By Joanne Hanrahan
This edition’s volunteer contribution was written by Joanne Hanrahan. Joanne is the new EEAI Committee Vice Chair and a much valued eeai volunteer.
The 14th of December 2012 was the most beautiful, clear, crisp Winter’s day. I can visualise it with great clarity, and as I do my body responds to the memory; memories of skipping, twirling and yelping with pure joy on Lahinch beach with my husband. That was the day the removals vans arrived with all of our belongings and we finally moved into our new home in Liscannor Co. Clare. My very visceral experience of moving to this beautiful coastal village was not just of moving house and of relocating from a city suburb but, for me, seemed to reflect a coming home to my Self. Before pondering on this new very personal awareness, let me share a little of my connection with nature prior to this last move.
As a child in Ireland in the 70s and 80s, regardless of where I lived, I was never too far from open spaces and a rural landscape. Pre ten I lived in County Dublin and made forts in the field at the back of my house. My third and fourth class teacher encouraged me to watch David Attenborough programmes as part of my homework. These amazing documentaries transported me to the marvels of the wider world and the weird and wonderful creatures in it. Attenborough’s voice and remarkable presence in the grand scheme of things seemed, somehow, to settle me too, into a sense of being part of or belonging to, place. As a teen I lived in a quiet suburb on the outskirts of Limerick and regularly walked or cycled a three mile rural loop near my house to clear my head from thoughts of study and to steady myself. Holidays were spent on my uncle’s farm in Mayo and climbing mountains and exploring beaches in Kerry. My father had a passion for hiking and introduced me to the wonder of outdoor adventures. My mom taught me to be present and notice – notice the falling leaves, the buds, the bulbs coming up; the magic of the changing seasons. From her I learned of plants and trees, flowers and planting, long standing treasures that remain in my knowledge bank. At eighteen I started university in Galway and lived in Salthill for four years. My first time living by the sea, this also seemed to be the first time that I noticed my own psychological world being reflected back to me in the environment. The sea was so exciting. To me, just like the new world I was experiencing, the sea had the power to renew itself and had an awesome freedom and energy.
It was not, however, until my adult relocation to Liscannor with my husband and children, that I experienced a fundamental shift in my relationship with nature. At the time I was completing my Psychotherapy training and it seemed to me that my contact with nature heightened my understanding of therapeutic theory. I was also more aware of my own psychological process through contact with the natural world. My environment trained me to be in the here and now. I felt that looking out seemed to facilitate my looking within and my making contact not only with my embodied present self but my higher order self. I was fascinated by what was enlivened in me. In 2014, knowing nothing of Eco Psychology, Shamanism or Nature Based Therapies I decided to complete my MSc masters research on exploring the integration of Nature and Psychotherapy. Initially I found myself feeling anxious by the lack of Psychotherapy specific research in the field and wondering what literature I’d actually review. However my fears soon turned to excitement as I discovered I was on the cusp of something very new. I waited with great enthusiasm for the results of some of the Scandinavian research that was just emerging and the arrival of Martin Jordan’s first book in my letter box.
Since then I have completed trainings in outdoor psychotherapy in the UK and attended a number of conferences and talks on related topics. I have facilitated workshops and delivered speeches but have most enjoyed developing my Psychotherapy practice both indoors and out on the Wild Atlantic Way.