Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Counselor Education


Educational Leadership, Counseling, and Foundations

Major Professor

Barbara Herlihy, Ph.D., LPC, NCC

Second Advisor

Roxane Dufrene, Ph.D., LPC-S, LMFT, NCC

Third Advisor

Bridget McKinney, Ph.D., LPC, NCC


The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study was to gain a deep understanding of the shared experiences of therapists who provide counseling in non-traditional, natural environment settings. Eight participants shared their experiences about counseling in nature. The primary research question for this study was: What are the shared experiences of counselors who provide nature-based counseling? A review of the literature of nature-based counseling provided benefits to spending time in nature, descriptions of various types of nature-based counseling, and ethical and legal issues that affect nature-based counselors.

Semi-structured interviews comprised of open-ended questions were used to collect data by phone and through the use of video conferencing software. Audio taped interviews were transcribed and analyzed for key words, descriptive terms, and themes. Additional materials provided by counselors were analyzed for themes and overarching themes. A cross-case analysis yielded seven super-ordinate themes. The research question and sub-questions were addressed by the super-ordinate themes.

The super-ordinate themes are: 1) Major Tenets, 2) Training and Ethical Concerns, 3) Benefits, 4) Motivations for Using Nature, 5) Beliefs About Human Connection With Nature, 6) Counselor’s Role, and 7) Spirituality. I employed validation procedures throughout my research to ensure accuracy during the data interpretation, which included clarification of my biases, member checking, peer debriefing and peer review, and the use of “thick, rich description.” Implications for counselors and counselor educators are presented, with recommendations for further research. Personal reflections of the researcher were provided.


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