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Stories from the Field: Mental Health and the Outdoors

Jul 13, 2021

Natalia Ruiz de Cortázar Gracia is a psychologist and general director of Experientia located in Spain. Natalia shares how she first heard about wilderness therapy when she was a graduate student in the U.S. and describes how she worked at Wingate and Anasazi. After two years she returned to Spain to work at Experientia. Natalia describes how Experientia is helping young people with mental health challenges with outdoor treatment as well as differences and similarities between the U.S. and Spanish models.


Bio from Experientia

I was born and raised in Santiago de Compostela. From a very young age I learned to live and function in the mountains thanks to my belonging to the scouts, where I acquired values ​​such as companionship, commitment and respect that are still part of me today. As a teenager, it was in nature where I learned to connect with myself and discovered in myself potentialities that school and other environments did not allow me at that time. As an adult, I was a volunteer monitor for several years, an experience that gave me the opportunity to continue growing and acquiring skills such as teamwork and assertiveness.

I travel a lot, although it never seems enough to me. I like the sun and the sea, appreciate the details in the great things and find solutions to the little discomforts in life (and the big ones too). I am creative and resourceful, and I try to make the world a better place.

I graduated in Psychology and did postgraduate studies as an Expert in Family Intervention. I had the opportunity to enjoy a scholarship that allowed me to study a master's degree in "Mental Health Counseling" (Counseling in Mental Health) in New York, USA, for a year and a half. This training deeply enriched me on a personal, academic and professional level.

My professional experience, both in Spain and in the US, revolves around the field of family therapy and mental health counseling, until I heard for the first time the magic words: "Wilderness Therapy". Even without knowing very well what this type of therapy consisted of, at that moment I knew that it was the combination of my two passions: psychology and nature.

I worked for a year in two “Wilderness Therapy” rehabilitation programs in the US, as an educator / mentor and as a family psychologist. For many months, my job consisted of living with a group of troubled youth in the Utah desert. The profound transformation that this experience led to in me, both personally and professionally, makes Experientia a personal project. What I had already learned since I was a little girl in the humid Galician forests through my experiences in the scouts, were confirmed in the arid places of the west: the therapeutic power of the natural environment and the connection with oneself through nature .

If I have learned anything from these experiences, it is that "there is no growth within the comfort zone, and no comfort within the growth zone."

My connection with Experientia arises from my determination to be able to implement Therapy through adventure in Spain. As the association's technical coordinator and secretary, I give training and participate in the design and implementation of our projects with enthusiasm and a team of great professionals and better people.