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 — 35 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!

    • Dear Barbcody,

      It can be very powerful and also make you aware of experiences and feelings that you might not experience at a first sight. What comes out can always be different but it helps me to get aware what I need at that moment.
      Wish you a good experience when you go hiking :).


  2. Sybren. You have given me some food for thought…..a tree can be a mirror for yourself and help in personal awareness and growth….

    • Dear Barbcody,

      It can be very powerful and also make you aware of experiences and feelings that you might not experience at a first sight. What comes out can always be different but it helps me to get aware what I need at that moment.
      Wish you a good experience when you go hiking :).


  3. 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

    • Great Erma Hanson,

      I have not read the book yet, but I will certainly find it out! To do it without judgment is I think very import.

      Did you already do the ACT way of going out and a tree with your fluency clients? Would certainly like to get in contact for further advices or sharing experiences!


  4. 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

    • Dear Megan,

      Yeah, most of the experiences parallel mine in the sense that it always make people aware of how they are at that moment. I do it in different ways, sometimes I ask to find a tree, sometimes I ask to make pictures or to collect materials that they find in nature.

      The reaction are mainly very positive as it helps to find a new to look at yourself. Some people are more inclined to use their vision, some hearing, some feeling, I try to find an approach that relates to the group or person at that moment. Sometimes I get a response that it has really helped in an issues they have been dealing with for a longer time.


  5. 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?

    • Certainly yes :)!

      But the experience is always different, depending on what goes on in your mind and life at that moment…

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

    • Dear Bosteos,

      Emotional occurrences can be related to anything that is going on in my life, and the fact that I stutter is just one of them. In my experience some people who stutter relate a lot of their emotions and feelings to their stuttering, by helping to focus more on who they are next to their stuttering, it can help to put the stuttering more in perspective, and help to deal with the emotions that are tied to it.

      Let me know if I have understood your question well 🙂 !


  8. 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

  9. Hello Sybren,

    This passage was written very well in so many different ways; the description, the relation between each description, and the creative analogy. I enjoyed reading this because it provided me with a different perspective that no matter what in life we can always connect or relate to an object or person. I found this so fascinating because all our differences, strengths, weakness is what make us unique and beautiful just like a tree. To me the world would be pretty bland and the trees wouldn’t be fun to look at if they were just one long brown trunk and a bush of green leaves. But each tree has a story and each person has a story that come together to make a “forest” or community.
    As for stuttering do you find it to increase or decrease or not change when you are in an environment that makes you feel comfortable, like in nature. When did you begin the workshops? As an outdoor life coach, what do you find most challenging about your job?

    Thank You,

    • Hello Rhiannon,

      I really like to do my workshops in an outdoor environment, with preferably a lot of trees. But sometimes it is also worth trying it out in a different environment. You can even try it out in an environment that makes you feeling uncomfortable (in the beginning) and the see what attracts your attention.

      Most challenging about my job is that not so many people know yet about the approach of using nature in a coaching or therapy session, so I always have to explain it. Often people can relate to it quite easily if I give an example or try it out with them. But the communication about this approach is the biggest challenge, also more research is needed to investigate the impact. In the end that can also help to get this approach more accepted (and covered by insurance!).


  10. Hello Sybren,
    Thank you so much for your contribution. I love that your suggestion for reflection through nature would work for anyone. Nature is a calming and grounding force in my life, and I too have greatly benefitted from ruminating on how the current state of affairs in my life are represented by natural features in my environment. I used to be a wilderness therapy field instructor and have also seen first-hand how metaphors seen in nature can allow people to better understand what is happening in their own lives.

    I was wondering what the initial reaction of people from the stuttering support groups has been when you ask them to complete in this exercise. Has it been difficult to convince people to fully engage in the experience? Do you have suggestions for other ways speech and language therapists could incorporate nature in a therapy session or treatment plan?

    Thank you,
    Sarah Aldrich

    • Dear Sarah,

      Yeah, sometimes participants have to get over a bit of shame or inexperience with this approach to nature. And not everyone is able to fully engage from the first moment, and I completely understand that. I always try to relate to the feelings in the group and can adjust my workshop to that.

      I certainly have ideas to incorporate nature in a therapy session or treatment plan and would certainly like to share them. Are you a speech therapist and/or person who stutter yourself? It is great that you have been a wilderness therapy field instructor. Really would like to share experiences with you! Please let me know how I can get in contact :).



      • Hello Sybren,
        Thank you so much for your response. I’m currently in my second year of a speech language pathology master’s program. I’d love to hear your ideas about how to incorporate nature in therapy. My email address is

        Sarah Aldrich

  11. Hi Sybren,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper, and I love your how you tie your reflections and experiences to nature. I think that a lot of inherent human emotions and feelings can be experienced and tied to nature in a lot of beautiful ways. I struggle with anxiety, and I have had numerous counselors lead me through a similar exercise where I am asked to “envision myself as a tree, with strong roots”. The purpose of this exercise is to help alleviate feelings of panic and anxiety by envisioning having a strong base (i.e., tree roots) and feeling grounded and calm in the moment. I would be curious to explore this more and see how patients react in treatment.

    Joelle Spencer

    • Hi Joelle,

      I know that exercise, and sometimes also use it! Really helps me to feel more connected and grounded. Do you do this exercise just at any location, of do you find a natural environment to do it?


  12. Sybren,

    Thank you for sharing how you see your personal growth for this year. Your description of the tree is calming, yet filled with many emotions which many people can relate too. I am currently a graduate student studying speech-language pathology and as a clinician I will try your tactics of asking myself the various questions you have suggested. I would also like to ask these questions to my client and use the analogy of a tree to help them along the way – by either building a strong trunk foundation or strong enough roots to hold them up.

  13. Hi Sybren, my name is Lexi and I’m studying to become a speech language pathologist. I found your article to be one of the most unique and original so far. I love metaphorical speaking, so I loved your metaphor as the tree representing your life and different characteristics of the tree representing different hardships or life events. I was just wondering, since you are a life coach, do you find that using a metaphor (having something else represent themselves) helps people to be more honest with themselves about their deepest feelings and emotions? I think if this is true, this might be helpful in certain clinical situations with clients.

    Thanks again for sharing your unique ideas! I will definitely have to try this the next time I go for a walk!

    • Hello Lexi,

      What is most important for me in using metaphors is that it can relate to hidden feelings or emotions. For me it can sometimes touch my unconsciousness and make me more conscious about my deeper feeling and emotions.

      It is not that I am just more honest about my feelings, but that I am better aware of (the roots) of it because it make me more conscious of it, and that is the main reason why I use metaphors. But indeed, some feeling are harder to share, and then a metaphorical explanation can be very helpful as well!


  14. Hi Bouwsma

    Another analogy of stuttering Intervention using a tree. I am getting connected and believe its worth trying. Thanks so much for sharing something completely new.


  15. Hello Sybren!

    Thank you for sharing this outlook on nature. Whenever I may feel overwhelmed, I love taking nature walks which usually calms me down. However, I never realized how relatable and therapeutic it could be to simply examine a tree during my walks. I love that you chose to look at the unique features of a tree and how you are able to relate to that unique feature or features. When I read about how you related the roots of the tree to something you may hide, I immediately thought about the iceberg analogy where you only see the top of the iceberg but under the water hides the larger part of the iceberg that no one is able to see unless they take a deeper look. You also spoke about how the roots remind you of how you can be more visible. What I took away from that point is that the roots help you realize what you are hiding and that it may be something you shouldn’t have to hide and should be proud of. Is that what you meant when you related the roots to you being more visible or were you more so talking about taking risks/stepping out of your comfort zone?

  16. Hello Sybren,

    I am studying to become an SLP and I found this very helpful. I think what I like about this article the most is how you used the environment to evoke emotion and self reflection. This approach seems simplistic, but it definitely has so much depth. I love a good metaphor, and this definitely allowed me to look at the tree outside of my window a little differently.
    How was it for you in the beginning when using this practice? Was it difficult or easy for you to truly be open?


    • Hello Jaya,

      The most simple practices can often go very deep! Actually the tree helps me to be more open and to say things I was not aware of. First I learned it as a participant of Outdoor Life Coaching training and I found out how deep and opening this approach can be…


  17. Hello Sybren,

    This article was interesting to read for sure! I like the perspective on how nature can bring up emotions in individuals and remind them of their own life experiences. Do you find using this tree as a metaphor for your life easier than trying to explain how you feel in a more literal sense?

    Nice read,


    • Hello Amber,

      Thank you for the compliment 🙂

      No, that is not exactly the case, as I can explain quite well what I feel in a more literal way, but a methaphor can help to become aware of other aspects and sometimes it also helps in the communication to others.


  18. This was a wonderful piece. It reminded me of how when I was in elementary school, I didn’t have friends to play with at recess, so I sat under a certain tree (I even gave him a name) every day and would just sit quietly and think. Trees are wonderful things, and I fully plan on using your methods on campus. And each time I do, I’m sure I’ll also remember all the wonderful things I’ve learned through this conference.

    • Wow, what a great experience and story! HOw do you do that now, do you now also sit sometimes quiet under a tree?


  19. Hi Sybren,

    I am a person that finds peace and comfort in spending time in nature, and I will definitely need to give this a try sometime! I like that you compare the aspects that make a tree grown and unique as similar to the experiences that make us as humans grow over time and unique- particularly with stuttering here, and though I am a person who does not stutter, I can imagine how asking these questions and acknowledging personal growth can feel for a person who does stutter! I find that self-reflection is easier in nature because things tend to be more calm. I appreciate your perspective and look forward to asking myself these questions the next time go on a hike and take the time to appreciate the different trees!


    • Hello Kate,

      I can totally relate to what you say :). It makes me more calm and helps me to find a new perspective.
      Am curious what the exercize can bring to you!