Clinical Psychologists from Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT), together with academics from the University of Leicester, have published a feasibility study that is set to transform how the Trust delivers therapies to people with mental health difficulties.

The study, which was published in an international journal just before Christmas, started in the summer of 2020 as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic and the challenges it placed on how clinical psychologists could provide therapy to their service users.

One of the psychologists involved in the study was LPT’s Dr Kelly Fenton, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in adult mental health. She explained: “When the pandemic started, we could only offer telephone sessions or shorter face to face meetings, which didn’t suit many of our services users. We decided to run a feasibility study on the benefits of running outdoor therapy sessions and we were surprised with the results. There were far more positives than we thought, both from service user and staff perspectives.”

There were obvious benefits such as an improvement to physical health and the connection with nature, both of which were often part of the service user’s own recovery plan. Other benefits included people preferring to be talking more naturally side by side, being away from the noise of an inpatient ward and having the distractions of a walk to calm them down and make them feel more relaxed. Many preferred to be away from a formal, clinical setting.

 Service users’ articulated numerous benefits:

  • outdoors helped them experience a sense of freedom and was “good for my anxiety”
  • service users reported “the ability to breathe easier”
  • the outdoors helped them “think more clearly” and made it easier to express themselves and talk to their psychologist
  • “easier to talk side on, less overwhelming, less eye-contact.”
  • “I was able to vape, which gave me something to do and time to pause and gather my thoughts, rather than having an uncomfortable, awkward silence.”

Another psychologist involved in the study was Dr Kat Kidd, she reflected: “I learnt that delivering psychology sessions outside is easier than I anticipated, and I felt this led to benefits for both the service user and my own well-being. Research suggests that outdoor therapy sessions are usually only available to those accessing private healthcare and I am excited that this can now be offered to those receiving care in the NHS.”

Kelly added: “Outdoor therapy is a growing area of research, and we are now going to undertake a full study in this area. We want outdoor sessions to be integrated into the way that we deliver our services at LPT, not just the psychologists, but the whole multi-disciplinary team who will be working with a mental health service user on their recovery plan.”

Read full study here