64 – Eco-Art Therapy: Supporting the Journey with Jess Winnicki
written by Jessica Winnicki (Social Work / Art Therapy) on 19/11/20
“Look deep into nature, and then you will know everything better.”
Today I wanted to bring you a brief overview of eco-art therapy, some of the background and theory, describe how nature can be a container and support for us, the potential benefits of eco-art therapy, as well as bring you information from a virtual presentation I recently attended discussing finding community in nature during times of grief (as presented by Sara West). I will close the podcast with a description of how we can start a process of connection to nature through the process of art making with natural materials, as well as share a self-reflection.
When talking about the land it is also very important to acknowledge the land that we are recording this podcast on, the land that most of us who are listening live on and the land where we will potentially be building a new connection with nature.
I acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 Territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on what we do and what we can do to make Manitoba a better place for everyone who lives here. I would also like to acknowledge that our drinking water in Winnipeg is sourced from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
I invite you to take a moment with us and explore the world of eco-art therapy, and how this process can support us on our journeys.
What is Eco-Art Therapy?
Eco-Art Therapy is a blending of traditional Art Therapy with the emerging science of Applied Ecopsychology. It’s a creative process that anyone at anytime can use to think and feel with the clarity that each of us can readily enjoy in natural areas. It makes nature not only cathartic, but therapeutic (Sweeney, 2020). Eco-art therapy is the blend of using art therapy practices in an eco therapy setting, utilizing the natural resources at hand to create.
When you’re experiencing anxiety or trauma, your brain and sympathetic nervous system are continually stimulated and it’s harder to make decisions because you’re in a state of reacting. When you’re in that space, you can’t do the emotional work to process. By contrast, when you’re outside, you’re calmer – it’s easier to breathe, easier to settle out everything that’s going on in your brain, which allows you to get to a place of processing emotions. Using art as a way to externalize emotions can be intimidating to start with, so it’s nice to be outside to give yourself the opportunity to play and create.
Nature as a Container
Nature can provide us a space of holding for processing and art creation, it influences and acts as a container for our processing. Nature provides for us materials, creation / exhibition space, and context in which to create. An invitation (introduced to me by Fyre Jean Graveline) is that of taking what nature has already shed for us as opposed to harvesting leaves and bark that have not yet fallen naturally. Respect for nature and its natural process is a key element in this process. Our inner landscape can be mirrored by the outer environment we place ourselves in, we can find a circular connection: the individual connecting to nature, the individual creating with natural materials, moving back to the individual and their process. Spending time in nature and creating in nature can be a support for our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. During a time in our history where we are potentially feeling alone, isolated, and separate from community, connecting with nature can enhance our sense of belonging. Nature can help us make meaning and make sense of feelings that may be coming to the surface, creating art in a natural space can assist in this process. Using foraged and found art materials connects us further to the environment we are in and reminds us that we have an inherent connection to the natural world. There is abundant opportunity for the use of metaphor and symbolism to further deepen our meaning making while creating art in and with the natural environment. Ideas of roots, harvest, change, growth, decomposition, blooming, decay, flight, and song come to mind.
Some potential benefits of engaging in an eco-art therapy process are:
- knowing nature is there when you need it
- creating art with natural materials (new way of expressing self)
- the feeling of pride and connection to place
- sense of achievement / investment in self through connecting to nature
- thinking using symbol and metaphor
- feeling restored / supported by nature and the creative process
- reduction in stress related symptoms you may be experiencing
- a sense of peace and relaxation
- creating a sense of belonging
- working with the idea of impermanence
- identify resources that can support grounding
- re-story narratives about our relationship to the land
Eco-Art Therapy: Supporting the Journey
On November 7th, 2020 I attended the virtual Canadian Art Therapy Association Conference Sustaining and Expanding Creative Practices in Unprecedented Times (being held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays November 6-8, 13-15, 20-22). Sara West, a Kutenai Art Therapy Institute grad, and Environmental Arts Therapist presented on her concepts of ‘Finding Community in Nature During Times of Grief’. She discussed how we are connected to nature and how we can view this connection through an Indigenous, living systems, and Gaia lens. Sara noted how nature is supportive and in that support is able to meet our needs. One piece that she noted that stood out to me was our current limited ability to grieve in our human communities and how this limitation necessitates the expansion of our concept of community to seeing part of our community as nature. How important this information can be, in this moment we are facing, to support the grief we might be experiencing, and to give us a plan to feel supported, in nature.
Invitation for Exploration of Eco-Art Therapy
So how does one start this process of connecting to nature and the creative process?
Perhaps you have been imagining a place you would like to visit as you have been listening. Be intentional, set aside time to visit this place. If a specific place has not come to mind take a walk in your neighbourhood and perhaps discover places you hadn’t thought of exploring before. Or perhaps take a drive to a familiar or new area and explore. Feeling safe in the area you are in is key in this process, check-in with yourself as you are choosing outdoor spaces. Walk around, notice what draws your attention, what sounds and sights call to you. Are you being drawn to an area, are there certain plants that seem appealing in this moment? Collect items as you roam in the natural world. You don’t need to have a goal in mind, or you can. This process can be as spontaneous or as planned as you want it to be, and this will change from moment to moment. You can create outside, leaving your impermanent art piece made with natural materials to be part of the landscape, you can bring items from nature back home with you, you can press leaves in books, the possibilities are endless as our imaginations. It’s about the process, your process. Notice things that come in your mind while you’re creating something. Lean into the process and see what is coming to you through the process of creating. What have you experienced? Will you journal when you return home? Will you take a photo to remember the moment? How do we share gratitude to the land and natural materials we have connected with? Acknowledge the time you have dedicated to yourself and your healing journey, the awareness of time taken for self has healing qualities.
Thank you for listening and being open to the process of connecting to nature and art therapy. If you have any questions please do no hesitate to contact me.
Wanting to close with a reminder that this time we are living in is a time of change, stretching edges, uncomfortable feelings, and also growth.
Remember that everyday is a process and we bring different versions of ourself to each day / moment of the day.
Be gentle with yourself, strive for effort and intention as opposed to perfection.
Hughes, L. (n.d.). She Explores. Https://She-Explores.Com/Features/How-Art-in-Nature-Heals/. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://she-exlpores.com
Sweeney, T. (2020). Eco-Art Therapy. Ecoartherapy.Com. http://ecoarttherapy.com/
West, S. (2020, November 7). Finding Community in Nature During Times of Grief [Paper presentation]. Canadian Art Therapy Association Conference, Virtual Platform, Canada.
West, S. (2019). Rooted Imaginings. http://www.rootedimaginings.com/
Whose Land. (n.d.). Whose Land. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.whose.land/en/