‘My own experience led me to psychotherapy’: Mayo farmer

A Mayo man who combines farming with running a private psychotherapy practice on his land said it was personal experience that led him to study psychotherapy.

Oliver Dixon of Ahena Organic Farm outside Claremorris has set up a practice as a biodynamic and integrative counsellor and psychotherapist.

“I was always interested in self-development and went into therapy when I was 30 or 31 to deal with depression. I followed that up with five years part-time training in a centre in Kinvara, Co. Galway, as a mature student,” said Oliver, a member of the Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy.

“I had been depressed but didn’t know it. I just knew that I wasn’t happy but I didn’t want anyone to know how I was feeling. I was all too aware of that lovely phrase – ‘he’s not great with his nerves’.

“Thank God, I was able to get through it and right now I’d tell the pope that I was affected by depression.

I firmly believe that we shouldn’t bottle up our feelings but it is something that predominantly men do. After the year we have had with snow and drought and now beef prices, a lot of farmers are under financial, emotional and mental health pressures.

“A lot of people are fed up and don’t know what is going to happen. I can see things from the therapy side – life is life and it is how you deal with it.”

After leaving school early to help out on the family farm, Oliver took a year out to work in the US when he was 20. He also studied agriculture for a year in Mountbellew and worked for his brother-in-law, driving a bread van, while continuing to farm.

Having converted an old part of the house eight years ago, Oliver now runs a therapy centre from the organic beef farm, alongside his wife Anna who is an acupuncturist. She is affiliated with the Acupuncture Council of Ireland, as well as being an art, meditation and mindfulness teacher with Mayo, Sligo, and Leitrim Education and Training Board (ETB.)

The couple who have two children – Hazel (17) and Daniel (15) – are also social farming hosts.

“I’m a humanistic psychotherapist which means I take a holistic approach, looking at every aspect of the person,” said Oliver.

Changing Attitudes

“I find that attitudes to mental health are changing but they could be changing a little faster. There’s still a bit of an attitude there towards people’s ability to say how they feel. One of the big things coming out is loneliness.

We need five people to interact with in person in our daily lives and a lot of farmers wouldn’t have that. Farming by its nature can be very isolating and farmers tend to be self-reliant.

“The way things have gone with labour shortages on farms, getting help can be very difficult. Yet we need social interaction to meet that basic need in ourselves.”

The couple plan to renovate a cow house on the farm and convert it into a studio for summer courses in mindfulness and art.

More information is available on: www.ahenaorganicfarm.com.