Oct 21st 2020

Urban church garden repurposed into therapy space for trauma clients because of COVID-19

The disruption caused by COVID-19 induced lockdown in March 2020 has had some unexpected consequences for most of us; not least the NHS Traumatic Stress Clinic (TSC) at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (Candi). Initially, the TSC had to suspend all face-to-face appointments although continuing to support clients with telephone and online therapy.

A far from ideal situation for a highly vulnerable client group suffering from the debilitating, complex symptoms of PTSD.

Dr. Livia Ottisova, a Clinical Psychologist at the TSC said: “Virtual appointments were fine for some but for the vast majority, they were not able to continue treatment due to digital exclusion and the challenges of doing trauma-focused therapy online.”

Determined to find a solution, the TSC got in touch with St Paul’s Woodland Garden, Camden Square, which won the latest Green Health Award. Working closely with Green City Projects who developed and run the initiative and with St Paul’s Church, a plan was quickly drawn up to use the garden for outdoor therapy sessions.

Dr Ottisova said: “The garden was the perfect setting for our work as it is safe, welcoming and contained. It offers the ideal backdrop for the challenging work of processing traumatic memories by providing a richness of soothing, lush sensory stimuli from the present.”

In July, TSC therapists were able to resume face-to-face appointments with their trauma clients. Fifty sessions have now taken place.

Dr Ottisova added: “Being able to offer face-to-face appointments in St Paul’s Woodland Garden has been instrumental in enabling us to resume treatment with clients who would otherwise be excluded from help with debilitating flashbacks and nightmares.”

Fr James Elston, Parish Priest at St Paul’s Church said: “It is a real miracle that a piece of forgotten church land has been transformed into a beautiful garden that is bringing so many blessings to all kinds of people in need. God is indeed at work in this small corner of his creation.”

Green Health is run in association with the Church of England as part of The Conservation Foundation’s Gardening Against the Odds programme to encourage churches and faith organisations to use their space for therapeutic gardening.

The Conservation Foundation welcomes news of other projects which have found a way of continuing throughout the lockdown and details of how they plan to work around ongoing restrictions.

Contact: david.shreeve@churchofengland.org