Using Nature in Coaching: Deeper Connections and Improved Outcomes

Coaches report that sessions held in natural environments often yield better client experiences and insights!

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This is part of our series on the coaching trends that are shaping the future of coaching. You can explore recent coaching trends-related research here

The Global Wellness Summit's latest report is an incredible guide through the emerging trends that are shaping the future of wellness and the profession of coaching. For professional life coaches, this document is a roadmap and a guide to brand-new opportunities in the marketplace. 

Embracing Nature in Coaching: Deeper Connections and Improved Outcomes

“What was a time in nature that was sacred and a powerful/meaningful experience for you?” - Noelle Cordeaux

The post-pandemic years have seen a rise in the public's desire to experience nature in person. This has sparked an opportunity for coaches to explore a significant trend in the coaching industry – integrating nature into coaching sessions. 

Let’s explore how nature integrates naturally with coaching, and how coaches can use nature in their own sessions.

Nature offers a unique setting that can profoundly affect the coaching experience. The sounds and sights provided by natural surroundings – like the rustling of leaves, the gentle flow of a river, or the vastness of an open sky – can facilitate deep reflections and connections. 

Coaches report that sessions held in natural environments often yield better client experiences and insights, possibly due to the relaxing and invigorating effects of clean air and green spaces.

Nature Helps Us Build on Positive Emotions

Research suggests that being in nature can boost positive emotions such as joy, awe, optimism, and courage. Barbara Fredrickson’s work highlights how each positive emotion promotes specific thought/action sequences that influence behavior. (As a coach, leveraging these improved emotional states can be a strategic way to guide your client to better outcomes.)

Many people experience the feeling of awe in natural settings – the experience of being outside of our usual setting, seeing incredibly beautiful vistas and feeling a part of a larger whole. This is particularly relevant in leadership coaching, where awe can bolster ethical decision-making and increase a person’s sense of connection to the world around them.

Using Nature in History and Around the World

Historically, many cultures have recognized the transformative power of nature. Indigenous practices, such as vision quests, have used the natural world as a means of self-discovery and spiritual guidance. These traditions can offer inspiration and valuable insights into how we can structure modern coaching practices.

Forest bathing is another excellent example of nature as wellness practice. The experience of spending time in a forest is a popular practice in Japan and is officially integrated into the country's preventative health policy. 

Additionally, eco-psychology has become a recognized field within wilderness medicine and therapy, particularly for young people. This area is generating numerous adaptive therapeutic techniques for coaches.

More Resources: 

The Top Four Emerging Trends in Coaching and Wellness in 2024

The Top Three Wellness Disruptors: Unpacking The Latest Trends in Wellness

Job Growth Trends in the Coaching Industry Part 3: Health Coaches and Academic Coaches

Implementing Nature-Based Practices in Your Coaching

How can life coaches effectively integrate nature into their practice? We can use both modern and traditional processes to support our clients. This could look like three simple stages that mirror the ICF coaching process of setting the agreement, facilitating the session and closing the session with reflection and next steps:

Set The Intention: Begin by understanding what the client is dealing with and what they wish to discover or resolve. The natural environment can serve as a metaphor and a mirror reflecting the client's internal landscape.

Co-Create The Journeys: Work with the client to tailor personal experiences in nature that foster self-discovery and personal growth.

Facilitate Meaningful Re-Entry: The transition from nature back to daily life should include reflective discussions that integrate insights gained from the experience.

This type of coaching can be highly beneficial for clients during significant life events such as:

  • Major transformations or transitions, such as exploring roles and identity, with retirement being a notable example within this niche.
  • Adopting new roles and setting new goals.
  • Engaging in soul-searching.
  • Facing challenges.
  • Establishing routines for self-care, stress relief, and mindfulness practices.
  • Learning to make self-exploration a sacred and dedicated time.

Access to nature can enhance a client's awareness and contribute to a renewed sense of well-being. And engaging with nature doesn't require traveling to an exotic locale – it can be as simple as observing a potted plant or watching a nature video.
Coaching sessions can be flexible. For instance, the coach can conduct a session via Zoom while the client is outdoors. Alternatively, both coach and client can start a session together, the client can then spend some time in nature, and they reconvene to discuss insights during a debriefing.

Challenges and Safety

Working in nature also comes with its challenges, so be prepared and think ahead!

Physical Safety:

  • Ensure readiness for walking on uneven terrain: Are participants prepared for this?
  • Orientation and Navigation: Do they know how to find their way back?
  • Physical Endurance: Are they aware of their limits regarding distance and stamina?
  • Risk Assessment: Can they evaluate potential dangers, such as on steep slopes?
  • Insurance Considerations: Ensure proper coverage, particularly if operating outdoor programs professionally.

Psychological Safety:

  • Be aware that being outside their comfort zone might trigger unexpected emotions in clients, such as anger, fear, or resurfacing memories.
  • Evaluate whether your clients are capable of managing these emotions and returning to a present state after the session.

Emergency Preparedness:

  • Always inform a third party about your and your client’s departure and return times.
  • Create a checklist of necessary items to bring along.
  • Check for required permits or entrance fees for parks and other natural sites.

In an era marked by increasing stress and disconnection, nature offers a sanctuary for mental rest and recovery. Time spent in nature not only reduces stress but also enhances mental clarity and emotional resilience.

Whether it’s a walk in the park, a rigorous hike, or a quiet moment surrounded by houseplants, integrating nature into coaching practices can make a big impact in the lives of your clients. 

As coaches, exploring nature can allow us to facilitate richer, more transformative coaching experiences that echo the natural rhythms of life itself.

Research in this episode is taken from the ICF Life Vision & Enhancement Coaching Community of Practice’s video Coaching in Partnership with Nature.

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