Woodland Therapy

‘Instinctively Wild’ in partnership with NHS Borders mental health occupational therapy graciously obtained funding from the Life Changes Trust which is funded by the National Lottery. With this funding we sought to provide a group intervention to those living with Dementia. It was aimed at those in the mid to later stage of their journey who require a sensory approach to facilitate meaningful engagement. A gap in the service was identified for individuals living in the Scottish Borders who are at this stage in their Dementia journey. Groups tend to be targeted more towards those in the earlier stages. However as the Dementia journey progresses an individual can find it more difficult to maintain social connections and meaningful activity due to an array of different factors. This is exactly why this is the right time in the journey to intervene and support the continuation of these important aspects of daily life.

Instinctively Wild are an innovative and dynamic third sector organisation that focuses primarily on connecting people through nature. This is such an essential aspect of the culture of many of those living in the Scottish Borders.

What the group is about:

  • Physical activity
    1. Slow paced walk through the woodland, stopping to listen, smell, touch and explore the natural environment.
    2. Picking up materials for activity.Blog1
  • Sensory activities in the woodland environment such as
    1. Making bird feeders/fat balls
    2. Creating creative art work in the form of collages, sculptures and woodland badges
    3. Woodland frames
    4. Colour palates for the seasonBlog2
    5. Crafting musical instruments
    6. Composing poetry
    7. Listening to stories of the woodland
    8. Brewing woodland tea
    9. Campfire baking
    10. Listening to music (harpist)
  • Social interaction
    1. Opportunity for peer support
    2. Opportunity for laugher, fun and enjoyment
    3. Carer peer support


  • Social interaction
  • Confidence building
  • Improving sense of wellbeing
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Community engagement
  • Physical activity

Group participants ‘golden moments’

  • “It makes me feel free”
  • “It helps when I can’t find the words”

“I have enjoyed meeting new people”

I have observed participants laughing, smiling, chatting and participating keenly in all activities offered. During the musical sessions one participant brought along his accordion to play and another brought along his bass guitar. A carer also brought his harmonica to play. It was a great experience to see everyone get enjoyment and have enthusiasm for a session.

The dynamics of the initial group selected worked very well. Three couples attended; 3 gentlemen with dementia and their wives. The wives would socialise as part of the group obtaining peer support and they would also engage in the activities finding them relaxing and enjoyable. They fed back that this group is just as much for them as it is for their husbands as it is something fun and interactive that they can do together. Two of the participants who have a younger onset diagnosis were supported to attend by NHS staff and they also appeared to get a lot enjoyment from the group as demonstrated by their keen engagement. This group also helped to build confidence in that activities were offered in a way which could facilitate participation and offer an end result.


What next:

Woodland therapy is not a new concept to NHS Borders. It has been provided in the past and at that time it was proven to be an effective group and was well regarded by those individuals living with Dementia, their carers and the mental health service. However in this economy funding is always a challenge therefore NHS Borders in partnership with Instinctively Wild are exploring means of sustainability for this dynamic intervention. Funding has been secured for 2 years (2018-2019) which equates to two 8 week groups (sessions are once per week) per year (spring and autumn). Therefore we endeavour to explore alternative routes so this extraordinary group can continue to improve the lives of those living with Dementia in NHS Borders.

Many thanks for reading!



Louise Shanks,

Occupational Therapist, NHS Borders

I am an occupational therapist working in NHS Borders as part of the mental health service for older adults. Predominantly I provide a service to those living with dementia helping to adapt current and develop new activities to help retain independence and achieve wellbeing.


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