University of Essex

Using the outdoors to support veterans with PTSD

A programme developed by the University of Essex is changing the lives of military veterans by helping them overcome the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Dr Mark Wheeler, a psychological therapist, recognised that former soldiers were not receiving the mental health support they needed. This led him to develop the Peer Outdoor Exposure Therapy programme,  drawing on psychological theory and research from the Essex Green Exercise Team, which has demonstrated the health benefits of being outside. The programme comprises three elements – green exercise (fishing trips), encouragement for veterans to share their experiences, and on-going peer support.

“The results have been remarkable and very quick. Within a day we can see a difference in participants. Three years after the original intervention one participant, with severe symptoms, has started an Open University degree, has got engaged and become a father again.  Others have returned to full-time employment and re-established relationships.”

The success of the programme has been recognised by the NHS and charities including Veterans First, Combat Stress and the Invicta Foundation, who continue to refer clients to the programme.

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