Outdoor Art Therapy in the Hinterland

As some of you will know, some 20 years ago my art therapy practice began to morph into a more ‘open door’ style, moving seamlessly or rhythmically across the threshold between  the studio interior, garden and local woods, dunes and beach, and then moved to taking place almost entirely outdoors, inviting the participation and guidance of local wildlife. Typically, sessions begin with walking, attuning to the body and land, then letting the heart or the feet, the call of a bird or the angle of a leaf guide us. The path reveals itself…. and we often end up here in the Hinterland.

The Hinterland has been a wonderfully rich area for wandering, to find hidden secret places and wide, open space the fraught heart often craves. It holds us within its choir of many voices and their resonances with our deepest emotional and spiritual experiences. I would like to thank everyone who tends and works with the Hinterland’s wildlife, from large animals to microscopic fungi.

Art therapy engages with the complexly orchestrated phenomena that are activated when we create with our bodies and imaginations; when breath, body state, gesture and the myriad presences of other life forms sharing and co-creating the moment with us, mingle alchemically with our most secret dreams and stir archaic, ancestral memories …  All these, and more, weave in a dance that brings what we call insight, integration, recovery and healing. 

Found message

After 45 years, each session is still an entirely unique miracle to me. Nature participates ever more precisely and vividly and creatures seem to be attracted to humans deeply absorbed in creating (dreaming with hands). Being our natural, playful selves, our predatory reflexes are temporarily relaxed or diverted, even if dramatically painful experiences are running through us at the time. Our nature is to flow and change, whether lightning swift or invisibly slow, and not only does nature around us become more visible, it seems we become more visible, more approachable to our curious, intelligent and playful kin. In the Hinterland, spiders and mice often discover artworks amongst grasses and branches, and their responses almost always ‘speak’ clearly to the maker in a shared secret language. To those who say this is unscientific fantasy, wishful thinking and projections onto other beings, I say: Does the wren or mouse not project onto you, based on its own state and needs at the time? It may see and fear you and scurry away or approach, judging you as safe. Its projected fear or attraction to you is part of the entire flow of life in that moment. It co-creates the story of us both.

Findhorn Dunes Labyrinth © Mark Richards

So if you see me with another person in the Hinterland, moving, building structures and installations on the ground or standing silently gazing, we may be engaged in art therapy. In this paradigm everything that arrives in the animated field of intelligences is part of the therapy process, it has its role in the mirroring the client may need to ‘see’ more deeply into themselves. So there is no such thing as an interruption; we have no locked doors, no ‘quiet’ or ‘keep out’ notice hung up. A dog, deer or child bounding into ‘our’ space, or a chain-saw starting up nearby may both speak eloquently to us about how we are experiencing life, our sensitivities, aversions, what we welcome, fear or reject… our ‘allergies’ and compulsive defences and the imprints of the past we carry as defining stories. When the chain completely deafens, it may be an opportunity to be silent or an  invitation to sing along wildly with its harmonic tones, or help us to witness our grief at the world’s falling trees… We may not pause in our process to greet you or engage in conversation, as therapy is an inner reflective process, but your proximity may, unbeknownst to you, carry some symbolic significance that brings energetic, somatic shifts and insight.


Humour is often part of outdoor art therapy and the Hinterland is full of lively characters and tricksters who will interact with art works in their own way; mice, birds, spiders, deer, pine martens, badgers, owls… and all the plant people who will topple or improve on the maker’s creation. Rain will blend a delicate drawing into a sea of ripples out of which new creatures surface. A gust of wind seemingly sprung from nowhere on the stillest day, will whisk away a precious art work non-consensually, and then vanish, leaving the maker stunned into much needed silence or chasing their work as it tumbles across the ground, gathering matter as it travels. It is usually a delightful surprise when we witness how nature can transform an artwork into a more authentic expression of our feelings. More participants and ingredients are sometimes needed. It takes a village, as the saying goes.

So, dear Hinterland keepers, elders and young ones buried in the woodland, whose presence we always honour, you are all part of these healing sessions, you and the hundreds of thousands of beings, human and more-than-human, who share this place with us. Thank you.

Beverley A’Court

Art Therapist  HCPC registered 

British Assn. of Art Therapists BAAT

Russian Art Therapy Assn. RATA

February 2024

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Findhorn Hinterland Trust, Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) SC045806
228 Pineridge, Findhorn, Forres, Moray IV36 3TB