Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness: honesty, courage and healing


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 nature, particularly 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 ground-breaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves


My review

There’s a Chinese proverb that says: A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

This is wonderfully relevant to this book, not only because it reflects the joyous magic of our feathered fellow inhabitants of this planet, but because it can be applied to the author too. Joe Harkness does not offer this book as the only solution to anxiety and other mental health issues, but it worked in his case and he wants to tell us about it. He has a song that he wants us to listen to.

Bird Therapy is as enchanting as it is unusual. It’s a very unique book, powered by honesty and courage. It’s not easy to admit to suffering from mental illness and one has to admire the author for doing so. He also reveals his own early blunders when bird watching and so as well as sharing his story of healing, he also shares tips and tricks about dipping into the wealth of beauty and intelligence that birds display to us. Patience and perseverance are key to both recovery and discovery.    

I came to this book already a bird-lover. I keep all sorts of poultry and have many exotic birds too. Our French farm is home to at least 64 different species of wild bird. However, my respect for birds and the wonder they arouse have both increased after reading this book. It’s impossible not to absorb some of the author’s gratitude and reverence towards these marvels of nature.

This is a book that will stay with you for a long time, and perhaps alter your way of thinking about both mental health and the bounties and healing power of nature permanently.


About the author

Joe Harkness has been writing a Bird Therapy blog for the last three years. In 2017, he had articles published in The Curlew   and Birdwatch  magazine, as well as recording three ‘tweets of the day’ for BBC Radio 4. He is employed as a Special Educational Needs teacher and  has worked in the youth sector for nine years. He lives in Norfolk.