About Bird Therapy

Bird Therapy is a writing project exploring the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching for people experiencing difficulties with their mental health. I’ve been writing on this topic for two years now, both as a blog and also as a book – which is close to completion. This has led to me being asked to write a number of guest blogs and articles which can be viewed under the writing tab above. My ongoing Bird Therapy blog can also be found under this tab.

In 2017 I was asked to speak at an ‘Earth Optimism’ event at Cambridge UCCRI. The talk was a success and public speaking about Bird Therapy is something I offer – more information on this can be found under the outreach tab above. I had hoped to facilitate some group work but I’ve come to realise that this isn’t viable at this stage in my life; although who knows what the future may hold?

Bird Therapy is run by me - Joe Harkness. I’m a qualified teacher who has been working in the youth sector for nine years. My specialist area of work has always been the engagement of hard-to- reach target groups.

I live with OCD, generalised anxiety disorder and sporadic bouts of depression and use the outdoors and birdwatching to help manage my symptoms and compulsions. I decided to use my own interest in outdoor learning and my positive experiences with birdwatching to create a more practical way to apply my theories and beliefs.

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Five thoughts on “Bird Therapy”

Julie Wakefield

Hello Joe,

I have had a severe mental health condition since I was a very young girl. I am now 51 and this will be a lifetime condition. I am incredibly lucky however that it is so well managed that the majority of the time I am completely symptom free. As ‘an expert by experience’ I was asked to speak to a group of students training to be mental health nurses, which I did yesterday. I think what you are doing is wonderful. For a long time I have been telling people how essential connection with the natural world is to well-being. So I took the opportunity yesterday to make the trainee nurses aware of your project. I wore my Bird Therapy t-shirt and included in my handouts a copy of this blog – your words and the comments posted here.

I have also found that simply wearing t-shirt is way of spreading word as people ask me about it. But that was probably your intent when producing them so this will come as no surprise!

As a girl birdwatching was something that brought me real solace. Today I find it spiritual uplifting. (I have completed your survey).

Looking forward to following your progress.

Steven Hammond

I would be interested in hearing of any activities, I am a birder and am currently off sick with depression and work related stress.

Mindful birding: internet resources

[…] Bird Therapy is a blog specifically dedicated to “the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching,” based on the blogger’s personal experiences with using birding to help mitigate the negative impacts of OCD, anxiety, and depression on his daily life. The blogger’s ultimate goal is to put together a book on the positive impacts of birding on mental health, including input from other bird lovers. Anyone can contribute to the project by filling out an anonymous online survey. He also has a blog post on mindful birding per se and a series of posts on “the 5 ways to well-birding,” based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing: connect, be active, take notice, learn, and give. I love these ideas. […]

Simon Watts

Hi Joe,
My name is Simon, I’m an ex RGN and life-long naturalist with a keen bent towards film making. All of this has conspired into me starting WILD Presentations. The WP concept comes from witnessing exactly what you’re inferring about the meditative, calming and structured way of nature and it’s effect cognitively. My years as a District Nurse found me constantly being requested to recite my latest experiences as a naturalist – where I’d been, what I’d seen and what might be beckoning. Such was the outpouring and desire to reconnect with nature from people that now found life limiting, and such was the obvious therapeutic outcome from a simple recital that I knew I could manifest it into something with much more substance. So now I make HD films from all parts of the country, based on themes from seasons to locations, near and far. Films that are then shown on a 2m wide screen with surround (mostly natural) sound and a strong live narrative. The responses, changes – some wholesale, in the people that have watched and continue to watch them have massively exceeded even my high hopes and have left staff at the sites these guys reside absolutely gobsmacked. The popularity and range of WP has rocketed as word has spread – I believe I’m the only person in the country providing this nature-based kind of therapeutic and stimulating format and there are plans to extend the tactility of it with more objects to handle related to what is on the screen. The effects on well-being often lead to tears and emotional release not witnessed from individuals since the inception of their care.
The link to cognitive and psychological soundness and contact with the natural world (even secondary as with my audiences) is as real and as measurable as anything could ever be. I bear witness to it daily.
Please feel free to contact me at any time if I can help in any way. It’s a good message that needs spreading!
Cheers, Si.

Fergus Beeley

I’m so pleased to find a like-minded supporter of the mental health benefits of birding.
I specialise in Nature Connection and Mindfulness.
Best wishes