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The Story of the Seed: The healing power of nature and concern about the climate change

Since Maya Vakfı’s (Foundation) establishment the healing power of art and nature has been utilized in our trauma-informed mental health and psychosocial support activities.  Maya Vakfı supports children’s well-being and helps them improve their social interactions and coping skills for stressful life experiences through creative art therapy and nature therapies.

Shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, we transformed the garden of our Balat Children and Youth Center into an interactive learning and exploring space for children to experience sustainable living and ecology.  

So what is ecotherapy or nature therapy? It is a therapeutic approach based on the idea that people have a deep connection with their environment and nature. Under the theory of ecotherapy life can only exist in harmony with nature. A person’s inability to nurture their connection to nature can have a negative impact on their happiness and mental health. Although ecotherapy is still a developing field, much research has already been conducted on the positive effects of spending time in nature on mental health.

As part of the Trauma Informed Schools Program curriculum (one of our Educational programs that we have been running in İstanbul and Şanlıurfa since 2016) we hold a workshop with children called The Story of the Seed. We give each child a seed and ask them to imagine a special tree that will grow from that seed. This activity develops children’s problem-solving skills. We use the trees as a discussion point; where does this imaginary tree live in the forest, how does it interact within its ecosystem, and with what animals, how can we protect their tree and the forest community in case of danger?

As part of our Disaster and Emergency Program, we aim to focus on the human relationship with nature, raise awareness of natural events, and be psychologically prepared in the event of a disaster or change to our natural environment.  We do this by conducting art therapy activities to provide psychosocial support to children and adults at our Balat Children and Youth Center and in disaster areas.

As part of Capacity Building sessions, we organize workshops and trainings for mental health professionals on psychosocial support during disasters and emergencies, psychological recovery skills, loss and grief, secondary trauma, and self-care.

The natural events and disasters we have experienced recently have had a psychological impact on all of us, in addition to the physical damage that we see. Children and young people in particular can experience feelings of hopelessness, anger and disappointment about the future, and environmental anxiety.

What is eco-anxiety? Changing climatic conditions and natural events in the world can have various effects on mental health.

Eco-anxiety is a chronic and severe anxiety condition that people experience in relation to negative changes in nature due to the climate crisis. Examples of possible mental health conditions with a direct correlation to eco-anxiety include depression, aggression, helplessness, and difficulty regulating emotions.

Children may experience feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, or safety concerns. At such times, you can create a supportive environment and spaces for children to express themselves, and you can provide them with accurate answers to their questions using age-appropriate language.

 

Activity recommendation for children affected by disasters: the example of forest fires.

It is normal for children who are directly or indirectly exposed to fire to have stress responses to protect themselves. One of the most functional ways to regulate stress is through breathing exercises. You can help children manage their stress by allowing them to regulate their breathing in a comfortable way.

“Think of your favorite flower, take a deep breath and smell it. As you exhale, imagine a lit candle on your favorite cake and breathe out hard to blow it out. Let all the breath flow out into you or think of your favorite balloon. Take a deep breath and blow everything that’s weighing you down right now into that bubble and fly off into the sky.”

More and more children are feeling the impact of global climate change and experiencing intense fears as a result. Together we can rein in eco-anxiety and create a positive space for healing and change for our children and youth.

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