‘The Tree of Life’ - an approach to support the wellbeing of lived experience groups

November 28, 2023
Step Change
Liz Hibberd, Manchester City of Sanctuary
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Liz Hibberd, Manchester City of Sanctuary

The Step Change consortium is a 3.5 year programme supported by the Lottery Community Fund which brings together eleven asylum and refugee support organisations and an Experts by Experience group working in Greater Manchester (GM). Through a programme of place-based and specialist service provision, sector development and advocacy, our joint purpose is to develop a joined-up and sustainable ecosystem of support for refugees and people seeking asylum in Greater Manchester.

As part of our work to develop the asylum and refugee support sector, we have been exploring the role of wellbeing within our organisations and how we can improve the wellbeing of staff working in the migration sector, especially those with lived experience of the asylum system. We are aware of the additional toll that the members of the EbE group might be experiencing in their personal lives, and that it is important to ensure that they are aware of how we can support their wellbeing.

We were able to work with Altogether Human to offer the EbE group a wellbeing programme that enhances resilience through the ‘Tree of Life’ model. This group intervention is a strengths-based model that does not involve talking directly about traumatic experiences but focuses instead on developing connections and resilience in the group and the surrounding wider community. Through a series of weekly sessions, taking place over 6 weeks, the participants were able to focus on their strengths as a group and to discuss ways in which they have already overcome adversity and the impact of past events.

The ‘Tree of Life’ method

Focusing on the model of a tree; each part represents something important to the individual.

Exploring each of these elements forms the main focus of the sessions. The elements include:

Roots - where we’ve come from, our family history and who we’ve learned from

Ground - where we live now, our daily activities

Trunk - our skills, the things we do well, our values

Branches - our hopes and dreams for the future

Leaves - people who are important to us, what we’ve learned from them

Fruit - the gifts we have received in life from others, in our relationships and from the world

Feedback from the EBE group

The 8 participants all said that the programme had a positive impact on them and that they would recommend it to others as a form of group work and addressing wellbeing needs. They said they learned a lot, including the importance of a positive mindset and feeling able to share their feelings as well as easing anxiety and depression, and learning coping mechanisms from others and building confidence and a sense of unity. 

The group identified that the most valuable elements of the group included it being a safe and confidential space, a focus on them and their experiences as opposed to a fixed agenda, and all voices being valued equally.

As part of this programme, the group co-developed a video and a co-written song.

>> Watch the video

The Tree of Life as a method to support EBE wellbeing

Based on the feedback from the participants, it seems that this could be a good model to support EBE group/group members in terms of their wellbeing as they contribute to various programmes and areas of work. The storytelling element of the programme allows the group to bring what they want to bring, and takes a more holistic approach. It also creates a conducive environment for sharing experiences in a confidential and safe way. Whilst we have positive feedback from the group participants about this approach, we don’t know yet how this has had a direct impact on EBE members’ ability to contribute to the wider work of the group but this is something we can reflect on in time. However, it could be assumed that the opportunity to build stronger relationships within oneself and with the wider group could only be a positive result, with a meaningful impact on the participants’ role and engagement within the group. With additional funding, we would consider delivering this programme again to other members of the EbE group and potentially within organisations.

Thanks to: 

Sarah and Jazmina for facilitating this programme

Gemma at Altogether Human for partnering with us 

Patrick for coordinating the EbE group

Liz and Ros as part of the wellbeing group facilitating this

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