Working with people who have experienced loss seemed like a natural evolution for Beth Lapin. “I’ve always felt a strong connection to the natural world and to help people heal. Grief is a process, and our paths are different. I have a degree in biology and a degree in social work so the connection with nature to help people heal makes sense to me. Nature puts things in perspective for us. Simultaneously you feel like part of something much bigger, but also realize you are just this tiny little piece in the scheme of things as part of a cycle.”
Beth is referring to her work as an Ecotherapist where she helps people grow and heal through their connection with nature. The term Ecotherapy was first coined by United Methodist minister Howard Clinebell (1922-2005), who wrote Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth (1996). Clinebell pioneered a counseling approach that combined religion and psychotherapy. His work bridges gaps and the imbalance of the human condition by inviting us to experience healthy interactions with the Earth.
“Nature shows us that dawn will come after the dark and spring will come after this winter, so there are these natural cycles that happen in nature,” says Beth. “Nature is beautiful and provides regularity and consistency that helps ground us. It makes us feel like the world is not totally falling apart. And I think when people experience grief they get busy and try to not to think about things. But when they have an opportunity to sit outside and be quiet and listen to their inner voice, and can listen to what’s going on within, it creates a spiritual connection.”
Beth does not see Ecotherapy as a replacement for people who are truly suffering from prolonged grief, but rather a complementary modality to bring about healing.
She works one on one with individuals who have been affected by loss. She also presents workshops for social workers and therapists on that topic. She encourages social workers to use Ecotherapy as an option in their practice. She also presents a certification program called A Cloud Never Dies for therapists working with people who are grieving.
Her roots and connection with nature run deep. She grew up in New London, Connecticut and spent every day at the beach in the summer including three days a week of swimming lessons, and ended up working at the beach through high school and college. “I’ve been outdoors a lot,” laughs Beth. She studied biology at Simmons College in Boston and received her Master’s degree from California State University followed by work with the Nature Conservancy and National Audubon Society. Then, her interest in nature took a turn and it was people she wanted to know more about. She says some nature oriented programs exclude people as part of nature but she doesn’t agree.
“We’re part of this world and responsible for things.” She started working at the Community Health Center in Middletown, working with the women’s shelter and family resource center. They had a therapeutic writing group there and Beth was invited to assist. When the facilitator left, Beth took over the group. “Some pretty amazing things were happening through the writing,” she says. At some point despite the group’s members thriving, she was told she couldn’t facilitate a “therapeutic writing group” because she didn’t have a degree in social work. “Then I’ll go get one,” she said. They changed the name from “therapeutic writing group” to just “writing group” so that she would be allowed to continue facilitating while she pursued a Master’s degree in social work at the University of Connecticut.
For the past 20 years, she has facilitated a monthly writing program with an HIV group that is part of the Community Health Center. “When I began, I knew that writing could help these people who at the time were looking at terminal illness. Some people still attend who were there from the very beginning. It’s a safe environment for people to express how they are feeling.”
When funding ran out for her earlier position in 2009, she saw an ad in the paper for a local writing group with the unofficial title, The Novel Group, and she joined hoping to do some writing herself. With the pressure of expectations and deadlines, she had to produce something and a novel came out of that experience. “Deadlines, they’re a good thing, you know?”
Her first novel was To Say Goodbye, a book she describes as a coming of age story for 50 year olds. “A love story but not a romance because there’s no sex,” says Beth. “It supports my belief that individuals can use relationships (and loss) for personal growth and transformation.” Her second book was the sequel to it called The Light Gets In. Her third book, a historical novel about gypsies in Connecticut, Caravan of Dreams was released in February this year. All three titles are now self published and available through www.Amazon.com.
“It’s interesting what happens when you write.” Life’s imperfections provide the best blessings, is how she signs her books. “We learn best from life’s glitches more than anything else.”
With a passion for both writing and Ecotherapy, Beth continues to work individually with folks, focusing on a mixture of elements, earth, air, fire and water including rituals for releasing and connecting with the inner self.
“When in the midst of grief we lose all that connection, and we think we have lost the ability to ever find it again,” says Beth who uses visualization and meditation in her practice. “A focus on sensory awareness brings us back a sense of aliveness and connection. Nature is the safe place to go for healing and for the opportunity to connect. We keep so busy and fill life with so much noise so we don’t have to think about it. Eventually we get to a place where we are ready to address it and nature is that safe place.”
She has a Healing Nature program coming up in May through the Middletown Recreation and Community Services Department. The four session course is being offered 6:30-8:00 p.m. beginning May 7 and registration can be done online at www.MiddletownCT.gov or by calling (860) 638-4500. Participants will discover the calming, peaceful benefit of nature as they use their senses to connect with the natural world to relax and let go of stress. Creative outlets of self-expression are a part of the program and will include writing, drawing, music and movement. The cost is $65 and the program is open to ages 18 years and up.
The word Ecotherapist has just recently in the past couple years been recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a profession according to Beth. “I myself have always been an Ecotherapist. I’ve always used nature as a place of nurture to heal and pull myself together.”
To learn more about Beth and Ecotherapy visit www.Bethlapin.com, or www.healingnaturect.com, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFiWfgpqn8g.