At the National Alliance for Grieving Children conference, Dr. Heidi Horsley interviews Therese Oettl, who’s studying for a master’s degree in European Outdoor Studies. She studies with a group of 18 people throughout England, Norway, and Germany. The group is looking at how Outward Bound and other outdoor programs help people grieve. There’s a variety of these programs in the US, but few in Germany and Europe. She’s here to discover what’s working, how to initiate the programs, and why they’re important. Dr. Horsley has personal experience with Outward Bound, having gone on the program for a month in Colorado after her brother died in a car crash.

For Oettl, she’s found that nature is a very good companion for the bereaved. It’s neutral, so you can take any feeling you have to nature. It takes you as you are, which is something that you can’t find in people. You can yell, kick, cry, and scream in nature and it’s okay. There’s no judgment here, and you’re surrounded by others in grief who know what you’re going through.

Finding Home

The many outdoor bereavement camps and adventures are indicative of their popularity. There’s something for everyone, whether you need a weekend outing or weeks-long in the wilderness. Plus, there’s no certain ability level or experience required. Everything you need is provided for you, and learning outdoor skills can help distract you—which is much needed for many who are steeped in grief.

Oettl hopes to find avenues for starting such camps in Germany and in Europe. She’s looking at ways to translate American programs to fit the needs of the European community, and there are also diverse landscapes throughout Europe that would be a perfect setting for these camps. Like many in the bereavement field, she’s looking at what works elsewhere for inspiration.


Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and bereaved sibling. She co-hosts the award-winning weekly cable television show and podcast, Open to Hope. Dr. Heidi is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, and an award-winning author, who has co-authored eight books, and serves on the United Nations Global Mental Health Task Force. She also serves on the Advisory Boards for the Tragedy Assistance Program, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and Peace of Mind Afghanistan. She served on the National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, and for 10 yrs. worked on a Columbia University research study looking at traumatic loss over time in families who lost a firefighter in the World Trade Center.

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