A Reflective Book Review : Grounded By Ruth Allen

4 minutes read

16th of April, sometime in the late afternoon, somewhere in the Southern half of Richmond Park – it is Holy Saturday, a day that was always associated with play, family, chocolate, and nature when I was growing up. This year, I have decided to enjoy Easter in London – I am not sure why but travelling at the end of one of the busiest academic years of my career did not seem supportive. Instead, I managed to convince my fasting husband to give up his lazy Saturday and explore the Isabella Plantation with me – we’re both tired and getting out and doing things comes with a certain degree of reluctance, but we’re both glad we went. Whilst my husband lies on the grass next to me and enjoys continuing his period of rest outdoors, I crack open Grounded by Ruth Allen which has been living unread on my shelves for far too long.

Allen is a former geologist who trained as a person-centered therapist and identifies as a “movement and body-oriented counselling psychotherapist specialising in outdoor practice”. In March 2021 she published this stunning book which contains not only insightful prompts to reconnect with the natural world to foster an improved sense of wellbeing but also breathtaking photography as well as generous personal reflections.

This book is not a generic textbook, it is an experience and a call to reflection and action, alongside being an educational resource. I read some passages to my husband; he seems to enjoy how much our here-and-now experience is reflected in the pages of this book as much as I do. Whilst Allen is not formally trained in Gestalt (to my knowledge), the themes of the book very much resonate with what I have been learning about in the past year, at the Metanoia Institute, in my personal therapy, and through my engagement with CPD: presence, connection, movement, stillness, solitude, wild(ness), mystery, and perspective. I find myself wondering what kind of therapist I may become over the course of the next few years, and how prominent these themes will be in my work. As I read, they all give me a sense of peace, a sense of grounding as I sit on the grass in this nature-filled environment.

An hour or so later, my husband and I part ways: he needs to drive home and prepare for Iftar a couple of hours from now and I feel the strong desire to move my body, to walk, so I walk in the general direction where I know Kingston Gate to be. A phrase I included in an Instagram post early on in the pandemic, when I started to explore the nature that surrounds my home, comes to mind – finding pleasure in getting lost – and whilst I’m far from lost, having a fairly good sense of direction in this familiar environment, I find a lot of pleasure in the warmth of the air on my skin, the bird song all around me, and the feeling of the solid ground beneath my feet. My awareness is heightened by what I just read, and I feel very present and calm, at peace.

A little while later, my mind wanders towards examining my own privilege – the place I live in not too far from here, the financial stability my job provides me with, all throughout the pandemic, the fact that I am walking right now when I spent last Easter in the hospital across the road with a fractured ankle following a cycling accident, living in peace when there is war taking place some 1500 miles away – a war I struggle to make sense of. Considering the Wheel of Privilege/Power, I hold fewer marginalised identities than identities of power, and I certainly experience the ability to be grounded right now as powerful.

There is a substantial body of research demonstrating associations between socioeconomic status and the quality and quantity of outdoor activities, especially in children. Whilst an extensive discussion of these findings is beyond the scope of this review (and also not within my area of expertise), I firmly believe that those in helping professions, including counsellors and psychotherapists, need to hold the knowledge of this type of research in mind when carrying out their work – the Holy Saturdays of my childhood were filled with play, family, chocolate, and nature, and the fact that they were speaks volumes about my upbringing and my privilege, privilege which is held by few.

My mind returns to the themes of Allen’s book – how can inner peace be achieved in times of war? How can these kinds of experiences become figural in the presence of a ground that is not safe? Eight months into my training and personal therapy, these questions have become incredibly prominent in my thoughts and the more I ponder them, the less grounded I feel, the less at peace, but also the more challenged. Challenged to learn, develop, and be mindful of my privilege and the wider field conditions of my own life as well as that of my future clients. This kind of challenge to my very core is central to Gestalt for me, and one of the reasons why I’ve fallen more and more deeply in love with the approach in the past few months. What kind of therapist might I become over the course of the next few years? I don’t know, but I feel like I’m beginning to figure it out, which I guess is a good place to be in at this moment in time, a couple of months away from starting my first placement.

As I exit the park, I walk around the lovely neighborhood surrounding Kingston hospital, past Norbiton station in the general direction of home, still trying to find peace in the backroads, away from the noise of the city. Peace and quiet and beauty and privilege. My here-and-now experience changes, I am more connected to the ‘real world’ than I was in the park, see couples, families, and friends enjoying a meal in the Italian and Greek restaurants I pass, mentally bookmarking them for possible future dates after Ramadan as my husband works in the hospital just around the corner.

Being in nature, being grounded, can be incredibly healing and certainly was today but it is important to also hold what is happening outside of this bubble of peace – the good as well as the challenging. Allen’s book inspires to develop a ‘back to the roots’ approach to mental health, which is very topical in times of war but also in times of residual uncertainty surrounding coronavirus – at the time of writing, we are experiencing substantially more Covid-related deaths in the United Kingdom than we have in months and, likely, a case count that is much higher than at any other point in the pandemic. Nature is a place of healing but also a place of safety for many and, therefore, it seems only sensible to engage with related CPD and to consider how it can influence my practice as well as how I operate in the world more generally.

In case this was not clear until now: I wholeheartedly recommend this book (and aimlessly walking through nature)!

Julia Ouzia
Lecturer in Psychology (Education) and Gestalt Student, Metanoia
[email protected] 

Twitter: @JuliaOuzia

“Grounded” By Ruth Allen is available from our usual conference bookseller, Bookmark, with a 25% discount on the RRP. Click here to order online or you can phone to order at £12.75 with free UK delivery on (0117) 9672928.