Outdoor therapies can include a range of initiatives and mental health interventions that take place out of doors - such as walk and talk therapy, outdoor counselling, nature therapy and eco-therapy.
You need specific knowledge and skills to practise outdoor therapies safely and effectively. You can check your competency on the Institute of Outdoor Learning website.
Practising outdoor therapy during the coronavirus pandemic
We recommend that you should only offer outdoor therapies during the pandemic if:
- you are competent to do so
- outdoor therapy is suitable for the needs of the individual client
- it is not possible to offer indoor, online or phone therapy
If you're an experienced outdoor therapist
If you're already working with clients as an outdoor therapist, you should consider:
- are there any additional risk factors relating to coronavirus? – a risk assessment can help to identify these
- does your indemnity insurance policy cover you to continue working in this way during the pandemic?
- are there any changes to first aid or health and safety requirements?
- do you need to make any changes to your contract with clients?
- what are the local guidelines if you need to travel outside of your local area (this is permitted for work)
If you're new to outdoor therapy
If you’ve not practised outdoor therapies before, these are some of the things you need to consider before deciding whether you can work in this way:
- what training or CPD do you need to ensure competence for working outdoors?
- is your supervisor also trained and experienced in this type of therapy?
- does your supervisor agree with your decision?
- will your indemnity policy cover this activity in the context of COVID-19?
- how will you work therapeutically with the three way relationship involved in outdoor therapeutic work (therapist, client, nature) and how does this integrate with the theoretical model that you use?
- how will therapeutic boundaries and the therapeutic container be impacted by working outdoors? Aspects of the work such as touch, pace, movement, encountering others (including other clients) need to be considered.
- how confident do you feel responding dynamically to risks or unexpected/surprising events in an environment that is changeable and uncontrollable?
- how will you assess whether your client is suitable to work outdoors?
- what are the client factors that may impact on work outside? These may include mobility, energy levels, allergies, confidence, feelings about weather conditions.
- how will you and your client manage things if strong emotions emerge during the session? e.g. if a client becomes very tearful or angry.
- clear contracting – does the client have all the information they need to make an informed choice?
- what may happen if you or your client see someone you know? Ensure this is included in the confidentiality section of your contract.
- if you and a client are working in a ‘blended’ way, moving between outdoor, online and indoor sessions, how will this be managed?
- what is your relationship with nature and the outdoors (in general) and with the specific outdoor space you will use for your therapy?
- what are the additional risks in the environment and how can these be managed and minimised? Environmental factors may include encountering dogs or livestock, cyclists or skateboarders, uneven ground, stiles.
- what happens if you or your client trips or an accident occurs? It may be helpful to speak to your legal indemnity insurers about this.
- what weather conditions will you work in, and what conditions will clients work in, and how will this be managed if there is a difference in preference? What will be your cancellation policy and fee be if there is cold, wet or icy weather?
- do you and the client have suitable clothing and footwear for working outside? What would you do if a client arrives for a session wearing unsuitable attire?
- what facilities exist for you and the client in the area you are working in? e.g. toilets, access to hot drinks etc.
- what equipment would you need to take with you or ask the client to bring? e.g tissues, sit mats.
- will the route you take always allow you and your client to remain two metres apart? Can you maintain social distancing throughout the entire process, including contracting and assessment? What other risks are there in relation to COVID-19, for example touching gates or stiles?
- are there any additional risks to maintaining confidentiality – are the areas you would usually go busier than usual? Might it be easier for passers-by to overhear, particularly if you're having to communicate over a two metre distance?
- are there any concerns about keeping you or your client safe? - read our lone working guide.
A walk on the wild side
Nick Tarrant reflects on the risks and benefits of taking therapy outdoors. Therapy Today, July 2019
Nature as dynamic co-partner: beyond the ‘walk and talk’ experience…
What are the benefits of working with the natural world? Coach and supervisor Catherine Gorham shows how we can invite the outdoors in to our coaching relationships. Coaching Today, October 2019
Imperfect therapist: A distanced walk
"At one point, she asks if we can sit down on a bench. I watch her take a seat, apparently unconcerned by the lack of disinfectant wipes." Private Practice, September 2020