Permaculture for Mental Health

Permaculture ethics (people, planet and fair shares) are almost identical to those of 'Sustainable Mental Health', which is an recent initiative supported by the National Health Service and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The team presenting this paper won the 2014 'Sustainability in mental health' award, and they will explain the conceptual and practical ways in which they are undertaking ecologically-minded 'whole systems design' to treat people with severe mental health problems. The aim is to use therapeutic and group relationships in a natural environment to 'connect people to each other and to nature helping them to see that there is a life worth living, and on a planet that is worth living on'.

We will show how the psychological approaches we use, such as therapeutic communities and group analytic psychotherapy, fit very well together with an whole-system permaculture framework - and how we are able to make direct comparisons between work in growing things in an ecologically sustainable way and growing better lives for people with mental health problems - for example the way in which modern 'monoculture' psychiatry uses mostly medication approaches, where our 'permaculture' therapy relies on forming and using therapeutic relationships.


Dr Rex Haigh is an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist in Medical Psychotherapy. He has been fascinated by therapeutic communities since landing in one as a medical student; he has subsequently qualified in general practice, psychiatry, psychotherapy and group analysis. He is a past Chair of the Association of Therapeutic Communities, was Clinical Advisor for the National Personality Disorder Programme and a founding member of ‘Emergence’, the service user organisation for personality disorder. He set up the Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘Community of Communities’ quality network and now leads their “Enabling Environments” project. He is a ‘critical psychiatrist’ and is a member of several organisations that aim to promote a more open-minded and balanced approach to mental disorder.

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