Funding from the Maudsley Charity is helping to provide a specialist service, the Grounding Project, for people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The funds provide access to an urban garden space where people can come together in a safe and healing environment to connect with nature, explore and practise calming techniques and receive support from qualified clinical practitioners.
Asylum seekers and refugees
Southwark Integrated Psychological Therapy Team at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust recognised the need to expand its existing project for treating asylum seekers and refugees suffering from PTSD. The team also wanted to inspire other NHS trusts and voluntary organisations to set up projects of their own.
A home in the centre of the city based alongside youth charity Roots and Shoots, the project aims to create a safe space in the centre of London where service users can get help and information to support their recovery. The venue also runs workshops.
Learning to trust the environment
Clinical Psychologist, Dr Gemma Eke, and Horticultural and Integrative Psychotherapist, Myriam Sarens, manage the project. Gemma explains, ‘People do a 12-week course first as they often have less tolerance of the environment.’
‘We try to explain things in ways which we hope are applicable to people from different cultures. Slowly, through meeting one another, people build an attachment to us, to one another and the environment. They feel a bit safer, learn to trust and also learn tips such as breathing techniques and how to calm the nervous system.’
Service users are encouraged to return weekly for the Monday gardening and community sessions. ‘We explain how gardening and keeping active can help with depression,’ says Gemma. ‘But rather than just talking about it in theory, which is what you might do in a traditional therapy session, we’re then going out and actually doing it.’
She adds, ‘We want to inspire other NHS Trusts and voluntary organisations to consider running projects like ours, using nature and natural environments, particularly with refugee and asylum seeker populations.’
“I’d tried other treatments before but this really worked for me”
Service user Ramesh says, ‘I’d tried other treatments before but this really worked for me. While taking part in the treatment Gemma suggested that I went to the garden. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but it has worked out. Meeting Myriam has been great. And as well as gardening I’ve learnt relaxation techniques and I take part in physical exercise including yoga.’
Ramesh continues, ‘It was a time full of worry in my life, but moment by moment the garden has helped me. I see these tiny plants change, it makes me realise there is hope.
‘I felt lonely, I felt like I couldn’t be bothered, but here we work as a team, watering, cleaning, planting. A lot of people have similar problems, here people are friendly and make time for one another. So many awful things happen to people, and often their minds are not healed. Through growth and regeneration in the garden I realise there is hope.’