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/mybigadventure/

https://www.facebook.com/AdventureTherapyCompany/

Scotland, February 2017

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
— Edmund Hilary
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It's such a privilege to be able to take time to go to Scotland at the time of snow and to reach the tops of some of the biggest mountains in the UK, including the biggest, Ben Nevis  (1344m) which we reached via the spectacular Carn Mor Dearg Arete.  But it's an even bigger privilege to share those experiences with friends.  It really wouldn't have been so enjoyable on my own.

Such friends who know how to support and help you when it is indeed yourself that needs conquering, not the mountain.  Ben Nevis is a big day out, especially in soft powdery snow via a ridge that knows how to challenge those feelings of insecurity and overactive imagination followed by a final push to the top.  But we all made it.  With no real drama - just the one inside my head.

It was also wonderful to intersperse the big days out with gentler days simply absorbing the surrounding majesty and beauty of Scotland.  To take a road trip to Ardnamurchan Point, to see the waves crashing over a rock creating rainbows in the sunlight. To sit back and relax together at the end of a long day drinking in the beauty of the sunset alongside a well-earned gin and tonic.  To wander up Glen Ure and decide not to make the big push up to the next monroe but instead just enjoy each other's company and save ourselves for the next day.  To spend an afternoon with  by the fireside reading the weekend papers having 'earned it' with a stroll on the Morar peninsula.

Good friends are made sharing such experiences, supporting each other through the tough times wading through deep snow and battling against cold, sharp winds.  But then also recovering together with coffee and cake, or taking in the indoor climbing wall, cooking and eating good food together.

Newborough, January 2017

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
— A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

So I would re-write that quote to:

It is more fun to walk and talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What’s for lunch?”
— Jo's version of A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

And I'd say that it's about how best friends seem to have the same language regardless of whether they use long, difficult words or short, easy words or indeed even no words at all!  And spending time in a beautiful place like Newborough beach, Anglesey on a beautiful day with a beautiful friend and her beautiful dog chatting away but also falling into comfortable silences, encouraging each other, pausing to allow time to take photographs and create another beautiful gallery to allow me to share this experience with all of you beautiful people.

Musings with jojourneys | Mindfulness and Walking


‘In every walk with Nature one receives more than one seeks’,

— John Muir
“What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being aware of or bringing attention to this moment in time, deliberately and without judging the experience. So when we go for a mindful walk we really notice every little detail and all we encounter – trees, cars, flowers growing out of small cracks, or a cat crossing the road – rather than creating to-do lists.”
— Taken from Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr Patrizia Collard

Walking is an excellent opportunity for mindfulness, for observing the nature around me and for simply being in the moment.  In walking I can experience the beauty of the hills and mountains; I can feel the increased well-being of breathing in the fresh air, surrounded by nature; I can enjoy the companionship of others when sharing such a walk; I can achieve increased fitness; I have lost weight; I have better posture.  All of this is simply a side effect of taking myself outdoors and walking.

Walking also provides me with opportunities to take photographs and to practice the art of navigation.  I find creative inspiration from being on my walks.  I find in walking I can overcome physical challenges and feel the sense of success and achievement and the improved courage and self-esteem that results from this.

Every time I go out,  it is possible to take a deep breath and then let it out slowly, along with many of the short term problems and worries and to let them go; to regain a wider perspective, one in which we are much more insignificant; but also to gain a more detailed and immediate perspective, one in which we notice and wonder at every detail – like the frost on a spider’s web, the individual crystals in the snow, the reflections in the canal, a bright and cheerful rainbow in a dark, foreboding sky.

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’,          Lao Tzu

With every journey that we embark on and even wherever we are within those journeys, we can only move forward one step at a time.  Walking, and in particular walking in the Dee Valley, has taught me to enjoy each and every step and to take notice along the way.

You, too, can receive all the benefits of walking that I have described here.  Contact jo on jo@jojourneys. co.uk or 07921 912 172 to book jo to guide you on a mindful walking experience in the Dee Valley or Snowdonia.

My Testimony to Walking

‘In every walk with Nature one receives more than one seeks’
— John Muir

jojourneys | Dee Valley, North Wales

I have the best job in the world:  I am an International Mountain Leader and I take groups of people trekking in beautiful and inspiring places all around the world.   It is my love of walking and being in the outdoors and in mountains that has enabled this career path.

In the last 12 months my paid work has taken me to Scotland twice, to Provence, to the top of a mountain called Stok Kangri (6,153m) in the Himalayas, around the Mont Blanc massif two and a half times, up and down Snowdon 6 times via 5 different routes and completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks three times.  Along the way I have met some wonderful people and enjoyed discovering what they do.

Most importantly though, it is in moving to the Dee Valley and in exploring this stunningly beautiful area, I have really begun to realise just how fortunate I am in living here and how much I owe to walking.  Walking allows me to escape, to reflect, to think and to solve problems.  Walking is an excellent opportunity for mindfulness, for observing the nature around me and for simply being in the moment. 

In walking I can experience the beauty of the hills and mountains; I can feel the increased well-being of breathing in the fresh air, surrounded by nature; I can enjoy the companionship of others when sharing such a walk; I can achieve increased fitness; I have lost weight; I have better posture.  All of this is simply a side effect of taking myself outdoors and walking.

Walking also provides me with opportunities to take photographs and to practice the art of navigation.  I find creative inspiration from being on my walks.  I find in walking I can overcome physical challenges and feel the sense of success and achievement and the improved courage and self-esteem that results from this.

I have found a couple of quotes that epitomise what walking and mountains hold for me:

‘In every walk with Nature one receives more than one seeks’, John Muir.

I often say when I go out walking, ‘It’s always worth going out for a walk’.  When I’m stuck inside with various distractions, mostly procrastinating in front of the computer screen, it always feels like there isn’t enough time, that there’s too much else to do, that it’s too wet or windy to go for a walk, but EVERY time I venture out, I’m able to comment, ‘Oh, that was worth it’.  Every time it’s possible to take a deep breath and then let it out slowly, along with many of the short term problems and worries and to let them go; to regain a wider perspective, one in which we are much more insignificant; but also to gain a more detailed and immediate perspective, one in which we notice and wonder at every detail – like the frost on a spider’s web, the individual crystals in the snow, the reflections in the canal, a bright and cheerful rainbow in a dark, foreboding sky.

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, Lao Tzu

With every journey that we embark on and even wherever we are within those journeys, we can only move forward one step at a time.  Walking, and in particular walking in the Dee Valley, has taught me to enjoy each and every step and to take notice along the way.

You, too, can receive all the benefits of walking that I have described here.  Contact jo on jo@jojourneys. co.uk or 07921 912 172 to book jo to guide you on a mindful walking experience in the Dee Valley or Snowdonia.

Monthly Musings | January 2016

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.

— Jim Watkins
JoJourneys | dripping ice, winter

This quote also gives us a clue as to the best way to get to the top of a hill.  It is hard work but the solution is not all about power, it is actually about persistence.  And, as always, one can substitute getting to the top of the hill for reaching one’s goals.

Last year I was given a sports watch that enables me, amongst other things, to see how my heart functions as I exercise.  I have discovered that the easiest way of pushing my heart to the upper reaches of its effort is to go up a very steep hill.  However at this level, it is not sustainable, and it is easy to want to give up altogether, to turn round and go back home. So I have to take it more slowly, and ultimately I have to keep on going, keep moving upwards, to persist, and eventually, the reward is reaching the top and seeing the view all around.

If you have set yourself goals but already found it difficult to persist, have a think about how it is much more important to persist than to rush at it headlong and then struggle and find it too hard and give up.  Give yourself a chance, find and easier more sustainable way of continuing and, if you persist, you will eventually reach your goal.  You may find that you enjoy the journey along the way as well as, if not more than the ultimate achievement of the goal.

One way of making fitness and weight loss goals easier is to join with others who are in the same boat.  Why not come along to one of our Intro Nordic Walking sessions and find out just how easy it could be?

 

Monthly Musings - January 2015

The future lies before you like a field of fallen snow
Be careful how you tread it, for every step will show
— Anon

A clean slate.  A set of new opportunities.  A time to look forward.

 This time of year is a time for reflection, a time to pull together the lessons we have learned and to use this to choose a new way forward. This year has taught me to enjoy each and every step and to take notice along the way.

I love walking; it allows me to escape, to reflect, to think and to solve problems.  Walking is an excellent opportunity for mindfulness, for observing the nature around me and for simply being in the moment.  In walking I can experience the beauty of the hills and mountains; I can feel the increased well-being of breathing in the fresh air, surrounded by nature; I can enjoy the companionship of others when sharing such a walk; I can achieve increased fitness; I have lost weight; I have better posture.  All of this is simply a side effect of taking myself outdoors and walking.

Walking also provides me with opportunities to take photographs and to practice the art of navigation.  I find creative inspiration from being on my walks.  I find in walking I can overcome physical challenges and feel the sense of success and achievement and the improved courage and self-esteem that results from this.

The purpose of jojourneys is to bring these experiences to anyone who cares to join me.