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Interview with nature-based therapist and social worker, Kit Kline

Posted: 19/07/2021

This month, we talk to Kit Kline, Nature Based therapist and founder of Nature Based Therapy, counsellor and educator, about some practical ways we can support clients to connect with the natural environment.

Kit has almost 20 years’ experience working as a counsellor and educator in the social and community services sector with both public and private health services and specialises in mental health and addictions.

Born in Canada and arriving in Australia when she was 8, Kit is a descendent of the Wampanoag people on her paternal side and a member of the Sou’West Nova Metis Council. Kit says she has always felt a strong connection to her Native American ancestry and believes her philosophy on health and wellness derives from this connection.

As a descendent of the Wampanoag people, Kit also has a deep interest and respect for the relationship that First Nations peoples have with country. She believes there is a lot we can learn about healing, ourselves and the environment, from the vast knowledge of First Nations peoples around the world.

We started by asking Kit a bit about herself.

 

Where does your interest in nature-based therapies come from?

I guess everything goes back to childhood, doesn’t it. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and spent a lot of time in nature. Our backyard backed onto a forest. What I remember are the treehouses we made, the trees we climbed, in winter the ponds would be frozen over and we used to skate on them. We used to make mud cakes and pick berries, we were just always outdoors – we knew to come home at night time. So just kids being kids and playing in nature. That kind of set the scene for me, for what I enjoyed and valued.

When I was 8, we moved to Australia, where we continued to play outside or at the beach. I remember going through some difficult times and I always connected to nature as it seemed to ground me. Even though I was removed from my place of birth and in another environment, I always had the sense that nature was a part of me and I was a part of the natural world. It was still the same sun and moon. We were still close to the ocean that is ultimately connected with all other oceans in the world. So this whole concept of the interconnectedness of the natural world that was inside me gave me a sense of personal healing and I guess that’s how I coped with everything that was going on.

 

How did you get into nature therapy?

After spending some time travelling as a young person, I came back to Australia and decided to get into youth work in 2002. What I found in all my work (mainly as a Drug and Alcohol counsellor, in Aboriginal Health and in residential rehab) was that I would automatically use nature as a metaphor when I was trying to understand what people were telling me.

I also used to take people in rehab on bush walks. Every morning, before we’d start the program, we’d start the day walking through the pine plantations. I found that while they were walking, people would start to open up, more than if they were in a counselling session with me. And the relationship was very different, more relaxed. That’s when I started to notice that there was a kind of healing happening for people just by being in nature.

Through all the roles I’ve had over the last 20 years, I’ve always tried to incorporate nature, by going out into nature or by bringing nature in to the counselling space, either physically or as metaphor. I’ve developed programs, workshops and even assessment tools and support plan tools around a connection to nature. I always ask, how can we look more holistically at the information we are gathering?

I established Nature Based Therapy due to the success I was having with the people I was working with when I incorporated ‘nature’ into my work practice.

In some ways, it’s very instinctive. When people go on holidays or they want to reduce their stress, they automatically go to nature. They go to the beach or the mountains—who goes to the city to destress? It’s kind of innate in us. I’m finding more and more people, not just in human services, are looking for more nature-based activities to ground themselves and their teams.

 

You have a masters in Indigenous studies. How does this and nature-based therapy cross over for you?

Indigenous philosophy is at the core of Nature Based therapy for me. The Indigenous view is that we are not separate from the natural world. Nature is our family and everything has a place, a purpose and a story. It’s about creating a deep respect, like you would for your family or community. Nature is not a commodity, it’s not to be exploited or misused.

When I do an activity in nature with students, we always ask permission and show gratitude. We only take things that are fluid and have movement, like shells or feathers, but not rocks or trees as they are grounded in place.

I think we don’t really respect the knowledge of Indigenous peoples. For example, I always think about this when it comes to floods. In many cases, if the planners had spoken to Indigenous people they wouldn’t have built where they do as they are flood plains. Management of the land is so important but you can’t manage the land if you don’t have a relationship with the land. I find that Indigenous perspectives are always mindful of the future and future generations, whereas Western perspectives tend to be about the now.

 

Can you give an example of how you have incorporated this philosophy into your social work practice?

Sure. I work in a youth drug and alcohol rehab part time now, and I created a therapy garden there. It’s kind of ‘ever-evolving’ and we get the young people who come in to the resi unit to create the therapy garden. They help us sand and paint all the old furniture and do all the planting. It is really powerful for people to watch something they planted as it grows—it can be a really positive and healing experience.

I’m also working to develop innovative programs working with Indigenous peoples and knowledges in order to bring these knowledges into everyday practice. I call it planting seeds. We can be respectful of Indigenous knowledges, and include them in our practice by finding simple ways to connect and learn about the world around us, especially the natural world.

 

What are some of the things you think non-Indigenous people can learn from First Nations peoples?

The main thing I think we can learn is respect for the natural world.

I also think we have a lot to learn about community and connection to community. Things like having a sense of shared responsibility for raising children. We also have a lot to learn a lot about extended family and supportive communities.

I think we could also learn a lot about diet. I would love to see us bring back Indigenous foods and reconnect diet to the land. Indigenous people all over the world had very few health issues before being introduced to a western diet. In fact, we have already taken on lots of things from Indigenous peoples’ approach to health, like fasting and plant-based diets—we just don’t realise it!

We could also learn a lot about the grieving process and how to deal with loss. In many western communities, we have day off for a funeral, then you are expected to get over it.

 

If you could give organisations one piece of advice about how we could learn from nature or First Nations peoples, what would it be?

One of the most valuable things you can do is take your staff out onto country and to get them to learn about the real history of the land on which they are living and working. Go on country, walk on country, take photos of the native plants, connect with the traditional owners.

Go to events that celebrate First Nations peoples and traditional owners, and get involved (not just in Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC week) – it should be all year round. We can’t wait for Indigenous peoples to come to the schools and organisations, we need to take responsibility for learning about our Indigenous knowledges.

 

Useful resources

The Nature of Strengths  –  $55.00

Taking Up Our Strengths  –  $49.95

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