The Center at Heron Hill is a premier setting for the practice of Ecotherapy. Ecotherapy combines counseling activities that would be done indoors with the healing power of the outdoors and the natural world. There is much research evidence about the health benefits associated with access to and experiences of green spaces. These could be "nearby nature," like the meadows, gardens and forested paths of Heron Hill, and also more rugged or wild places like national forests, the ocean shore, or the mountains. Depending on the person, the challenge of outdoor sports, adventure, and landscape restoration can also be therapeutic, both physically and mentally. Finally, many people find that the sense of being away in nature encourages peacefulness, self-reflection and a sense of wonder. This helps them find meaning in their lives. So, for ecotherapy, we can think of "Vitamin E" the health benefits associated with the natural environment, "Vitamin A" outdoor adventure, and "Vitamin M" finding meaning in life.
At Heron Hill we make use of the grounds and facility to enhance the individuals understanding of the role nature plays in personal growth and development. the activities listed here are a sampling of our program offerings. It is not an exhaustive list and we are adding new activities regularly. If you have a suggestion for activities you believe would be helpful to you feel free to contact us. For a list of current scheduled and developing programs at The Center at Heron Hill click the Services Page.
The mission of the Center at Heron Hill is to improve personal well-being and health through facilitated contact and relationship development with nature. Heron Hill believes strongly in the power of nature, and connection with nature, as gateways to restoring self-confidence, self-knowledge, compassion, understanding, and self-esteem. We utilize our 36 acres of woodlands and fields, Arabian horses, and the skills and experience of our staff to design and implement mindful activities and lectures that encourage self-exploration and the crafting of new personal narratives rooted in metaphors derived from their contact with nature.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
Our EAP program is facilitated by one of our EAGALA Certified Mental Health Professionals. Being certified to conduct these sessions from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) is expected and is always assisted by an EAGALA trained equine assistant. Sessions involve activities which are designed to allow the client to tell their story in an experiential setting. These activities always involve the use of horses and often result in tremendous personal insight.
Communication and Horsemanship
Though Alliance' program does not include the use of horses for riding, horsemanship, the collective skill required to ride and care for a horse, is often used as practice for learning to attend to instruction. Metaphors of balance and harmonious motion are also employed. Our instructors are all very experienced and are also mental health professionals.
Growing your own garden takes patience, diligence and forethought. While working in the garden clients begin to understand the process of growth, it takes time. It must be nurtured, we can utilize the compost of our lives and our fullest potential for growth comes with having strong roots. Heron Hill has a (place size) vegetable and fruit garden where clients can do hands on work in every part of the process. Horticultural therapy is an emerging part of the Ecopsychology field. Clients get to enjoy the benefits of their labor, and often really enjoy the time spent with their hands in the dirt. Evidence has even shown getting a bit of dirt under your finger nails is good for the mind. Clients also participate in masonry work on the property and in the past have helped construct a pond on the property. This kind of hands on work creates a sense of accomplishment and empowers clients. Horticultural therapy also teaches clients about self care and the intricacies of where our food comes from. Food is something that every body needs to participate in being a human being. Learning about the process of where our food comes from can help clients begin to foster a sense of connection to the earth that respects both their bodies and the planet.
It all begins with fire. Fire is the primeval power that influenced the origin of human civilizations. To make a friction fire with primitive technology is to connect with our ancient ancestors. At Heron Hill we instruct participants in the traditional skill of bowdrill fire making, and the more contemporary method of flint and steel. Both methods involve elements of problem-solving, physical coordination, sequencing, and adequate preparation. These elements readily serve as reminders of the challenges we face in life, and using the bowdrill fire method reminds us of challenges, but also provides the opportunity for success, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from making fire from natural materials.
A critical wilderness survival skill is building shelter, providing protection from the elements. There are many shelters one can build, but these physical structures also serve metaphorical roles, for both individuals and group dynamics. At Heron Hill we facilitate group experiences beneath simple tarp shelters. The building blocks of a proper shelter include knowledge of knots, prevailing weather patterns, and selecting the correct shelter design appropriate for local weather patterns, and environmental considerations. Thus, knowledge of place informs shelter design, and the construction and design of a shelter reflect our knowledge of place and engage essential survival skills. Individual confidence and competence can be enhanced through designing and erecting a personal shelter.
Utilizing traditional bows (recurve, long, and participant made) participants will be instructed in the general use of bows for target shooting, including the role of mindfulness in this activity. Archery is a fun, physically engaging activity that enables participants to feel a sense of accomplishment and provides immediate feedback about one's ability to practice mindfulness and self-improvement.
On Heron Hill's thirty-six acres, participants, with the guidance of staff, are helping design and build trails that will be used for hiking and horses. Trail construction is performed in an ecologically responsible manner. Routes are selected to take advantage of unique features of the property-such as vistas and the viewing of rare plants, and to experience the mysteries of nature. Trails are used for plant walks, exercise, personal solitude, and serve as the foundation for the creation of nature-based metaphors.
Plant and Animal identification
The ability to identify plants is an ideal way to begin to develop a sense of place, learn about the natural history of a place, and develop a relationship with nature based on ecological knowledge. Plant communities tell a story about place, change, and dynamic relationships. Just as learning to read allows access to extraordinary information, developing plant identification skills and natural history knowledge provide an access point to participate and understand a place in biological terms. Plants can also serve as narrative tools for describing intrapersonal strengths and serve as transferable metaphors for lessons learned, and lessons as yet unlearned. The ability to identify native and invasive species is essential for ecological restoration activities.
Ecological Restoration is the process of creating a healthy watershed/ecosystem through activities such as surveying, removing invasive species, planting native species, and maintaining the area. Through ecological restoration, there are many opportunities for self-exploration and insight through metaphor. While clearing harmful plants, discussions may revolve around what harmful aspects of our own lives (our own personal ecosystem) need to be cleared. And while planting helpful, native plants, discussions may be about what we can add to our personal lives that are helpful or healing. Additionally, there is the added component of watching a natural area change and transform over time and the feeling of contributing to change and the completion of a project.
Mindful Walking Meditation
Mindfulness is a contemporary expression describing a state of conscious, intentional attention. Mindfulness can be applied to multiple activities and processes in our daily lives. Mindful walking engages both the cognitive realm, and our somatic selves. At Heron Hill, a third element is engaged, the natural world. This activity allows one to both be mindful of how their body moves and operates, but also how it moves through and engages with the natural world.
Yoga is a whole system practice designed to enhance well-being. The ultimate goal is to create health in body, mind and heart. Through awareness of the body; as well as thoughts, emotions, and actions; individuals can begin to learn how breathing and yoga poses can be beneficial in their every day lives. Yoga techniques can be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, and they can also be helpful in gaining self-esteem, confidence and physical and mental strength.
Cordage is rope, handmade from various natural materials. This traditional craft engages participants kinesthetically. It requires concentration, mindfulness, fine motor skills, and understanding the properties of natural materials. It can be used for multiple applications and is a tangible product participants can take home from Heron Hill to remind them of their attendance, engagement, and learning.
Nature provides us with a plethora of artistic opportunities. By using pieces of the natural world to express meaning, clients are able to enhance connection with themselves, others and the environment around them. At Heron Hill, various artistic and creative activities can be done using materials found on the property. Symbolism and metaphor guide exploration and insight during these art activities. Nature art can be directive or non-directive. It can involve creating artwork with the natural world that stays in nature or making projects that can be taken home. There are a number of different possibilities of natural art activities. However, some examples include: representing one's family and/or support network through the use of objects found in nature, theme driven-team building projects, collage and self-portraits. By interacting with nature in a way that produces art, clients are able to expand understanding of their lived and felt experiences and express themselves in a creative, holistic way.