Natural Systems Thinking Process

The Natural Systems Thinking Process is an important paradigm shift in the field of psychotherapy that moves away from therapist as change agent to nature as change agent. This shift utilizes natures unlimited strength, intellect, and openness that provides a way to see one’s self as a natural being. NSTP resolves many of psychotherapy’s conflicts by developing the relationship between the person and nature, and minimizing the therapeutic relationship between therapist and client as the foundation of the work. This is helpful due to the potential trauma that can be transferred on to the therapist making healing more difficult or impossible. Also, working with nature both parties start with gaining permission for engagement and for going at one’s own pace. This allows the person seeking reconnection with nature to develop the connection and healing process at the exact pace that is safe and comfortable, which increases their self-supportive functions. The ideas of developing self-supportive functions and letting the client set the pace are essential ingredients for effective therapy, which has been researched thoroughly by Miller and Duncan (2004). Reconnecting with nature through NSTP has other elements that are similar to Buddhism and existential philosophies like the idea of all living things being connected and following your natural attractions.
It appears to be common sense that nature has abilities that most humans have lost touch with. As we watch reports on looming environmental and social disaster, it is apparent that humans (especially westerners) are not utilizing the intelligence of nature. Nature does not produce garbage or any other social problem we see today (serious mental health issues, poverty, crime, war). It would also be common sense to think that humans could reconnect with nature and their natural selves as a way to utilize nature’s intelligence and other abilities. As Cohen (2003) asks the rhetorical question, “Do you recognize that any person who could conceive and perform the functions of Earth or nature would be considered a super genius ten times over?” This makes the point that if we connect with nature we tap into a super evolved intelligence that can help us develop new solutions and ways of living that were formerly unknown to us.
One basic aspect of nature is that it has mutually beneficial relationships with all other living things. This creates balance and harmony in the system. If we can see/recognize our natural nature, we can regain, recover, and reconnect to that which is in balance and harmony within us or that is us. Actually, using the word us is apt because all humans have this capacity and part of that capacity is to understand that us is not separate from nature. Furthermore, in nature cooperation is a vital element or an essential component.
Most mental health issues are brought about by the competitive element of society, which leads people to be disconnected from nature and each other. Of course, nature has what looks to humans like competition, but a description can be seen differently from different vantage points. The competition found in nature does not negate the fact that the competitors are involved in a mutually beneficial relationship. If one “wins”, by definition in nature, the “loser” has contributed an equally valued element in the balance of nature. So, there really are no winners or losers in nature, yet the battle for survival can remain intense and hard fought. The question may be better thought of as a combination of process and outcome. If we conceive of ourselves as one with all living things or are constantly engaged in mutually beneficial relationships with everything around us, then we may change the valuing process that occurs when looking at the outcome. For humans, this would include finding our place in nature. We may get to the point where we see all things in nature as us and thus be open to taking our balanced mutually beneficial place in nature.
Alternatively, when we look at most current therapeutic practices, we find therapists attempting to find ways for people (their clients) to cope with the insanity of society more functionally. People understand on some level that society created this issue and that coping will not free them from the suffering they experience. They often try with mixed immediate and poor long-term results. In my experience as a therapist, most of the people that I have worked with understood all to well why they were feeling the way they were, their issue was not knowing what to do about it. Their lack of understanding what they needed to do was mostly based on the extensive brainwashing that societies typically do to their people. My clients believed with all their thoughts and feelings that they were/are helpless. And they were helpless, or mostly helpless, to overcome the lack of power they experience in society. What they could not really come to terms with was that they knew they had to connect with nature, yet that contradicted their social training. Therefore, they would continue to fight a battle that was not theirs to fight. At the time, I had only an inkling of what they were missing. I was disconnected from nature also. Looking back, I can see that they needed to have the support that nature can provide to be able to see the reality of the situation.
Reconnecting with nature is what allows us the initial strength to stand on our own feet and reach out to the environment to find the webstrings that we are so intimately part of. Webstrings, another way to describe mutually beneficial relationships, are like an endless pool of connection to balance and harmony. When we allow our natural attractions to lead us to the webstrings connection, we are moving through barriers that no longer exist. So, as a nature connected therapist, I would be helping people to reconnect with nature and nature acts as the change agent. Of course, the therapist is part of nature, so they need to be a trusted member of the nature community, but one string of the web (therapist alone or disconnected from nature) has very little power compared to all the webstrings. This puts the therapist in the role of “leading the horse to water” so to speak, but the water is what is actually helping the horse or reconnecting the horse to its mutually beneficial relationship with water is what helps the horse.


The Coat

The Coat

A boy was born and was given a coat.

He wore the coat everyday.

As he grew the coat grew with him.

The boy saw many things as he grew; some joyous, some mundane, some preposterous, some gruesome.

Everything he saw, everything he experienced changed his coat, added color and shape and texture. His coat became worn in some areas, and thick in other areas. In some areas it became quite tough.

When he was a young man, he wore his coat with pride sticking his chest way out.
When someone complimented his coat he felt good. When someone criticized his coat he felt bad and became angry.

Sometimes when he was alone, he tried to take it off, but he could not. Other times, he tried to put another coat on instead, but his coat would not budge. Try as he might, cover it as he might, his coat would not come off.

In his middle ages, the pride he felt before dwindled and he no longer fought his coat. It was just his coat, beautiful and awful all at the same time. He was used to it and it kept him warm in the winter and terribly hot in the summer. Like an old friend, his coat was no longer separate from him. He didn’t even notice it anymore.

The boy was now an old man. His coat was very tattered in places and had holes in other places. Some areas were like his own skin, other places were so encrusted with dirt and food and other unremembered elements that they had become extremely hard like leather. When the old man moved, very slowly mind you, the coat moved with him. Sometimes the coat seemed to lag behind for a moment or two, and the old man would wait for it. Sometimes the coat looked like it might fall off, but the old man held on to the coat for dear life. It was how he knew he was still alive, he thought.

One day a mighty wind blew from the West. The old man had slept like a baby the previous night and awoke with a calm serenity he had never known. The wind blew his long gray wispy hair and he opened his eyes wider than he had in a long long time. His skin felt every molecule of air that past over it as if his coat were gone. His wide eyes looked down to find his coat had not gotten out of bed that day.

The coat lay motionless on top of his pillow. The old man felt frightened for an instant, for he did not understand. Then, the calmness returned and he spread his arms wide to receive the hug of the universe and he became like the wind and blew away leaving only his coat lying motionless on the bed to remember his life.

By Randy Seals