In this series I read through books and use the points within them to discuss a variety of subjects.
Bird Therapy focuses on birdwatching, however I use the points made in the book to discuss what aspects of nature bring me the same level of calm and relaxation that birdwatching brings the author.

I think it’s good to read books on subjects that don’t necessarily resonate with you, but then take things from within them to better your own life.

Bird Therapy Joe Harkness

Trigger warning: This book talks lightly about suicide, depression, anxiety and OCD.

This is not a review of the book, just my thoughts on some of it and how it relates to me and my life.

When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him.

But nothing came close to his experiences with nature and, in particular, birds.

How had he never noticed such beauty before?

Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.

The positive change in Joe’s wellbeing was so profound that he started a blog to record his experience.

Three years later he has become a spokesperson for the benefits of birdwatching, spreading the word everywhere from Radio 4 to Downing Street.

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching has had on his life, and invites you to discover these extraordinary effects for yourself.“- Bird Therapy blurb.


I first discovered Bird Therapy one night whilst watching an episode of Springwatch with my boyfriend.
I remember half-watching the show as I was doing something, until something caught my attention; they were talking about mental health.

As much as I am very passionate about it and will talk about it openly, I’m still not used to seeing it spoken about so openly on TV.

I became engrossed in the conversation.
As my boyfriend is a huge fan of birdwatching and was also really interested in Joe’s journey, I knew straight away that I would be buying it as a gift for him when it was released.

Fast forward a few months and I managed to get one for him, but I wouldn’t end up giving it to him until I’d finished reading it for myself.


Now I must admit, I’ve never really been into birdwatching.

Don’t get me wrong, I love birds and I’ve enjoyed my experiences with them so far, but I wouldn’t say they soothe me as much as they do Joe or my partner.

I do enjoy listening to them rather than music and I was extremely lucky to have a sparrowhawk in my garden last year, which was very exciting.
However, my thing has always been the sea, or just large bodies of water in general, like lakes, reservoirs and quays.

A mixture of the sight and sound of the water really relaxes me and brings me the closest to true peace I think I’ll find.
It may stem from always living in the city, where holidays to the sea were incredibly exciting, or perhaps it goes deeper than that.

I just know in my mind that water seems to clear my mind, hell, even getting in a bath can seriously help me sift through my thoughts.


Another part of nature that I find comforting are trees.
A mixture of the comforting blanket they produce above me and the rustling noise they make in the breeze brings me so much clarity and calmness.

I remember back in 2017 when I had my first breakdown, my family took me to a place that was dear to them and that I had never visited, Trundle Hill.
We were there for quite a sad purpose, but being surrounded by all of the trees and the vast green space gave me the first true breath of fresh air I’d felt in weeks.

Now you may be wondering why I’m writing about water and trees when this book is about bird watching.

As someone who doesn’t partake in the hobby, what I loved about this book is how you could feel inspired by Joe and his journey and use it to look at what parts of nature bring you happiness and peace, which for me is water and trees.

Despite not being able to relate to the birdwatching side of the book, I truly loved how descriptive Joe’s writing was and how it made me feel like I was there with him, walking amongst nature.


This book also made me realise that another reason why I love to be out in nature is the colours it brings.

As an artist who lives in the suburbs of a large city, my world can be filled with various shades of grey most of the time.

Getting out in nature and being reminded of the world of colour that exists never fails to inspire me to get creating again.


This book also helped me to leave the house a few times to get some fresh air.

I’m not agoraphobic at all, but when I don’t have to go anywhere (like work or meetings) then I really struggle to leave my house.
A part of me doesn’t feel safe (even though I live in a somewhat nice area) and just wants to stay protected by my house and the comfort it brings.

I’ve lived in the area all of my 28 years and I know that nothing will happen to me “out there”, the danger I feel is definitely a mental thing rather than an actual threat.

I don’t even have an exact thing I’m worried about (like bring robbed or attacked), my body just makes me feel that going out is a bad idea, and instead I end up trapped within my house and within the walls of my mind.


Joe talks about the “5 ways to wellbeing”, which he lovingly coins the “5 ways to well-birding” as he talks about how each of the 5 steps can be achieved whilst taking up the hobby.

The steps are:

  • Connect
  • Be active
  • Take notice
  • Keep learning
  • Give

I love the idea of using whichever form of nature that comforts you most to try and achieve all 5 of the steps, ultimately helping your mind and body feel better.

I’m very blessed with having a little dog in my life, Milly.

Taking her for walks also helps me to achieve the “5 ways to wellbeing” as I’m connecting with her, I’m being active by walking, especially if I choose to tackle different terrains.
I take notice of how Milly reacts to the world around her, I learn whats she likes and doesn’t like and I give her and myself a lovely experience, which is different with each walk we go on.


Joe also talks about a side to birdwatching called “listing”, which involves listing things that you have seen on a particular walk.
This could be the birds you have seen, the flowers and trees you have come across or maybe the butterflies and insects that crossed your path.
Some people who enjoy listing create lists for everything they have seen in that particular year.

Some people get very heavily into “listing” and find comfort in it, but as Joe mentions, getting too deep into it can take you away from enjoying the nature around you and can end up having a negative effect on your mental health.

It reminds me of “trophies” and “achievements” on PlayStation and Xbox, which are little rewards you receive from completing specific tasks within a game.
I thoroughly enjoy the hobby of “trophy hunting” as it works well with how my mind works.
It feels organised and rewarding and I know exactly what to do to achieve the trophies I need.

However, I feel like if I got too deeply involved in the trophy-aspect of a game I would soon lose my enjoyment for it.

All of this leads me into thinking about the different reward systems we can create for ourselves and which ones work best for each of us.


Another aspect of birdwatching that Joe highlights is that by taking part in it you are developing a new hobby and by learning the information and experiences it yields you are evolving it.

Starting a new hobby and evolving it is great for the mind as it keeps you always learning something new, keeping your mind busy in the process.

He recommends always having a hobby on the go, take from it everything you can and then perhaps take up a new hobby.


I’m extremely glad I read this book before giving it to my partner, I truly feel as though it has given me the inspiration I needed to get out of the house and explore nature.

I’m excited to see what I discover along my journey, both physically and mentally.

Joe’s book can be found here:

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Demi x

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