Volume 4, Article 3

‘Like walking with a friend’: A grounded theory exploring the tripartite relationship between coach, client and nature in outdoor coaching

Claudia Geratz, Julia Papworth and Stephen Palmer

Citation: Geratz, C., Papworth, J., & Palmer, S. (2024). ‘Like walking with a friend’: A grounded theory exploring the tripartite relationship between coach, client and nature in outdoor coaching. Journal of Ecopsychology, 4, 3, 1-13.

Processing dates: Submitted 16th June 2023; Re-submitted: 17th September 2023; Accepted: 10th October 2023; Published 14th March 2024

Volume 4, Article 3

Outdoor coaching is a coaching delivery format that has been connected with mental and physical wellbeing, yet it has received limited attention in coaching psychology research. As a result, our understanding of the interconnected factors between the coach, client and the outdoor space is scattered. This study aims to bridge that gap by developing a holistic outdoor coaching model, centring around the coaching alliance in the outdoor space.
Methodology: Seven coaching pairs (a coach and their client) participated in this research, resulting in 14 semi-structured interviews. Data was analysed following a constructivist grounded theory approach in an iterative process that resulted in nineteen identified themes that appeared across all interviews.
Results: A dynamic outdoor coaching model is presented, highlighting the interconnectedness of the four key themes of trust, space, movement and freedom, both expressed and experienced by coaches and clients while they walk through the outdoor space. This multifaceted experience is created with and by nature, moving the coaching alliance beyond a dyadic process into a tripartite relationship between the coach, client and nature.
Discussion: Nature appears as an equal partner in the outdoor coaching alliance, which highlights the important role of nature in the successful working relationship between coach and client. Implications and limitations for safe, ethical and effective outdoor coaching practice are discussed.
Keywords: outdoor coaching, coaching in nature, coaching psychology, coaching alliance,
grounded theory

Acknowledgements from Claudia Geratz

This research would not have been possible without the contribution of the seven coaches and seven clients who were open to sharing their personal experiences of taking the coaching conversations for a walk. Thank you all for your kindness and the time you gave to further our understanding of the magic of outdoor coaching.

Special thanks go to my supervisor Julia Papworth, who expertly guided me through the research process, providing challenge and perspective in equal parts.

My gratitude goes to Beth McManus for turning my scribbled drawing of a model into a graphical representation that showcases the interconnectedness and complexity of outdoor coaching.

And most importantly, I want to honour Mother Nature and her significant part in bringing this piece of research to life. Our planet provides everything we need to live a good life. It is our responsibility to preserve its beauty and magic to be cherished by us and all future generations to come.

Claudia Geratz
is a Coaching Psychologist and Positive Psychologist, working in private practice supporting individuals, teams and organisations to create and sustain positive impact in a changing world. She holds a Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology from the University of East London. She is a member of the Division of Coaching Psychology of the British Psychological Society, a Senior Practitioner Coach accredited with the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, and a member of the Climate Coaching Alliance.

Julia Papworth is a lecturer in Coaching and Mentoring at Oxford Brookes University as part of the Masters Degree programme, ILM and Leadership Coaching modules. Julia is a qualified coach and coaching supervisor, and psychotherapist, with sustained private practice over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Coaching and NLP, with a background in Education and teaching.

Professor Stephen Palmer PhD is Professor of Practice at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and is an Adjunct Professor of Coaching Psychology at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is Honorary President and Fellow of the International Society for Coaching Psychology, and Director of the International Centre for Ecopsychology, London. Stephen’s professional qualifications include being a Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Biologist and Chartered Scientist. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and has an interest in stress, climate change and biodiversity. He set up the Forum for Ecopsychology and is a member of the British Ecological Society. Stephen co-edits a number of academic journals and has written and edited 60 books.

Website: www.iafpd.com