Book review: Bird Therapy

birdtherapyHarkness, Joe. Bird Therapy. Unbound, 2019.

“Stripping back my senses to engage with the simplistic beauty of nature has fostered an intrisically mindful approach to every moment spent outdoors. These times of connection and reflection have given me opportunities to understand myself and my thoughts in non-judgemental and restorative environments” – Joe Harkness.

Bird Therapy is a book about birdwatching. It is a book about mental health. It is so much more than either of those things.

The book opens on a sobering note, and we meet Joe Harkness in the depths of his depression. It’s a scene that I recognise from my own experiences. But this is not a sombre book, far from it. Bird Therapy is a joyous book to read, and one which demonstrates the profound healing qualities of time spent in nature.

Through an exploration of the “Five ways to well-birding”, Joe reveals how fostering an appreciation of the wonder of nature can help to create a mindful state of awareness and calm the constant upheavals of depression and anxiety.

It isn’t just a book for, or about, birdwatchers. Joe’s approach to birdwatching is refreshingly not that of the competitive “lister” or “twitcher” – find bird, tick bird off on list, go look for next bird – but one of using birdwatching as a way in to a greater engagement with and connection to nature and the outdoors, as well as connection to other people.

You don’t need to know your blue tit from your citril finch or your warbler from your woodcock to read and enjoy this book, though it may make you want to don binoculars and go for a long walk in your nearest RSPB reserve!

Those who regularly read this blog will know that I have lived with depression my whole life. There are definite moments in Joe’s story where I recognise myself. And there are moments where he describes the peace, serenity, connection and love of nature that I also recognise and remind me to spend more time outdoors, watching birds and other widlife, and simply being in the presence of nature, whether that be a city park, a stony Norfolk beach or a nature reserve.

I would honestly recommend this book to anyone. One in four people declare that they have suffered poor mental health, and there must be even more who go silently un-noticed and undiagnosed. We need to have better conversations about mental health and wellbeing. Bird Therapy points to one way to do this.

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