In my last two blog posts, I established the need for intervention and support for families who have suffered a crisis using Donna and Ted’s family as an example. Many long-term and perpetuating consequences can be avoided when families begin their healing journey early and have ongoing support. I specifically called on the church (as an organization) to acknowledge the ways they have contributed to and ignored trauma caused by their own people and systems. I also included a brief theological reflection on the ways the church (as a people) have been called to be healers. The Butterfly Project is focused on an integrated approach to helping families through respite, time in nature, and therapeutic art-making, a concept that is rooted in ancient wisdom and divine design. In this blog we’re going to look at the benefits of spending time in nature and why it’s a vital pathway to healing for families.
Have you ever heard of the term “thin place”? A thin place is said to be where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. Often it is a physical place in nature. Algonquin Park has been one of those places for me. In the bible, the Psalmist seemed to know something about thin places as well when he paints a picture of God’s creation and talks about being led down paths near still waters and fields, to a dwelling place where his soul is refreshed. The healing and restorative effects of spending time in nature is increasingly being recognized in psychology as well. Spending time in nature, especially an extended time that includes overnight increases well-being, self-esteem, and mood, reduces anger and improves general psychological well-being with positive effects on emotions and behaviour.
A really interesting study was done in Finland (published in 2019) that discusses the effects of nature on the well-being of families and young people from a relational perspective. They found that outdoor life allows families’ to engage in basic everyday activities at a slower rhythm and “enables intensive engagement with both one’s companions and the environment.” Instinctually, parents naturally connect with their children through the simplest ways, watching them play, helping them climb a hill or jump across a stream. In small increments, attachment begins to heal between parents and children through these types of activities, especially when given the opportunity to step out of the monotony of daily life.
Being in nature has other benefits as well, such as improving sleep patterns. Families who are stressed are likely not sleeping as well as they need to. This study found, in the everyday life of a family with small children, getting enough sleep can become a central issue in terms of well-being. Participating mothers in the study described how being in nature helped the family calm down in the evening and made it easier to settle the children down for bed. Staying overnight in nature seems to enhance the well-being of families by enabling them to pay attention to the natural rhythms of the day and night. This is not only good for everyday life but for a family who has experienced a crisis, this could be an effective way to help re-establish disrupted rhythms, including sleep, which is known to aid one's stress response and increase coping ability. Spending time outdoors enables families to see they have choices, can take them from defeat to empowerment, creates space for expressing different emotions, and provides opportunities for developing diverse skills. Encounters with the natural environment can be an effective way to bring calm to a family and return to them a sense of hope, it can help bring them to a place where they are able to perceive possibilities and make better choices.
I came across another article published just last week by CBC, about an organization called PaRx in BC who advocates for and prescribes, just like a prescription for antibiotics, time in nature as a treatment for patients who are suffering anything from depression to heart disease. One of the things the article points out is that patients in these new programs work with healthcare professionals and oftentimes the prescription of nature is in combination with other treatments and support as needed….
How amazing would it be to have caregivers, not only Doctors and Psychologists, but anyone who helps people, who understand the healing value of nature enough they would prescribe nature? You don’t need a PhD to write this script! And even more amazing, that a place could exist for families who have experienced a crisis, where they could be sent to “fill their prescription”?!
When a crisis happens, people often experience feelings of defeat, failure, and helplessness. Spending time in nature will help, but not always on its own. Hurting people need support, that support is essential to a fully integrated approach and one of the distinguishing elements of what The Butterfly Project is working to develop. Hurting people need a companion. Someone who’s available for crisis counselling, someone who can gently model healthy attachment, to step in if/when the parent is overwhelmed and needs a hand, someone to listen, maybe even pray or simply hang out and talk (or not) around the campfire.
When my family was in crisis 12 years ago, I had friends who helped us by giving us a place to go because we needed space and time to heal, somewhere we could feel safe and actually rest. The first place we went to was a condo at a resort in Collingwood. It felt safer than my home but with two toddlers, it was a challenge to not have our own things, be in an unfamiliar place and try to hide my swollen, teary eyes after crying all night long. The second place we went to, was a small cottage north of Huntsville on a very quiet lake. This was a much better environment for us. I spoke earlier of the healing that happens with the attachment between parent and child when in nature and I can attest to that. Environment makes a huge difference. What was missing in each place was connection. We were really isolated in both places and for different reasons. Had someone been there who knew what we were going through and was able to offer some support and a few tools to go home with, we might have coped with what was ahead of us in a different way.
When Mike and I saw this property for the first time, we felt like we stepped into a thin place. They say you can look for thin places but more often they find you. Before I did all of the research, we knew this would be a place of healing, for us and for families in the future. We hope and pray that everyone who visits will experience the same.
We are continually working toward making this a safe, loving place, where people can visit and leave feeling rested and connected, their souls refreshed. We pray this "thin place" will finds those who need it most.