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"The Truth Depends on a Walk Around the Lake"

Getting away from technology and out into nature is fundamentally important for our mental health. In the third of her week-long series of blogs to mark Children’s Mental Health Week, Dr Fiona Pienaar explains why we should all be stepping away from technology and engaging with the Great Outdoors – and reflects on the key skills this can foster, not just in children, but in therapists.

I like to think we’re all very aware of the importance of separating from our work, walking away from technology, stepping outside and enjoying an activity that gives us time to relax, de-stress, breathe in the fresh (or, right now, freezing) air, and really notice the world around us. After all, we know about the importance of self-care. In fact, I’m sure many of us help our clients to find balance in their lives. But are we doing it for ourselves? Of course, this might be a ‘healthy’ bit of projection on my part. But I’m guessing that when many of you get busy, this might very well be the first activity that you give up.

This is Children’s Mental Health Week, so I’m focusing particularly on how we support the mental health of children and young people. But it’s a bit like the flight attendants instructions before your plane takes off – you really need to fix your own oxygen mask before you support anyone else. We can’t support the children and young people in our lives, or the clients we work with, if we aren’t looking after ourselves. So engaging with the Great Outdoors isn’t a treat or an add-on – it’s a necessity.

If you want to understand the impact of technology on behaviour and development, I recommend Dr Mary Aiken’s book: The Cyber Effect: A pioneering Cyberpsychologist explains how human behaviour changes online. She highlights the importance of children spending at least ‘60 minutes of non-technological unstructured play per day to develop creativity, imagination, decision-making, problem-solving, fine and gross motor skills’. Many of these are skills we use in our everyday work with clients – suggesting that 60 minutes per day is equally important for therapists… on so many levels.

If you have children in your life, get out there with them and explore the Great Outdoors. A recent review examined the findings of 35 studies (Tillmann et al, Journal of Epidemiol Community Health, 2018) to ‘determine how interacting with different types of nature may benefit the mental health of children and young people (birth to 18 years)’. The results identified a positive association between interactions with nature and children and young people's mental health and recommended promoting this awareness. 

I wanted to find something creative to support my belief in the benefits of engaging regularly, if not daily, with nature, and this quote by American poet, Wallace Stevens really resonated with me: ‘Perhaps / the truth depends on a walk around the lake’. Aren’t we always seeking to understand the ‘truth’? Getting outside gives us time for that processing so vital in the work we do – beneficial for not only ourselves, but for our clients. Or, as Einsteen put it, ‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better’.

So step away from your work and your technology, and take time to engage with the great outdoors.

Developing Minds: Mental Health, Children & Young People Conference, with Dan Siegel, was held at the QE11 Centre in central London on Feb 8 2019. A digital recording of the conference can be purchased by clicking here.

#DevelopingMindsConference #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek

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Dr Fiona Pienaar

Fiona is Chief Clinical Officer for Mental Health Innovations (MHI) with responsibility for ensuring high standards of clinical direction and practice. Prior to her present role, Fiona was Director of Clinical Services at Place2Be. Fiona has a background of over 30 years of teaching and counselling in schools, counsellor education in higher education institutes, educational and mental health resource development, academic and clinical supervision, private practice and mental health consultation, research and writing. She has a PhD in Behavioural Science from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, a MEd in Counselling, a Professional Certificate in Coaching (Henley Business School, England) and various other counselling, teaching and special needs qualifications.

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