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Nature's Artful Healing: A Sensory Journey Through Nature-Informed Art Therapy

Beautiful art piece using the nature material
Nature art from Nature Informed Therapy Training 2023 Spring

This April, I was entrusted to lead an art therapy group for the Center for Nature Informed Therapy’s live, 3-day, in-person Nature Informed Therapy training. Below are images from the experience, including guiding prompts designed for 23 participants. If interested in how nature informs mental health or in the integration of nature in your counseling or therapeutic practice, take a look at CNIT's website.

Nature Informed art therapy can directly engage the body and five senses by exploring a direct, non-verbal relationship with the natural world. Meaning lies in what a person selects from a landscape, how items are arranged, and how the memory of their body in space and time becomes a vital part of the therapeutic experience. The process of touching, taking apart, manipulating, and reassembling natural objects builds an experience of creative, present-moment awareness.

Below is a framework provided (as seen on the white sheet in the images below).

1. When outside, in a park or a natural site of your choosing, look around, select & bring back...

● 4-5 natural items that interest or draw your attention in some way*

2. Choose a round-cut wooden panel

● 8” round panels: cut from scrap wood or order a 10 pack of 8” unfinished natural wooden

birch panels for DIY online @ $12.99

3. Explore the selected items…

● Take apart, experience the item

● Notice your responses / physical sensations, thought responses

● Are responses strong, subtle?

Step by step guide making nature art
Choosing your material

4. Arrange & glue - however you feel compelled to arrange

● Mindfulness: being present in the here & now, without judgment

● Relational: Become familiar with organic properties

● Accept / Reciprocity by becoming familiar through sensory knowledge

● Listen to sound while working

5. Hang as a visual calendar & reminder to look, select, & arrange natural objects in reciprocity.

6. Repeat seasonally: make a new arrangement or sand off the natural items made from a

previous day to find, arrange and glue new items.

*Natural items may be fresh and green as well as dried. Your arrangement will likely change as it continues to dry out after it is glued onto the board. Embrace and watch the changes as an ephemeral process. This is a welcome part of the nature-based art therapy experience.

Renee van der Stelt (she/her; MFA, MA, LGPAT) is an art therapist in Maryland who works individually and in small groups. Her art therapy approach is person-centered, relational, and strength-based. She specializes in Nature Informed Art Therapy: this includes the use of ethically sourced natural materials when meeting indoors or outside, depending upon client needs. Before becoming certified as an art therapist, Renee worked as an artist, educator, and mentor in a low-residency MFA program. She has two years of experience working as an art therapist.


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