Covid-19 turns community garden into therapy space for service users

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the NHS had to quickly adapt the way in which services were delivered to keep both service users and staff as safe as possible. And this was no different for the Traumatic Stress Clinic (TSC) at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation.
As national lockdown restrictions were imposed in March 2020, the team initially had to suspend all face-to-face assessments and treatment appointments but continued contacting and supporting clients by telephone and organising remote online therapy sessions. 
Dr Livia Ottisova, Clinical Psychologist, said: “Virtual appointments were fine for some, but for the vast majority of our vulnerable clients, 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, a project funded by the National Lottery. Working closely with Green City Projects (GCP), who 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 is 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.”
The Traumatic Stress Clinic is a cross-borough specialist service for the treatment of complex cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The service provides assessment, evidence-based psychological treatment and case management for service users, and offers supervision, consultation and support to NHS services and community organisations on understanding and managing PTSD. 
In July, TSC therapists were able to resume face-to-face appointments with their trauma clients in the garden. By September, 36 sessions had taken place.
Feedback from clients has been positive with many commenting positively on how “soothing” and “refreshing” they find being in the space. 
Catherine Tidnam of GCP said: “We look for ways that our green spaces can best serve the community and when the TSC approached us, we were determined to make it happen.”  
Dr Ottisova said: “As clinicians, we have been immensely grateful for the opportunity to continue our work in this lovely space. 
“For our clients, it has meant the difference between being able to access treatment at all or being ‘on hold’ and continuing to suffer with debilitating symptoms of PTSD for an indefinite period of time, until appointments in indoor settings are safe and permitted again from a Covid-19 perspective.”

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