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Rewilding the Mind’s Forest | Interview by Lainee Kirk

As a child, Cecilie Browne grew up alongside giant beeches and ancient oak trees, feeling oneness when hiding within the hollow of a trunk. At age 20, her connection with nature manifested into activism when she joined thousands of women protesting nuclear weapons at Greenham Common.

Cecilie now pursues her relationship with nature by helping others build similar understandings through environmental arts therapy. She is trained in environmental art therapy and has worked in art psychotherapy with different communities for 20 years.

“Taking part in something like environmental arts therapy helps people reconnect with their environment, but also with a sense of something bigger than themselves,” Cecilie said. “Nature really can reflect a lot about the transitions we go through in our lives.”

In the early 1990s, Theodore Roszak coined the term ‘eco-psychology’ to refer to the mutual dependence of humans and nature. This assertion asserts that as the earth is destroyed more and more, human health worsens. Environmental arts therapy places the connection between humans and nature at the centre of the practice.

It can be difficult to feel interconnected in a world that values individualism rather than community. The vast wilderness setting as a backdrop to therapy provides space for connection with something much larger than oneself.

“The way that human culture has developed across the globe is one of being cut off from nature,” Cecilie said. “But obviously, we are a part of nature, we evolved in nature, we’re not aliens who landed here.”

Cecilie became co-owner of eleven acres of woodland in Derbyshire called Oaks Wood in 2012. The land is an ancient woodland, though most of the deciduous trees were cut down in the 1950s and 60s and replaced by a mixed pine plantation.

Pines were originally planted on the land as a cash crop. They have started to remove some of the pines to free up room for the native wildlife to return. Already, old seeds or ones drifted in by birds have sprouted new plants.

Cecilie has taken on the approach of rewilding the land, allowing nature to restore its original balance. She points out the parallel process of physically rewilding the land and rewilding the psyche.

“A rewilding of our psyche is clearing the space, clearing ego-based rational thinking and dominant ways of thinking and allowing space for other parts to grow,” Cecilie said.
The relationship between self and nature is vital, especially when wanting to create a therapeutic, even sacred, space. Cecilie has spent time exploring the entire property and tending to its well-being, always intending to return the woods to a more natural state.

“There is taking care of nature and getting into a relationship with it, then creating a space that you want to invite others into,” Cecilie said. “They can also pick up on the energy that you’ve put in, so it’s an ongoing project.”

At the start of a session, she meets the client, and they might speak a bit before exploring the land. Clients can choose to find a specific spot they enjoy or go on a stroll throughout the woodlands.

“It’s more going on a slow wander, seeing what catches your eye, seeing what you’re drawn to,” Cecilie said. From the moments of noticing, parallels to real life can appear. Maybe a broken branch reminds you of someone who broke your trust, or a blooming flower makes you think about a new relationship.”

“Using all your senses – you might feel things, smell things, hear things,” Cecilie said. “Then it’s moving toward, what’s happening in the heart, what’s the feeling? Where’s it taking you?”

Cecilie encourages clients to draw relationships and create symbolism in the landscape around them, thus opening another lens through which to view a certain situation or inner thoughts.

“You might collect some objects, you might build something that reflects something about how you’re feeling while telling the story,” Cecilie said. “The therapist will help you with this and talk about it as you do it.”

Environmental arts therapy views the landscape as a tool for expression. The client may choose to make art with any materials they are drawn to.

“We are using the natural environment to offer us a vast array of images, lines, shapes, textures of life or things crumbling, dying,” Cecilie said. “It’s a big complex world once you work out in nature. Nature provides the holding space for the therapy.”

Cecilie works with individuals and in group camping retreats. Her next retreat, in September, will be hosted on the Oaks Wood property. Participants will experience the profound impact of environmental arts therapy and have time to reflect on therapeutic elements for themselves.

“It’s very much an experiential retreat, where people will be immersed in the experience of being in the woodland for two and a half days,” Cecilie said. “The woods work their own magic.”

The retreat invites practitioners to change pace from the business of their external world. In the forest, they can shape their experience around their inner self and delve into healing their relationship with nature.

Click here for more information and booking.

The Next course is: 06-08 Sep 2024 | Weekend Retreat in the Woods | Intro to Environmental Arts Therapy | Oaks Wood, Derbyshire



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