A new collaboration harnesses the therapeutic power of nature to offer bereavement counseling during long walks around a property.
Marie Curie is working with the National Trust to run the pilot project in the peaceful setting of Mount Stewart in Co Down, Northern Ireland.
At the National Trust site on the shores of Strangford Lough, loved ones whose loved ones have died at Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast are being offered walking and talking therapy as an alternative to a more traditional seated in-house counseling session.
The concept arose out of necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic when Marie Curie counselors could not meet the bereaved in the hospice due to restrictions.
Since then the partnership has grown and four Marie Curie counselors now use Mount Stewart’s beautiful gardens as a backdrop for therapy walks.
Brian McMillen from Bangor, Co Down was one of the first to attend a walk and talk session.
Mr McMillen’s wife, Lally, died in March 2020 in Marie Curie Hospice.
He thanks his three daughters Chloe, Georgia and Kashia for encouraging him to offer pastoral care.
“I wasn’t sure, but I knew,” he said.
“We couldn’t go to Marie Curie because of the coronavirus, but even then I didn’t want to go back to where I last saw my wife, it wasn’t comfortable for me.
“Well, it started with a phone call about three months, and then the counselor actually suggested we meet at Mount Stewart for a hike.
“We probably did it monthly for about a year, just coming and going and talking for an hour or two, which allowed me to say what I wanted to say without being with the family.
“It helped me to keep going. It helped me move on, helped me find peace by being able to talk to someone other than my family.
“In the beginning I found it therapeutic to just get out of the office, get away for a while and just walk and talk in beautiful surroundings.
“I couldn’t have done it while looking at someone in an office or in an environment where you drink a cup of coffee. Being outside for me is walking next to someone and talking to them, rather than just sitting in an environment and staring face to face.”
Retired teacher Helen Laird was Mr McMillen’s adviser and was instrumental in drawing up the plan.
As a Marie Curie counselor and National Trust volunteer at Mount Stewart, she saw an opportunity to combine the two roles as lockdowns reduced counseling sessions to phone calls.
“Normally we would have worked in the hospice, we would have met our bereaved in the hospice treatment rooms,” she said.
“During Covid, of course, this was not possible and we had to resort to telephone advice, which actually worked surprisingly well.
“But it is clear that this is a good addition to what we can offer to people who have lost a loved one.
“You can only get so far by talking to people on the phone, but at the end of the day there are huge benefits to meeting and meeting again in this beautiful place and being able to enjoy nature again, because very often don’t loved ones actually enjoy anything.”
Ms Laird said she could see people change as they began to absorb the natural beauty around them.
“I can really see them getting up,” she said.
“I really see a change in them.
“I can see the change that gradually takes place when they start seeing things, smelling flowers if you will, seeing the birds, watching the changing colors of the trees, all of that.
“And for someone who’s been robbed and almost trapped in their emotions, it’s great that they can see, well, actually there are some beautiful things out there, things that I can appreciate.”
National Trust’s Tammi Peek praised the success of the collaboration.
“The National Trust is for everyone forever and working with a brilliant partner like Marie Curie will help us make that happen,” she said.
“I think during the restrictions and Covid in the last few years we all realized how important it is to be in nature.
“But when you’re going through a time of trauma or grief, it’s even more important, and it allows us to offer our places to people who need them at a time of crisis in their own lives.”
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Source: Bel Fast Live