How the Tree of Life helped me cope with mental illness

Ursula is a service user who trained to become a Tree of Life facilitator. The project aims to promote recovery and compassion on our wards through growing more positive relationships between staff and service users. At service user co-led workshops, service users and staff come together to draw their own tree and create a forest together.

Almost a year ago I was accepted onto the Tree of Life project. The project takes place on inpatient wards and is a form of ‘narrative therapy’, not that I knew that at the time. This opportunity and experience has built upon my skill set and helped me get back into a work environment after a long period of ill mental health. The Tree of Life has helped me make connections and friendships with people from all over the world.

The tree we draw has become a symbol of my progress through recovery. Each time I co-facilitate a workshop I draw my own tree. It is fascinating to see how it changes each time.

There is something wonderful that happens when you are allowed freedom to draw as an adult and something truly unique in a hospital ward when you are granted freedom to share your story. The Tree of Life has no boundaries.

As a facilitator it is deeply satisfying to hear people’s hopes for the future. It is a privilege to help people identify their skills and abilities for which they can be proud. The workshops often begin quite nervously as the patients and nurses don’t know what to expect. It is our job to introduce everyone to the concept and help to set the tone so that, in a short space of time, people we have never met before feel confident and comfortable with us to share stories of their family heritage, traditions or spirituality.

When I leave the workshop I feel good. I like that I can share part of my journey with others. I like to feel I help inspire patients to be true to their roots and to have faith in recovery. I enjoy learning from every participant that attends. Sometimes someone says something from a heightened emotional place and I worry about how I should react, what to do or say. Often the patients are tired or find focussing uneasy primarily due to medication. These are some of the many challenges we face.

At the end of the workshop we pin our trees up on the wall to create a forest. It’s a really powerful way to finish the session. For the patients, nurses and facilitators to see all their trees pinned up together, side by side. That is the real beauty of the Tree of Life, it is reminding us we’re all the same as each other.

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