Gardens and Creating a Healing Environment for Eating Disorder Treatment
- Category: Healing Resources
A psychology graduate student felt she could ask me questions about being an eating disorder psychotherapist and get some help in writing her case study because she read that my patients wait in a garden before their psychotherapy sessions. She said she felt welcome to write and ask because of my waiting garden.
Nature of Welcome
I lead with this because gardens do call us to enter. People put fences around gardens and install entry gates because a lovely, open garden invites us in. The boundaries creates safety. The open gate gives permission to enter. A garden can be soothing, quieting and can hold you regardless of what you feel or how you look or think you look.
Garden as Co-Therapist
Moreover, if you have willingness and eyes to see, a garden can show you the continuous flow of life force as you behold plants in every phase of development including birds, insects and other creatures that visit or inhabit the garden. Perhaps all gardens are healing gardens. Over time you develop an appreciation of yourself as yet another living being in the garden. You discover you have a welcoming place and that you too both nourish and are nourishing to the growing life that is present and coming. Yes, I consider my garden a potent and loving co-therapist. The grad student did not seem to know this with her left brain, but certainly got it with her right. That is why she wrote and opened the conversation.
Research/Case History Study Topics
The list of topics the graduate student needed to cover for her case study were:
1. effective interventions
2. client rapport building
3. assessment techniques
4. clinical theories that guide the assessments and interventions that apply to the case
5. address clinical practices and describe transference, countertransference, and termination issues.
Value of topics
These topics make a lot of sense in terms of learning how to be a psychotherapist. They are necessary in terms of background knowledge and an ability to think critically in order to evaluate what may or may not be addressed in the work. However, if you are familiar with the growing knowledge we have in the field of neuroscience you will appreciate my saying that the list is primarily oriented toward the left brain.
The Other List from the Other Side of the Brain
Rapport, deep learning, personal connection, empathy, compassion, intuition, genuine and profound respect, courage, love, creativity - all essentials for both patient and therapist - are mostly right brain functions. They are addressed, researched and communicated via our personal and authentic ways of being in the world and with each other. We, as psychotherapists, especially in the field of eating disorders, need these qualities in our work. We need to acknowledge, respect, encourage, nurture and support the development of these qualities in our patients.
Integration is Vital
Yes, a psychotherapist needs to be able to articulate theory and resources. Yes, we need to be able to form treatment templates in our mind and hold various points of view as we listen deeply to what our patients say and demonstrate. However, for healing to occur both territories of information and brain function need to integrate in the mind of the therapist and be encouraged to integrate in the mind of the patient.
Healing Environment and Process of Healing
Being with one another in psychotherapy is like each of us being in the garden of the other. The patient learns to take in nourishment. She discovers herself growing and developing in a climate of compassion, knowledge and respect. She learns how to recognize and take in both more and different needed types of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual nourishment as she develops. Her development and healing enriches the psychotherapist and teaches the psychotherapist how to provide new support for each of the patient's new developmental stages. Soon patient and psychotherapist find themselves in a co-creative system in the office, much like the garden outside. And, much like the garden outside, new life and beauty, healing and health emerge.