by Len Lear
If you have personal problems, money problems, work problems, marriage problems, etc., serious enough to warrant sessions with a therapist, you are going to wind up on a sofa in a professional office; right? Well, if the therapist is Lauren Kahn of Mt. Airy, that “office” just may be a grove of trees, bushes, creek, walking trail, etc., in Wissahickon Park or some other verdant pocket of Northwest Philadelphia.
“I go to the woods with clients to expand the view, to shift the position from which they see their issues or problems,” Kahn explained last week.
In addition to her traditional therapy, she “goes to the woods to open new doors, to create new pathways, to loosen the grip of thoughts, feelings, memories that have their hooks dug in. I go to the woods to help clients see new things, find small treasures and help them reconnect to their deeper desires.”
According to her clients, this therapy in the outdoors seems to work. According to Susan B., of Mt. Airy, “I like walking and talking therapy. It helps my brain keep moving. When I’m sitting, I sometimes feel my thoughts get stuck.”
Ross R., of Manayunk, said, “Outdoor therapy brings a sense of peace and connection to the basics of life and offers a new perspective everywhere you look,” and Ellen B., of Glenside, added, “Being in the woods encourages better listening.”
According to Kahn, “Nature is a healing place. It provides comfort, relaxation and clarity. There is a whole field of ‘wilderness therapy’ now, and there is no shortage of evidence that there really is healing. I am still the therapist out in the woods, but I am using nature as a way of expanding their consciousness.”
Now a Mt. Airy resident, Kahn grew up in Lower Merion and later moved to Haverford. She attended Baldwin, a private all-girls school in Bryn Mawr.
“They only taught us how to say, ‘I can do that.’ We were not given the ‘no’ button. We had a very good education. My closest old friends are still my friends from Baldwin.”
Kahn earned her undergraduate degree in 1985 from the University of Pennsylvania (BA in English/Psychology) and a master’s degree from Boston University School of Social Work in 1991. She had post-graduate training from The Philadelphia Child and Family Therapy Training Center, completed in 2008.
Kahn’s father, who ran a company called Regal Thread & Notions Company, was killed in a car accident when he was just 50. Her mom is a retired interior designer who lives on Rittenhouse Sq. Her second father is a psychiatrist who still practices medicine in center city at age 85.
“I saw the healing power of nature after my dad died,” Kahn said. “I had a group of people in a year-long program in outdoor leadership who held me and supported me. During that time, I spent two days in the woods by myself, and it was a powerful, at times terrifying, experience. I was able to connect deeply with my father. His presence has never left me, and he has given me a lot of guidance.”
A licensed marriage and family therapist, Kahn is also a founding member of the collective, Mt. Airy Psychotherapy and Wellness, at 7127 Germantown Ave., which has 11 therapists in private practice, four therapy offices and a treatment room, and she has partnered with therapist Nate Schlingman and New Zealand “forest therapist” Hannah McQuilkan (recently profiled in this section of the Local) in Philadelphia Ecotherapy.
Kahn has also identified a “nature deficit disorder” in those who are stuck indoors spending hours on their cell phones. The term was coined by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” who uses it regularly in his writing.
“Kids don’t get outside today,” she said. “I grew up with exposure to nature but did not know about the Wissahickon until I was in my 20s, and I was just on the other side of the river.”
Kahn’s outdoor sessions, which may be with individuals (one and a half hours) or couples (two hours), begin with a “mindfulness moment,” where they “pay attention to what’s different from being in my office.” They might discuss “how it feels to be balanced or out of balance” and if a relationship is “out of balance,” what might be done to strengthen that relationship.
Kahn is also an offsite supervisor in Drexel University’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program with graduate students, under the direction of Christian Jordal.
“I don’t object to the term ‘New Age,’” she said, “although I know it carries a negative connotation, because my work is very grounded in nature and because there is no doubt that you can gain insights by being outside. Being in the woods allows me to speak from the heart rather than from my head.”
Kahn has been married for 24 years to Dr. Mark Kahn, a vascular surgeon (“and my biggest fan”) who previously ran the vascular program at Chestnut Hill Hospital for seven years. They have a daughter, Raquel, who works in the theater and lives in Brooklyn, and a son, Jesse, who is a junior studying engineering at the University of Denver.
For more information, call 215-605-5555 or visit MtAiryPsychotherapy.org. (Kahn is currently at work on her own website.) Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org