Q & A - Heather Laurence (EcoArts Wild)
Please share your past experience working in therapeutic roles alongside animals.
With over 30 years of experience working in a therapeutic role, Heather has developed her own methods of working with individuals and families which encompass a mixture of ecopsychology, (a blend of eco and traditional science-based theories).. and a mixture of creative activities, nature, and her beloved animals. to help people gain the most from wherever they find themselves.
Setting up a small organization in 2002, North East Ponies as Therapy (NEPAT) began her work in teaching the reconnection, with some amazing and fascinating results which she is more than happy to tell you about and show photos of same.
Heather and her ponies went to schools, hospices, day therapy centres, and hospitals.
NEPAT was a frequent visitor at local events and local authority fun days, and Heather still treasures some of the artworks that she was gifted by some of the service users. Her own love of creativity and the arts being prevalent in her life since school days, a commissioned artist, a published author, and performer (having appeared on stage and screen) she is more than aware of the therapeutic benefits of the arts. Her own life experiences have gone a long way towards creating an empathetic professional therapist who is passionate about her work.
Heather also is a well-known and highly regarded professional dog trainer and handler who has worked and trained over
4000 dogs, educating everything from pet puppies, and screen stars, to detection dogs and therapy dogs, with all kinds of behavior issues in-between, Her own detection dog winning a commendation from the PDSA for her work. and her own dogs being therapy animals and who on one occasion were smuggled into a hospital, (along with Heather and her now Husband) to give comfort to a dying girl whose only wish was to be with dogs one more time.
Her ability to teach people to get the most from their relationship with their animals is the pinnacle of the structure of the successful well-established business that she has run with her husband since 2010. Heather states “..animals give us such a lot back, they say such a lot, you just have to listen, it doesn’t stop at animals, the whole planet talks to each and every living thing on it, but only humans use the words we understand.”
How did you come to begin your PhD in Applied Eco-Art Therapy and Ecopsychology and how is it going?
This is where it gets a little complicated. I discovered the work of Dr Michael J Cohen, Ed.D., Ph.D. has spent his life since 1953 developing the art of his hands on science, the Organic Application of Ecopsychology.
“Nature is the best teacher we have, we need to spend more time getting to know nature in order to learn more about ourselves.”
His work gives a fascinating insight into “How to create 54-sense moments in natural areas that transform problems into love.” His programmes cover in depth “The Organics of Applied Ecopsychology in Action, Educating, Counselling and Healing in Natural Areas”
I was delighted when I first began to work with others who are familiar with the work of Dr. Mike Cohen, it was only when I discovered his work that I realized that we have been doing things so far off track for so long, that most people have become so disconnected from nature that they may as well have divorced it.
Dr Cohen had put into words exactly what I knew to be innate. I also discovered that he offers courses in his work, so I enrolled right away, signed up and being accepted for the PhD course. I worked alongside Mike and his team for over eighteen months, I was just about ready to begin my dissertation, had even gone so far as submitting a rough proposal when between the team and I we realized that there was an accreditation issue, the university they use are not accredited, so it meant my PhD was not classed as viable.
This meant that I needed a rethink, and quickly, I am so passionate about ecopsychology, that I wanted to continue in the field. My only alternative was to find another university who would accept my proposal, I have now enrolled in a PhD with an Open University who has allowed some credit transfer, and I am about to submit a dissertation proposal to them which will allow me to encompass a marriage of traditional, science-based psychology and ecopsychology.
Can you define ecopsychology and eco-arts therapy? How do you combine the two at EcoArts Wild?
When we combine the principles of both ecoart(s) and ecopsychology and using the natural environment as an area to work, talk, listen and learn we can achieve results that speak for themselves. Using the natural systems thinking process and exploring our 54 senses until we discover what becomes self-evident.
Ecopsychology studies the relationship between human beings and the natural world through ecological and psychological principles.
The field seeks to develop and understand ways of expanding the emotional connection between individuals and the natural world, thereby assisting individuals with developing sustainable lifestyles and remedying alienation from nature.
Evidence suggests that many environmentally damaging behaviours are addictive at some level, and thus are more effectively addressed through
positive emotional fulfillment rather than by inflicting shame. Other names used to refer to ecopsychology include, Gaia psychology, ecotherapy, environmental psychology, green psychology, global therapy, green therapy, Earth-centered therapy, nature-based psychotherapy.
Pictures have been used as communication since man first picked up clay and made markings on walls of caves. Indigenous people used symbols to share stories, record events and celebrate occasions.
The barrier of the spoken word or language was never an issue. When we use art to communicate, we eliminate all the barriers of traditional communication, the words we struggle to say, the thoughts we are struggling to make sense of. With natures teaching, we can reconnect with our inner child and communicate with the same ease as we did when we were children and first picked up crayons to draw.
A combination of traditional science-based psychology and ecopsychology, eco-art therapy offers a solution to crossing barriers and negatives.
As an artist, personally, what aspects of nature inspire you?
All of nature is inspirational, it is more a question of what are you attracted to at the time, my personal art work is definitely animal inspired, but when working with clients it is often about what is attractive in the moment, and which area of nature we are in, we could for example be in a woodland area, which has endless inspirations or perhaps the coast which again provides a plethora of tactile and visual elements as well as the unconscious inspirations.
For personal art, commissions etc I work in pastels, and I am attracted mostly to draw animals, but I also create ephemeral art in outdoor areas.
Nature and animals can be a source of therapy, as Heather Laurence explains - particularly when combining eco-art therapy, ecopsychology programs and science-based psychology.
“You will be amazed at the difference really connecting to nature for even one hour can make to your wellbeing.”
Heather shows us that through nature, we can discover new ways to connect with ourselves and communicate in artistic ways.
This is particularly the case through the guidance of her EcoArts Wild programmes, for improving our wellbeing and mental health.