Myriam Sarens (left) & Dr Gemma Eke (right
Dr Gemma Eke, Clinical Psychologist and Myriam Sarens, Integrative Psychotherapist and Horticultural Therapist, work with refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced war, trafficking, torture and unrest in an NHS partnership project between Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and the Maudsley Charity, based at Roots and Shoots.
“Seeing the corn grow, I see even though we can get demolished in life, we grow again,” explains A, a 52 year old Tamil man from Sri Lanka. He is one of the group members, who has experienced imprisonment and torture prior to arriving in the UK. where, in one gardener’s words, “I can rest my mind.”
We see remarkable results, the garden is a peaceful and relaxing place where healing can happen, it is also far less stigmatising than an institutional environment, such as a hospital.
We try to offer the most up-to-date therapy for trauma symptoms, but delivered in a natural setting where group members can join a community and benefit from mutual support. Our project has helped many service users, so we thought we would share its main ingredients in this book, in order to help other people suffering, and perhaps inspire more projects like ours.
So we have created Grounding, a beautifully illustrated and practical book named after the project.
Grounding has been written for people affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinicians working in the field. The book shows how the Grounding project helps wellbeing, connection, learning, growing and self-care and describes how horticulture can reduce stress and isolation. People who have benefited tell their stories and share their favourite recipes and there are resources and suggestions on how to deal with symptoms of trauma, explained in an accessible and readily understandable way.
The Grounding project, which is funded by the Maudsley Charity, was designed initially to help Bosnian women traumatised by war and was located at Vauxhall City Farm for some ten years. Since January 2017, we have been based at Lambeth educational and environmental charity Roots and Shoots, in a beautiful and peaceful space where specially made raised beds give easy access to those whose injuries can make bending painful.
We are diverse and inclusive, bringing together people from all over the world who have experienced trauma. All have PTSD, which can bring other challenges such as relational difficulties, social isolation, depression and anxiety. For some, mental distress isn’t accepted or acknowledged in their culture but we have found support in a community setting can be less stigmatising.
The project runs over two days each week. One day focuses on therapy for those experiencing extreme trauma, while the second is spent gardening and sharing food grown in the garden as a group, where friendships are made and there is a real sense of community and support.
“Here reminds me of my garden in Bosnia,” says B, a 50 year old woman. “It makes me feel I am home. I can rest my mind.” Gardening is the common language and results are extraordinary as C, a 40 year old man from Ethiopia, explains with perfect simplicity, “We are different cultures, different nationalities, different religions and we are one, sharing.”
Most importantly, Grounding is about hope. Its stories are of recovery, with gardeners sharing their tips for what has helped them. It is full of ways to make everyone feel better, suggesting kindness and a gentle route to follow.
Copies of Grounding are available for a suggested donation of £7 plus £1.50 p&p and proceeds will be used to support the project. It is offered free to other NHS services as a resource for PTSD clients. To order you can message us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
After distressing experiences, many people find they get caught up in memories of the past, or worries about the future.
Grounding is a term used in therapy to describe settling, soothing or orientating to the here and now.
Your five senses can all be used to help you to ground. If you notice overwhelming or distressing feelings coming up you may wish to try focusing on what you can hear, see, smell, touch and taste, right now.
Pay attention to the world around you. What is the weather like, is it windy, is there a breeze? Can you feel the sun your skin or do you feel cold air pinching you?
Take your time to notice the colours around you, the sounds of the birds or branches rustling in the wind. Notice the shapes plants make, the patterns of the leaves and shapes of flowers.
Plant a seed and water it. Every seed hold potential to flourish and become a plant. Watch it germinate, come alive and grow! To grow a plant is to look forward to tomorrow.
Grow plants you can eat. Enjoy the vital nutrients the plants provide to for our body to be healthy and strong. Lettuce and radish grow easily and can be picked before you know it, to make a tasty fresh salad.
Grow herbs and enjoy the fragrance and colour. Use it in your cooking or to make tea. For example use fresh mint, it can be refreshing to mind and body.
And finally, consider that like plants, we are able to germinate new thoughts and ideas, which can grow and flourish. We all hold the potential for growth and change from within.
An NHS-run therapeutic gardening project in London is helping to alleviate symptoms of severe mental health problems.