Your First Ecotherapy Session

So you’ve read about ecotherapy and you think it may be a good fit–what’s next?

Your first step, of course, is going to be to find an ecotherapist. You can check the Find an Ecotherapist page here at Watershed Ecotherapy; I’m always adding new practitioners* so check back periodically if there’s no one from your area listed yet. There are more general therapist directories through Psychology Today and You can also search for “[your city or your state] ecopsychology” or “[your city or your state] ecotherapy” and see if anyone shows up in the results. Many areas also have a directory of therapists that you can find by searching for “[your city or your state] therapists”; some of these practitioners may mention ecopsychology as one of their specialties, or be open to exploring it with you. As of yet I don’t know of any ecotherapists who offer services over phone or internet.

So let’s say you’ve found an ecotherapist you would like to work with, they have availability in their schedule, and they take your insurance or their out of pocket costs are affordable enough for you. Your first session is very important, because it’s where the two of you will first get to know each other a little bit. Keep in mind that the therapist-client relationship is just that: a relationship. It can take time to develop trust and depth, so don’t go in expecting a perfect rapport to form by the end of that first session.

It’s likely that the ecotherapist will have sent you an intake questionnaire asking about basic information about you, your mental and physical health history, your family, friends and other relationships, and the specific reason that you want to work with them. And there will almost certainly be some questions pertaining to your relationship with nature. Be as open as you feel comfortable in answering these questions. There’s no such thing as an answer that’s too long, and the more information you can give the ecotherapist, the more background they’ll have when they meet you. If you just aren’t comfortable telling a stranger so much, that’s okay; just answer as thoroughly as you’re okay with.

When you get to the ecotherapist’s office and your session begins, she will probably have a little more paperwork for you to sign concerning things like confidentiality and payment options. After that, she may talk a little bit about your intake questionnaire, or ask you a couple of low-pressure questions just to get the conversation going. If all else fails, talking about why you’re there in the first place is a really great starting point.

Some ecotherapists like to incorporate nature-related activities right from the start, so she may ask you to take a walk outside with her, or to try a very brief nature-based mindfulness exercise to help you relax. One of my favorite exercises with my clients is to have a basket of stones, sticks, dried leaves and other natural items and ask the client to pick an item that most resembles how they feel today, whether prickly like a pine cone or soft like a pigeon feather.

Since that first session isn’t likely to go over an hour, you won’t be able to get into a lot of detail. You may not feel like much progress has been made beyond a basic “Hi, how are you?” That being said, many times the first session sets the tone for the ongoing therapist-client relationship, so pay attention to how you feel by the end of it. If you feel comfortable and eager to go back, great! If you’re feeling some unease, try to figure out why. Some people just have trouble opening up with a stranger in any setting, and this is totally normal. You may just need to be patient with yourself as you get used to this new person in your life.

On the other hand, if the ecotherapist did something specific that made you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why. As one potential example, some ecotherapists like to use animal or nature based card decks in the same way I use my basket of sticks and stones. Since some of these may have spiritual elements in their imagery that may not match your own personal religious path, maybe that put you off a little. There could also be a personality clash, or the ecotherapist tried to pry into your personal life more than you liked, or their office may just have been uncomfortable.

Whatever it is, try to identify the specific reason, and then decide if it’s a dealbreaker for you. Speaking from personal experience, most therapists of all sorts are open to feedback from their clients, especially if the client is feeling uncomfortable. So don’t be afraid to speak up and tell the ecotherapist what’s bothering you; she’s not going to yell at you or think less of you. However, she’ll almost certainly want to accommodate you and will appreciate your feedback on how to do that.

If you happen to find an ecotherapist who isn’t quite so accommodating, or if you just don’t feel that you’re a good fit together, it’s okay to not go back. Again, the therapist-client relationship is a relationship, and you might not always mesh well with the very first one you meet. You can give the ecotherapist feedback via phone or email if you don’t want to go back for another session, or at least tell her that you’re no longer interested in working together. It happens all the time to every therapist, and she’s not going to take it personally.

It does mean that if you still want to work with an ecotherapist you’ll have to start over at square one. One of the benefits of telling your first ecotherapist that you just aren’t connecting with her is that she may be able to refer you to a colleague who also practices ecotherapy, but who maybe has a different approach, or just a more compatible personality.

Don’t feel bad if you need to go through the process a few times. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Just like with potential partners, friends, etc., you’re going to get along with some people better than others. When you find someone who really clicks with you, though, it makes the effort all worthwhile, and I wish you the best of luck in your search!

* If you are an ecotherapist reading this and you’d like to be added to the Find an Ecotherapist page, you can find details on how at Want to Contribute to this Site?