Ecotherapy is the name given to therapeutic programmes, designed to improve wellbeing, which take place in a green environment. It can incorporate therapeutic horticulture, physical and mental exercise, conservation and arts and crafts.
A growing body of evidence suggests that group activity undertaken outdoors brings additional physical and mental health benefits and reduces stress. For example, Mind’s five-year Ecominds project showed that ecotherapy has a real impact on people’s mental and physical wellbeing and increases social connectivity.
The hospice has extensive landscaped grounds, which the ecotherapy group was able to use, and a large polytunnel provides shelter during inclement weather. We also have a kitchen garden – extended last year – which is purpose-built and designed to allow access by people who are less physically able.
For the pilot two groups of six bereaved clients were invited to take part in a block of weekly sessions over the summer.
Each session was split into two halves. The first half was spent in seasonal gardening activity appropriate to physical capabilities, and the second half was spent on a group activity.
These group activities included tai chi, mindfulness meditation, laughter yoga, plant pot decorating, a cookery demonstration and a barbecue using garden produce.
In the middle of each afternoon we shared a refreshment break – an important aspect for clients who often eat alone.
Evaluation of the pilot project by staff and clients was overwhelmingly positive. Comments from clients included “during every session I was able to forget my problems for a while” and “the group gelled together and opened up.”
Staff across the hospice recognised the importance of interdepartmental working to the success of the pilot – gardening staff, counsellors, kitchen staff, creative therapists and fundraisers all contributed – and new in-house relationships were forged. Several clients have applied to volunteer their services in the hospice gardens in the future.
Due to the success of the ecotherapy pilot, we will be repeating the programme next year, and is looking at ways to expand access to a greater number of clients. Costs to the hospice have been small and have been more than covered by donations from clients who have benefited from the therapy.
Our chief executive Julie Halliwell commented: “It is always pleasing to see our staff developing innovative ways of working together to benefit our patients and their families. To see the gardening staff, kitchen staff and fundraisers working so closely with the psychological and supportive care team really demonstrates true teamwork, which has been clearly beneficial to our clients. We look forward to this project growing and developing further during the next year.”