Well-being: the Self, Other, our Mental Health and Nature.

Growing up is never easy! Often what we long for as adults, is really an indicator of what we need most in our lives. As practitioners who work with children and young people, we are more effective when we have the ability to know our unmet needs which provides a greater capacity to generate love and care for ourselves. It is from this place that we can care for another child or person.

Mental Health and Nature

When we are young, most of us didn’t get what we needed all the time (the human condition) and even more important, we didn’t know how to get it. How to reach out for help, and continue to do this, when the ‘other’, the adult rejects us in some form or another.

We naturally learn to compensate and it is by reclaiming our vulnerability – a very misunderstood term, that we can find our way to well-being and to support the well-being of others.



At the heart of being human, is the essential need of human relationship – the other. Our psychological development through the stages of life – from birth to elderhood, grows this sense of self. Our lives grow in the wider context of the natural world too. We are nature, and ‘our nature’ is fundamental to health and learning. Much of our nature-based practice is underpinned by what I call, Nature-centric wheels.

The Nature-centric Wheel below shows the stages of life from 0 – 80, linking these to both times of the day and a compass direction. At its simplest level – the East (Spring) direction is sunrise, the beginning of the day and life (the baby), the north direction is elderhood, the night-time or winter of our lives!

Nature-centric Wheel

The prevalence of ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) echoes the widespread reality of childhood trauma-related experience. Years of nature-based practice has also shown me how the natural world, as ‘other’ silently reflects back to us, offering metaphors and sensory experience that support our growth and development.

In many ways for many of us lucky enough to have played and enjoyed nature as a child or adult, the role of nature as an unconditional friend represents an un-scarred relationship.

Mental Health and Nature


“In nature, nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”
(Alice Walker)



There is a link between our ability to understand our own behaviours, those of others, our knowledge and ease with different mental states (feelings, thoughts, beliefs) and the ability to respond to infant’s emotions and feelings.

feelings, thoughts, beliefs

How do we as practitioners develop our ability to respond authentically to children, to maintain a healthy distance from our reactions to be genuinely available to listen, non-verbally as well, to the ‘other’ person in our care? To consider how we empower, despite our positional power? Meeting our needs, awareness of power dynamics, our triggers, what supports our and others self-regulation is part of creating a safe and resilient environment for our children.

Fortunately practice in nature supports self-regulation – all the bottom up (body-based) strategies. Our autonomic nervous system is soothed, our threat system is reduced, and we are all more able to have fulfilling relationships with each other – all increasing our ‘attainment’ potential.

Health and Learning are deeply intertwined. When we enjoy learning, have healthy bodies and lifestyles – which include playing and learning in the outdoors, we become socially confident and connected people, who feel valued for their contributions – power is shared. The intrinsic motivation, autonomy, sovereignty we encourage through child-centred/self-directed approaches, also help us to trust others and learn to meet our needs.

Many of us know how it felt to be in school and not enjoy the experience. When people are asked what most stopped them in a subject from continuing, they often point to a time when they were shamed by an adult.

According to Brene Brown (2017), your real sense of worthiness relates to the core 4 sense qualities below.

Take a moment to consider your own sense of self and if you feel you are worthy of love and belonging?

Can you:

  • Tell the story of who you are, with the courage to be imperfect (sense of courage)
  • Are you kind to yourself first, before others (sense of compassion)
  • Are you authentic, willing to let go of who you think you should be, to be who you are (sense of connection)
  • Are you willing to say things, like I love you, or help, to be imperfect, to be seen (sense of vulnerability)

We learn through the actions of others, often that we are not fundamentally okay.  We are punished (or rewarded) for our expressions and we learn that our range of feelings and behaviours are not acceptable.  We hide who we are.   Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as though from the wealthiest 20% (Morrison Gutman et al 2015); Children and young people with a learning disability are three times more likely than average to have a mental health problem (Lavis et al 2019) (see Mental Health inequalities in Numbers, Centre for Mental Health 2020).

In my experience of working with teenagers for over 15 years, referred from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health service (CAMHS) to our long-term nature programme, I almost always discover young people who are incredibly emotionally aware, yet have not found a way yet to belong.

The Nature Gateway Project


How can we best support children and young people now and into the future? At Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, we are pioneering ‘ The Nature Gateway Project’ – a four day training (supported with webinars and a manual)  that equips practitioners from all backgrounds to take their practice into the outdoors. 


We are currently looking for key practitioners and stakeholders who would like to take part free of charge in funded, ‘Proof of Concept Training’ – for education and health practitioners, starting in Spring/Summer 2021. 

This is an invitation to radically re-imagine our relationship between nature, education and human mental health whilst offering a practical course in how to do this that is accessible, relevant and of its time!

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact, Marina Robb (Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC and The Outdoor Teacher Ltd (coming soon).

CPD Training courses available

Circle of Life Rediscovery is passionate about training schools, organisations and education departments, in Outdoor Learning, Forest School and Nature-based Practise. We offer a full programme of CPD courses, Forest School Training and in-house training.

Nature Play & The Therapeutic Space – Free webinars and two day training course:

Over the past few months we have recorded a series of webinars; Nature Play and the Therapeutic Space. These webinars are and introduction to and part of a longer ‘live’ two day training in nature (September 24th & 25th 2020), specifically to help and support children who are struggling within a group.

The aim is to develop your facilitation skills and ability to work with children that present difficult behaviours and explore therapeutic nature-play skills (e.g. reflective communication and use of puppets & sand) which will engage the group of children and individuals building their emotional regulation, curiosity, imagination and well-being.

Please view the FREE webinars and course details on our website. This course can also be delivered in-house at your setting. Minimum numbers apply. Contact us for details.

Working with Young People with Challenging Behaviour, in the Outdoors:

Run by Jon Cree, this course is aimed at any educator who feels they want to engage and work with students in the outdoors who may be reluctant learners (of any age). 

This course will delve into:

  • What challenges us as leaders in the outdoors
  • Theory on challenging behaviour
  • Up-to-date neural research; triggers and causes for challenging behaviour
  • Ways of dealing with ‘real life’ scenarios in the outdoors
  • De-escalation
  • How to transfer outdoor strategies into an indoor and other settings – including looking at the validity of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reviewing your own policies

This course takes place 9th-11th November and you can find details here. This course can also be delivered in-house at your setting. Minimum numbers apply. Contact us for details.


Marina Robb

Marina Robb (PGCE; MsC, MA)  is Founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC and The Outdoor Teacher Ltd, organisations that aim to transform education and health through nature.  She is a leading author, green practitioner and educator in the outdoor sector, an international trainer in the design and delivery of nature-based experiences and an advocate for the integration of environmental, education and health and well-being services. 

Marina is Author of ‘Learning with Nature’ & Upcoming New Book written with Jon Cree: ‘The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy’ published by Routledge Winter 2020/21.

Circle of Life Rediscovery