Forests and minds

I suggested earlier (Brains, bodies and places) that it might be useful to think of the dynamic of bodymind and place as like an ecosystem, and today the image emerged during my personal therapy of the mind as a dark forest. Such metaphors have a rich history, and Inger Birkeland comments that place in general “is a concept that mediates between body and mind, nature and culture” (Birkeland, 2012).

For some indigenous peoples – and in many myths – forests are liminal places that offer the potential for change. These ancient motifs are widespread in our culture: Shakespeare’s As You Like It it came to my mind today, and serves as a rich example. In the play the Forest of Arden becomes a mysterious place away from the civilized city where dramatic transformation take place. The play is a complex exploration of contrasts and conflicts; forest/city, nature/civilization, masculinity/femininity, child/parent, love/hate. Shakespeare doesn’t provide simple resolutions of these confrontations, but leaves us to make of it what we will – as you like it, indeed.


During my session I came to see the dark forest as the mind which the psychotherapist and the client explore together. Several aspects of the process became clear to me. In our wandering we must accept the reality of the unknown without fearing it. There may well be something frightening in the darkness, but finding it could be transformative. We need to feel our way through the trees, not blast at the darkness with the cold analytic beam of an electric torchlight. And as joint explorers of this forest, we must stay close.

Hopefully the significance for the practice of psychotherapy is clear: The therapist needs to feel safe with the unknown and not try to push it away prematurely with the intellectual light of theory. Instead, the therapist stays close to the experience of their client, helping them feel their way towards change.

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2 Responses to Forests and minds

  1. I came across your blog site while perusing the internet and looking at the organiclea website. I like what you are doing. I have taken a focusing introductory course, although a while ago now. I feel that it is so important to make time to connect to nature in our modern lives full of wi-fi, mobile phones, etc. I have started a blog for parents to find out about places to visit with their children in North London. Although it is a more practical, day-to-day type thing, I am interested in connecting to people who are similarly interested in nature and how to connect to it on a deeper level.

  2. Administrator says:

    Good to connect, Clare. There are lots of fun nature connection games for kids you might want to try. Check out the book ‘I Love My World’ by Chris Holland. Maybe see you at one of my workshops sometime!

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