Benefits of the Outdoors on Well-Being & Mental Health


Event type Talk with Q&A

Webinar via Zoom
09:30 - 12:45 UK time
Bookings are closed

Happy group of kids playing at the park

Bookings are closed

During the pandemic lockdowns, many people took greater advantage of being outside and felt the benefits of being outdoors on their health and mental health. Children and young people and families spent more time playing outside and finding fun and adventure in nature. Some therapists and other professionals also had to become more creative in how they delivered support to others, which for some meant taking ‘therapy outside’.

The aim of this online conference is to explore and learn about the benefits of the outdoors and nature on well-being. A further aim is to encourage delegates to reflect on how these topics may apply to their professional approaches with young people and own personal well-being.

About the talks

Professor Helen Dodd, Psychologist Exeter University – ‘The Role of Adventure in Supporting Children’s Mental Health’

Dr. Helen Bilton, Professor of Outdoor Learning – ‘Making the Most of Outdoors for Children Aged 0-11 Years’

There are all sorts of outdoor environments, but not all are good for children, some can in fact be quite harmful. So the first thing to get right when creating outdoor environments is to view it from the child’s perspective not the adults. This involves looking at one’s own values and beliefs. And then learning to understand what children need from adults so they get the most out of being outside. Helen will share her research about children exploring and playing in the outdoor environment and the impact a good quality outdoor environment has on children’s physical and mental development.

Key learning outcomes

  • To understand what is and is not an effective outdoor environment for children’s development.
  • To learn how to interact with and observe children outside.
  • To be aware of and challenge one’s own values which can stop play.

Nicki Bass, Business Psychologist – ‘Building Resilience Through Everyday Adventures’

According to a survey conducted in 2018, the average age when we start to live less adventurously is 34. Whether it is due to work commitments or family responsibilities, finding the energy, let alone the time for big adventures becomes increasingly challenging. Whilst that is understandable, the problem is that the longer we spend in our comfort zone, the less inclined we are to leave it again. Believing we can manage uncertainty and challenge are fundamental to our resilience and growth, but when we start to spend too much time in our comfort zone, this impacts on our self-esteem, resilience and willingness to try new things.

When we are time poor and overwhelmed, it is hard to consider adventure as a possibility. However, by viewing adventure as a state of mind, rather than an activity, we can start to reap the benefits of smaller, everyday adventures, seeing them as fundamental to our wellbeing.

Everyday adventures ground us in the present and give us a sense of agency in our daily lives. They help us to build resilience, in teaching us to manage uncertainty, adapt, build connections, persevere in adversity and manage failure. Everyday adventures are a powerful tool to support our performance and wellbeing – and the best part about them is that they are accessible to all regardless of the time, energy and resources we have available. All they require is our imagination.

Key learning outcomes

  • To understand how everyday adventures can build resilience
  • To recognise the impact of “blue/green” spaces on our mental wellbeing

Dr. Abi Tarran-Jones, Clinical Psychologist – ‘Taking Therapy Outdoors’

Why would we take therapy out of the four walls and into a natural space? Perhaps as therapists we are feeling burnt out, stagnated by practice as usual or maybe some clients just don’t seem to respond to the traditional therapy set up. Could a more restorative, creative and holistic way of working help? Despite an abundance of evidence demonstrating the psychological and physical benefits of spending time in nature, as a society we are increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Outdoor therapy offers an opportunity to support people to reconnect with nature and experience its healing and invigorating qualities. But what does outdoor therapy actually involve, I hear you ask?! This will be a whistle-stop tour of what taking therapy outdoors involves, how to partner with nature and use it as a co-therapist and how this can be restorative for both practitioners and clients.

Key learning outcomes

  • To understand what outdoor therapy is.
  • To understand how nature is used actively in the therapeutic work.
  • To learn how outdoor therapy can support people to deepen their connection with nature.
  • To understand how outdoor therapy can be restorative for practitioners, as well as for clients.

Who should attend

We anticipate that the conference would have appeal to a broad audience, anyone working with or researching children & adolescents, and mental health. For example; researchers, academics, clinicians, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, educational psychologists, and other mental health professionals. It will also be relevant to parents, teachers, educational professionals, pastoral care support. Additionally to those with an interest in the aspects of the topic, those working with children and young people, and/or and interest in mental health such as social care workers and leaders, youth-based service workers and leaders.

Programme – subject to change

09.00 Registration

09.30 Professor Helen Dodd – ‘The Role of Adventure in Supporting Children’s Mental Health’

10.45 Nicki Bass – ‘Building Resilience Through Everyday Adventures’

11:15 Break

11:30 Dr. Helen Bilton – ‘Making the Most of Outdoors for Children Aged 0-11 Years’

12:00 Dr. Abi Tarran-Jones – ‘Taking Therapy Outdoors’

12:30 Panel discussion: Questions from the audience to the panel and a chance to reflect on own experiences in relation to the topics presented

12:45 Close

About the speakers

Professor Helen Dodd
Professor Helen Dodd

Professor Helen Dodd, Psychologist Exeter University

Helen Dodd is a Professor of Child Psychology in the College of Medicine and Health (CMH), University of Exeter. She is an expert in child mental health with a particular interest in the development of childhood anxiety disorders. Her research has been funded by the ESRC, Royal Society, British Academy, Kavli Foundation and the Australian Research Council. She has received awards for her research from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) and the British Psychological Society (BPS). Most recently she was awarded the Margaret Donaldson Award from the British Psychology Society for her outstanding contribution to developmental psychology.

Helen held an ESRC Future Research Leaders grant between 2014 and 2019 and currently holds a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, which funds a program of work examining the relationship between children’s adventurous play and mental health. Helen regularly writes about children’s play and contributes to public discussions about the role of play in supporting children’s mental health. During the pandemic Helen played a leading role in the @playfirstUK group, who campaigned for children’s play to be prioritised and for a #SummerOfPlay.

Alongside her work on adventurous play, Helen collaborates on a number of other projects which focus on better understanding pathways to anxiety in young children and how to support children and families to prevent mental health problems. She has expertise in longitudinal data analysis, eyetracking, observational research, experimental design and developmental psychology more broadly.

Nicki Bass
Nicki Bass

Nicki Bass, is the founder of Resilience at Work, a Business Psychologist, TEDx Speaker, and former Army Officer who spent 18 years leading and developing others both in the UK and in conflict zones around the world. Having served on a number of operational deployments, she has experienced first-hand how being taken outside of your comfort zone can dramatically increase your resilience and improve your ability to face life’s challenges. Combined with a Masters degree in Occupational Psychology, this lived experience gives her a unique insight into how resilience theory and practice align. One of the most enjoyable and effective methods of taking people outside of their comfort zone is through adventurous activities. This not only challenges us, but is stimulating, rewarding and creates authentic and lasting connections.

Dr. Helen Bilton
Dr. Helen Bilton

Dr. Helen Bilton, Professor of Outdoor Learning. Helen is an award winning lecturer with an international reputation for her work on the outdoor teaching and learning environment. She is a passionate and inspirational teacher and a sought after keynote speaker. Helen’s publication in 1998 was a ground – breaking book on the early years outdoor environment, and has set a solid foundation and paved the way for this environment to be legitimised as a teaching space. Her interest in the teaching and learning environment has always been at the forefront of her teaching and research, and this expertise has been transferred from working with young children as a teacher, to working with adults as a lecturer. Helen has been researching the outdoor environment for the last 35 years, and is the leading educational specialist in this area. She has written extensively on the issue, including seven books (the earliest being the first complete text on the subject since 1936); her first publication, a classic, now in its third edition, Outdoor Learning in the Early Years, Management and Innovation is a complete compendium for all who work with young children. Additionally, Helen contributes to many other publications and journal articles on a wide range of topics.

Dr. Abi Tarran-Jones
Dr. Abi Tarran-Jones

Dr. Abi Tarran-Jones, also known as The Outdoor Psychologist, is a Clinical Psychologist with over 10 years’ experience working in NHS settings with adults of all ages. Through her own experience of the therapeutic benefit of being in nature and an interest in working creatively and holistically, she has transformed her clinical approach. Dr. Tarran-Jones set up as The Outdoor Psychologist, taking a leap into independent practice and branching out to deliver outdoor and nature-based therapy and supervision. Through this she has combined her passions in life; helping others to live well with and overcome the challenges and trauma they face and developing an enriching and restorative connection with nature.