Life (reflection) in a tree – Sybren Bouwsma

About the Author: Sybren Bouwsma – 40 years old from the Netherlands. I have been stuttering all my life and I am an active member of the Dutch Stuttering Association Demosthenes and a member of the board of the International Stuttering Association (ISA). I attended and organized several international meetings for people who stutter. I have a background in Public Administration, Ethics and Social Research and graduated as Outdoor Life Coach. I am now working as Nature Coach and Online Coach and coach people in their personal development and am involved as a workshop leader in international projects. See for more information.

The symbol of this year’s ISAD theme ‘Growth through speaking’ is a tree. As an outdoor life coach, I use objects in nature as a method for personal growth. To me, a tree can relate very much to my own life and the role of stuttering in it.

Sometimes I see a tree that immediately draws my attention. It can be for very different reasons, for example: the roots are visible, the trunk is very thick or thin, there are big knots in the middle of tree, the branches have a particular shape or touch the ground, one side of the tree has more or greener leaves than the other side, there are animals in specific places of the tree, but sometimes it is just my intuition that directs me to a certain tree. At first I just see the tree, but if I take a closer look I start to see it as a reflection of myself and what is going on in my life at that moment. For example, the trunk can relate to my feeling of confidence at that moment, the knots can relate to a painful moment in my life, the roots can remind me of what I try to hide or how I can be (more) visible, or a fruit can show me how fruitful (a specific part of) my life is at that moment. Often there is a link to stuttering, which can be indirectly related to my confidence or related to a specific place as a painful or happy moment in my life. The experience is always different, but it helps me to be aware of myself and to grow in a (new) direction.

I have also organised workshops in nature for people who stutter, among others for the Dutch Stuttering Association Demosthenes and during European exchanges for young people who stutter. Here too I like to work with trees. These experiences have always been very strong and powerful.

Next time you walk in a forest you can try it out for yourself, alone or with someone else.  As a first step, find a tree that somehow catches your attention. Then ask yourself the question: ‘What do I see ?’ or ‘What especially draws my attention?’  If you are with a friend or relative, let him or her ask you these questions. Just describe what you see. Look and describe without interpretation or judgment. As a second step, you can ask yourself (or someone else asks you): ‘What do I feel?’. You can ask yourself these questions several times and see or feel different things. There often comes a sudden moment of reflection or association to something that is important to you at that moment in your life, that can, but may not be, related to stuttering.

In this way, a tree can be a mirror for yourself and help in your personal awareness and growth. I am curious about your experiences 🙂 !

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Life (reflection) in a tree – Sybren Bouwsma — 8 Comments

  1. Hi, Sybren. Thank you for sharing. I want to try this the next time I go for a hike here in Idaho. I am currently taking a graduate course on fluency at Idaho State University. We haven’t learned much about treatment approaches, per say, but we have talked a lot about how we should focus on self-efficacy, acceptance, and confidence. I think your advice on looking at a tree and seeing a reflection can be very powerful to my future clients (and myself). Again, I look forward to trying this soon when I go out for a hike and hope to find similar positive experiences that you shared. Thanks again!

  2. Sybren,

    In reading the various contributions today, yours was like the first comforting ray of light on an early frosty morning. I especially think your advice to “Look and describe without interpretation or judgment” is spot on. It reminds me of ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) and how it was applied in a fluency clinic I participated in this summer. We literally took a walk outside and found a tree that spoke to us, spent some time quietly contemplating, then took turns discussing it. Then going forward we would use thoughts of the tree as a grounding technique in stressful moments

    I am currently re-reading “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris, have you read it? It presents information about “Acceptance & Commitment Therapy” in an easy to understand and “apply it” kind of way.

    My interest is how I can help my future fluency clients and others, so any advice you have is most welcome. I appreciate your contribution.

    Thank you,
    Erma Hanson

  3. Sybren-

    Your description of a tree and how it can reflect the different things going on on one’s life in multiple ways is profound. I especially like how you illuminated how one can look at the same tree and draw different comparisons based on what is going on in one’s life. I love the concept and will use it when I am focusing on being mindful and in the present. I will pay attention to what’s around me and see where my attention is drawn, which will hopefully provide insights into my current state of being.

    You mentioned organizing nature workshops for people who stutter. Have most participant’s experiences paralleled yours? What kind of response have you have from them after the workshop is complete?

    Thank you,
    Megan Izzo

  4. Sybren,
    I never saw or thought that a tree is a reflection to our lives until now. It makes sense that the different sections as well as parts, of the tree can resemble changes, and emotions that we may be going through at that time. One question I have for you is that if anyone has encountered the same experience as you when asking themselves the questions listed?

  5. Hello Sybren.
    Thank you for sharing your insight on using nature to reflect on our lives and focus on personal growth. I am a speech pathologist graduate student and have learned about stuttering therapy focusing on acceptance and confidence for an individual to communicate, not fluency. I have never thought about using an approach like yours to reflect and focus on personal growth, possibly to find acceptance of stuttering or self. I look forward to looking at more trees myself, and re-purposing them as “mirrors”. Thank you!

  6. I love your analogy of the tree in comparison to your life with knots and exposed roots and imperfections. I was wondering, you stated that there is often a link to an emotional experience that involves stuttering. I do not stutter, but am studying to become an SLP and would like to gain some understanding about the emotional ties that people who stutter have with stuttering. Does it seem like it is often that your stutter or something surrounding your stutter is the origin of emotional occurrences (whether positive or negative) in your life or is there a large variety of sources? I would assume that it would be the later choice, but I also do not have experiences that have one thing that is consistently impactful. Please let me know if you would like more clarification for my question. Thank you!

  7. Thank you for your analogy. When talking to individuals, reading books, and observing social media I often find that analogies play a powerful role in how people process and communicate different aspects of their life. I appreciated how the tree brought together various pieces of a persons life that together create a unique and valuable tree. I also liked how each part of the tree was associated with a different part of self-reflection. This allows for a focused evaluation of one area while allowing an individual to see how that piece relates to the whole. I am curious how you got started into the nature workshops and what results you have found. Since starting your workshops, have they began to take off in other areas? If so, is there a framework or key concepts that make them successful. Thank you for your post.

    Jenna Anderst

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