It is a well-known fact that spending time in nature can do wonders for one’s body and mind, but what if nature connection and compassion towards oneself, others and nature can be part of holistic cancer care?

Whilst cancer treatments have developed extraordinarily in the last few decades, most hospitals seem to still work within a biomedical framework. This is of course great as they have become brilliant at the medical side of things, but often fail to consider the long-term psychological, social and emotional impact a cancer diagnosis can have on a person’s life. This is where charities such as We Hear You swoop in and provide a range of psychosocial support services, with one of our latest services being WHYoutdoors.

WHYoutdoors is a one-of-a-kind course developed for those living with or beyond cancer. Over six weeks, eight participants discover the Five Pathways to nature connection: contact, beauty, emotions, compassion and meaning. The course is held by two qualified therapists and nature connection facilitators who share the therapeutic holding with nature herself. The course acknowledges that nature has the power to offer something no counselling room can offer, no matter how many aloe vera plants you have.

Nature can be there for participants to discover significant metaphors, supporting them to realise their unique identity as part of the natural world, and how all life experiences the cycle of birth, growth, ageing and eventually death. Nature is there for us to interact, feel and relate, and perhaps most importantly, show us where the path is when we get lost in the dark, scary woods.

After interviewing those who have taken part in WHYoutdoors, it became evident that the course gave them so much more than simply appreciating nature and buying fresh flowers for the kitchen table, although these outcomes are just as important! WHYoutdoors has the power to be a life changing course, make you rethink the meaning of life and lead to personal growth, and it can do all of this in the context of nature.

However, what really makes this course stand out is that there is no pressure to have a life changing realisation, nor to share your deepest thoughts and reflections with the other participants and facilitators, and while it may be a therapeutic experience, is it by no means traditional therapy.

WHYoutdoors is a versatile course and gives everyone involved, whether that is participants or facilitators, a sort of pick and mix of take-home messages. There is something for everyone - even for the sceptics and those who are less likely to attend therapy but still have troubling thoughts following their cancer journey or would like some support otherwise.

During COVID we have seen how important nature and being outdoors is for our mental health, with the daily walk becoming our favourite part of the day. Hopefully, courses such as WHYoutdoors will become widely offered in the near future as chances are it is not only people with cancer who benefit from this, but anyone who feels a little bit out of touch with their roots.