Ecological art therapy is an emerging field that uses natural objects as well as outdoor spaces to encourage healing with an enriched connection with the natural world. When outside, the senses are naturally awakened for present-moment awareness. Meaning making shifts as objects such as leaves and sticks are selected, held, arranged, and placed with specific prompts and questions in mind. As an emerging art therapist, this way of working outside allows for an expanded field of art therapy with nature as a supportive co-therapist.
The image in this post was made with oak leaves and grass: it points to the North, South, East, and West, marking time through shadow (the picture was taken around 4-5 pm in early November). This environmental artwork was made when attending a three-day certificate program with the Center for Nature Informed Therapy (CNIT/Towson, MD). The certificate program provides a clear theoretical perspective with emerging science-based research around the benefits of Nature Informed Therapy. The program is culturally sensitive to a wide range of views of nature and provides practical resources and training for preliminary client assessment with insurance-related issues for outdoor therapy. CNIT's goal is to train as many therapists as possible to be nature informed.
As an art therapist, I am excited to deepen a nature-informed practice of care because the connection with a wider range of life forms supports somatic (direct body) connections with our evolved senses in present moments. Reciprocity and connection to the natural living world (either indoors or outside) promote calm and reflection. The generative space that Nature Informed Therapy opens up allows for more places of personal meaning & growth.
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.