One of the participants walked into the cafe where we meet this week and announced ‘I got involved in birdwatching because of you.’ He is a working class man in his late 50’s who has been coming for about six weeks. I asked him to explain. He told me that after I had pointed out birds on our walks and talked about them he had started to look at birds more. He said he realised just how beautiful they are. He has now got a pair of binoculars and a bird book. He told me, ‘Its good to have an interest, something to get involved in.’ I am so pleased when people come to the ecotherapy sessions and then I find out that they are going out on their own and spending time in nature. I feel my work is done when that happens. It is a sign a person is taking care of their own well-being.
Coincidently, a middle aged woman, who has been four times to the sessions, told me on the same day that she went on holiday recently and forgot her relaxation CDs. She decided to use the mindfulness process that we use in the sessions and was very pleased with herself. I have had other people tell me they do mindfulness at home. I could give many examples of continuing activity outside the sessions by participants.
All this adds up to a very positive mental health picture of self care. The process begins with a person hearing about the Wellbeing in Nature sessions and coming along. They are volunteers and can attend whenever they want and for free. I never ask for a diagnostic statement or their psychological background; I don’t consider it relevant to what we do. What then happens is that people begin to learn some very simple ways of looking after their well-being: physical stretching and movement to loosen tensions; mindfulness to still the mind and increase awareness; being curious about the natural world; walking at a slow place and being open to the different senses. So simple. And after a few weeks of coming along some people get it, they notice the benefits of self care in a supportive atmosphere. Plus of course nature is doing its own green magic on them.
The transition to independent self care is easy in these circumstances because: there is no need for professional support; no appointments; no medication or other specialist requirements; and it is intrinsically enjoyable. Maybe the challenge is that the person has to have the self motivation to keep coming back. I realise that not everyone wants to come along to ecotherapy and not everyone stays to really appreciate the benefits. What I would be interested to know is what makes people stay and others leave and how could we support those wavering on the edges of commitment. Every time I take a break and the group misses one or two sessions I lose people, they never return. This suggests to me that for some it is hard to maintain commitment and to care for oneself when feeling rough.