An innovative programme run by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board is using the natural environment of the Snowdonia National Park to support people with complex mental health problems.
The regular art therapy sessions held in the grounds of Moel y Ci Farm in the foothills of Snowdonia have been credited with lifting the mood of participants and improving their clarity of thinking and willingness to interact with others.
Based on the principles of Environmental Arts Therapy, the bi-weekly sessions help service users reconnect with the natural world by encouraging the therapeutic use of natural materials, locations, themes and the natural cycles of the changes in the seasons.
The programme was nominated for an award at the recent Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board Achievement Awards for embracing ‘new ways of working’ and forms part of the health board’s ongoing efforts to improve mental health support in the community.
It has been designed and delivered by Pamela Stanley (pictured), a Senior Art Psychotherapist at BCUHB. She said: “At the heart of environmental arts therapy is the relationship between the natural world and the feeling of self. Exploring the symbols, metaphors and narratives within the landscape, the elements and earth’s natural resource is enriching spiritually and emotionally.
“There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the value of eco therapy, eco psychology and environmental arts therapy.
“The sessions give service users an opportunity to explore difficulties with other people who have similar problems and this provides a stepping stone towards improved engagement with friends and family.
“Art making processes are introduced to create and record experiences outdoors and as opportunities for a quiet, natural space for reflection; enjoying the positive effects of engaging with nature and building mindful personal awareness of the environment.”
After becoming aware that natural seasonal cycles and rhythms have a positive effect on her own sense of wellbeing, Pam was inspired to undertake a one-year self-funded environmental arts therapy training programme based in London.
Following the evaluation of a successful pilot project, the programme was introduced at Moel y Ci Farm and has received glowing praise from many of its participants.
One service user said: “Being outside helped me think more clearly. It gave me time and space to take for myself without feeling guilty. I have found that I have started to put a bit of trust back in people again.”
Another commented: “My feelings of loneliness and sadness have now been punctured with some light.”
Another described their experience as a “space to move, explore and create.”