Staff at the Iris Centre in Exeter have been using ecotherapy as part of the treatment for people who use their services. Psychosocial Practitioner, Mary Bray, explains what the therapy is and the benefits it brings:
"The Iris Centre is an intensive psychotherapy day programme for people with a diagnosis of severe and complex personality disorder. Our people have all encountered extensive abuse and neglect in their early lives and as a result struggle to make and maintain relationships. The Iris Centre is run along Therapeutic Community (TC) lines, embracing values of belongingness, containment/feeling safe, communication, participation and a willingness to try new things. Gardening is most often a feature of daily living in the TC model and can lend a certain ease to the process of working together. Evidence shows, and we ourselves have seen, that ecotherapy makes a huge difference to people with mental health problems - being active outdoors in green spaces has a positive impact on both physical and mental health.
"Many of our community members have a distant and at times destructive relationship with food. In our first year of running the Recovery Garden project, I was reminded that some members of our community had never really learned to cook for themselves but had relied opening a tin, a jar or very often received institutional food. The concept of growing something and then picking it for lunch was really novel and enjoyed, it also supported our wish for a balanced, healthy diet. We grew 18 tomato plants, had freshly picked tomatoes every day in our home grown salad, prepared fresh sauce with these on a regular basis and also had plenty left with which to make our own chutney.
"Gardening together is a great way of introducing gentle exercise into people’s lives and of helping people to connect socially and work together towards a common goal. It lends a sense of purpose and achievement, that promotes self-esteem. Growing and nurturing a plant can be a new experience for individuals who struggle to look after and care for themselves. Our community have embraced the concept of working with the soil as a way of unwinding and relaxing after the intensive individual and group therapy, where memories can evoked that are both upsetting and painful.
"At the moment we are growing perpetual spinach, winter salads and garlic as well as a few herbs. Once the main growing season starts, community members are encouraged to take responsibility for the seeds they are planting, to water and nurture these and see the process through to planting out. One community member was so inspired by this process that she began planting in her garden at home and kept us up to date with progress with regular photos of what she was growing.
"We also have a compost bin which we all contribute to (both community members and staff). Furthermore, Recovery Devon has recently decided which projects to support with their development fund and we are delighted to have received a contribution from them towards our recovery garden. We hope to buy a poly-tunnel and some propagators to extend our activities and will be taking photos over the year to show how the garden is progressing."