Bird Therapy, by Joe Harkness

Bird Therapy, by Joe Harkness

David Tipling/2020VISION

Part of our Mental Health Awareness Series. Joe Harkness writes about the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching on his blog and Twitter account: 'Bird Therapy'. He is setting up a venture in Norfolk that engages vulnerable and hard-to-reach target groups with bird-watching as a form of experiential learning and relaxation.

For two years, I’ve been writing about the therapeutic benefits of bird-watching, keen to share my own positive experiences with those who ended up reading. My remit for this blog was simply to write about the mental health benefits of being active in and for nature, and although I have written extensively on this topic I found it difficult to focus in on one single element - perhaps as I had explored so many notions throughout my writing.

After some reflection I realised that, quite simply, nature (and specifically bird-watching) provides so many ways to support positive mental health and well-being, that it is the variety that makes it so effective. For me, the most important part of how nature helps is in transcending across all of the senses, effectively providing something positive for everyone.

Joe Harknkess birdwatching

Visiting any natural space is an immersive, multi-sensory experience and I soak this up every time I visit my birdwatching patch. There are always visual treats and it doesn’t just have to be the birds. Visual beauty can be found in the simple pleasures of nature; from the lush greenness of trees in late spring, to the wind-rippled surface of a lake on a snappy February morning. Sometimes it is a bird that provides the beauty, such as the time when four bullfinches sat resplendent in a bare tree in front of me, their blushed pink and peach tones offset against their stark black heads.

Bird songs and calls provide sonic stimulation and none more so than nature’s finest songster, the nightingale. After horrendously stressful days at work I’ve gone to a local site for them and switched off, by allowing their bubbly song to wrap me up and absorb my anxieties. The feel of the fresh air against your face is refreshing, and add to this the smell of fresh earth after an April shower and the multi-sensory experience is complete. Well, you could throw in the amazing cake available at most visitor centres to add some taste too!

Joe Harkness Bird Therapy logo

Nature is the ultimate distraction therapy, providing a platform and safety net for everyday issues to be cast aside, offering time for one to reflect and recollect. Next time that you go out to a wild place, let your senses indulge in the wonders around you and take time to notice the subtle aesthetics in everyday natural encounters. I always allude back to the dunnock, often overlooked as a drab bird and labelled as a ‘little brown job’. Next time you see one, inspect its markings and colourations and I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by its understated beauty.

Visit Joe's blog here and read more about his work.