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Choosing Our Future - Exploring Climate Grief and Active Hope through Nature Informed Art Therapy

Many people are experiencing climate grief with a deepening sense of hopelessness around climate change. In an effort to process this grief myself as a Nature Informed Art Therapist, I have been listening to The book of hope (2021, J. Goodall & D. Carlton Abrams). This book is beautifully read by both authors. Abrams asks probing questions and Goodall responds with well-informed, but steady and clear-eyed hope in the face of climate change. Jane Goodall shares much hope-filled wisdom learned through her long life working as a naturalist. For her, hope is a matter of survival and critical to the health for all living creatures.

The future we choose: Surviving the climate crisis (2021, C. Figueres & T. Rivett-Carnac) has been a compelling companion book to read alongside listening to Goodall and Abrams. Nature Informed Art Therapists use art as a tool to see and identify fears. Art in therapy is also a tool for identifying unacknowledged grief/loss. Taking time in therapy to express one's own human response to climate change in addition to other issues that arise in the art making process is important while locating hope and strength to build stress tolerance and self-compassion. This drawing was made with both books in mind.

A quick, 60 min. watercolor by the author in response to a need to grow new forms of active hope in the face of climate change.

In addition to making art, writing increases connection to the natural world, the self & others. This poem below was written while reading The future we choose: Surviving the climate crisis. Morning poem / January 23, '23 In the quiet hear them breathing in the garden of intention. The rewilding of lungs entwining back into soils of regeneration. Humans pulse within nature, not apart. This breath ignited by stubborn optimism. An active hope to redesign a way out of extraction. Restore the nutrients still offered. In gratitude for another chance. Change picked up and inhaled. Indigenous values reignited. Breath by deliberate breath. Visual art and writing are often richly inter-woven to activate or enrich meaning in Nature Informed Art Therapy. What is a client reading and thinking about outside of therapy? Clients find their own visual and spoken forms of creative expressions of course. Some people find it helpful to ease into art making through writing. A doodle that is quickly scribbled after a sentence is helpful. Expanding a tentative doodle onto a larger sheet of paper or building that same idea with organic materials found outside is often helpful. The three steps from writing to image allow clients to step into visualizing their lives in rich ways. Through writing and art making, client's thoughts or feelings are often viewed for the first time outside of their minds and bodies. This process of seeing one's own experience apart from the self is tremendously helpful as a mirror into the self to embolden self-love, courage and hope-filled change.

*Nature informed Art Therapy (NAIT)

About the author:

Renee van der Stelt (she/her; MFA, MA, LGPAT) is an art therapist in Maryland who works individually and in small groups. Her art therapy approach is person-centered, relational, and strength-based. She specializes in Nature Informed Art Therapy: this includes the use of ethically sourced natural materials when meeting indoors or outside, depending upon client needs. Before becoming certified as an art therapist, Renee worked as an artist, educator, and mentor in a low-residency MFA program. She has two years of experience working as an art therapist.

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