Nature Enhances Therapeutic Alliance

“Are our friends here today?” were the first words she spoke when she got to her 8:30am psychotherapy appointment on the beach. Yes, they were there! Dolphins often swim by during Beach Therapy, which is not only entertaining, but also elicits joy, comfort, warmth, awe, a sense of connection, and a sense of belonging to a larger community or the world. By the way, these are all feelings we have when we’re outside in nature, but I believe they’re enhanced with out-of-the-ordinary occurrences.

To witness such beauty and grace as watching dolphins swim, jump, and play in the wild is awe-inspiring. Have you ever shared such a moment with another person? In my experience, to share this magical moment and to feel awe and a sense of connection alongside another person who is just as happy to see the dolphins, creates a bond between these two witnesses that is different than a connection formed under other circumstances.

The quality of the relationship between a therapist and a patient as well as the bond they feel in that relationship are essential in therapy effectiveness. Some research studies have even found that therapeutic alliance may be more important than the theoretical framework of the therapist.

There are several characteristics of Beach Therapy that facilitate a trusting relationship and good therapeutic alliance, and sharing these awe-inspiring moments is one of the most powerful. Walking side-by-side in nature is another.

As opposed to sitting in an office, my role is much less authoritarian outside in nature. I share a public space with my patient, a space where they spontaneously experience joy, comfort, warmth, awe, a sense of connection, and a sense of belonging. Aren’t these all emotions we would like our therapy patients to experience? And how powerful would it be for them to feel these emotions during our therapy session! That might help in establishing a strong therapeutic bond, which, in turn, would be more likely to yield effective results in our work. Indeed, what I’m admitting here is that the beach does half of the work for me 🙂