1ST INTERNATIONAL FOREST THERAPY DAYS 2018 (OPENING WORDS BY KATRIINA & HEIDI)
We have named this event International Forest Therapy Days. But as it happens, the definition seems to still hang in the air. Who practices forest therapy? A human being to a human being in the forest environment? Who is the therapist anyway? The human or, as Amos Clifford so beautifully describes her, the more than-human world?
Therapy has been defined as “the attempted remediation of a health problem”. Indeed, bathing in the forest air can decrease our stress levels, improve our immune function, lower blood pressure and high blood sugar levels, increase natural killer cells, lift up our moods, rejuvenate and calm us down at the same time. And the list goes on.
Dr Cindy McPherson Frantz from Oberlin College and Conservatory has been researching nature connection for years. In a recent talk, Dr Frantz underlined that of the so called core social motives, the need to belong is one of the most powerful motivators of human behaviour. According to Frantz, there is evidence that nature connection fulfills this need to belong and thus meets our most fundamental psychological needs.
Dr Frantz also posed the question as an implication to practice: “How can interactions with nature be designed so that they maximize a sense of connection and belonging?” And further still, “How can the sense of belonging be used to motivate pro-environmental behaviour?” That is a valid question, as nature connectedness has been found to indicate pro-environmental behaviour.
Acting in an environmentally friendly manner is urgently needed. After all, we have managed to use all the renewable resources of the Earth by August 1st, 7 months into the year on the Global Earth Overshoot Day. The same day was reached already in April this year in Finland.
But behavioral change is difficult, especially because we humans are an impatient sort of beings. We rush from one moment to the next, not really present in any. It often takes a crisis or disaster in our lives to stop the race and to pause.
The beauty of forest therapy guides can be summarized as being the providers of a shortcut. A shortcut that makes us hit that pause button faster, without having to go through a crisis first. And guidance is sometimes needed to experience the sensation of connectedness, especially in challenging environments. A forest therapy outing, as we know, is not just a forest walk. It goes beyond the superficial contact with nature. A guide gently sets the pace to slow, and stops you to smell the roses. A guide shows the forest from a different point of view.
Lumber, Richardson & Sheffield (2017), have recently identified 5 pathways to nature connectedness. These are:
- Contact, e.g. using the senses to listen to birds and smell the flowers
- Beauty, e.g. appreciating natural scenery or engaging with nature through the arts.
- Meaning, e.g. language and metaphors
- Emotion, e.g. reflecting on your feelings about nature.
- Compassion, e.g. behaving in an ethical and ecological manner towards nature
Most forest therapy approaches accidentally incorporate these pathways as they happen to focus on opening the senses; engaging with the aesthetic qualities of nature; finding inspiration in nature in symbolism and metaphors; seeking an emotional bond with nature and in the best case, extending oneself to include nature (Lumber et al., 2017).
Forest therapy not only exposes us to the physical and mental health effects of being in the forest, but also creates possibility for people to connect with nature. Sounds like a winner formula. No wonder that forest therapy and many of its forms are trending at the moment. But how do we make sure this is not just a trend? How do we make sure it reaches those who need it the most urgently but never know to look for it?
The scientific community might feel the audience breathing down their necks: all the eyes are watching. We desperately want to know how nature works on us & why nature works on us.
But research is not much if it’s not implemented into action. It is important to listen to the practitioners, the ones who bring the field forward.
That´s what IFTD is about: creating a space for the exchange between research and practice at the seminar, but also a medium to learn and to try out these different approaches and styles of forest therapy at the retreat. Some want to experience a deep spiritual connection, while others simply long for a quiet moment in nature. Needs are different, so different styles are needed and welcomed.
And to underline the core message of IFTD, we borrow the words of Dr. Howard Frumkin (2017):
“We need culture change. A deeply felt appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, a sense of reverence and humility, and openness to awe and wonder, the ability to think in systems, a commitment to creating and preserving a legacy – these must be promoted as cultural norms.”
These, he says, “can be found in the wisdoms of indigenous people worldwide, in philosophy, art, poetry, and popular culture, from ancient Greece to the New England transcendentalists”.
..and we might add: in the Japanese tradition of forest bathing, the Zen practice, India’s ancient wealth of knowledge, the traditional ecological knowledge and the cultural traditions being revived across the world.
And if we look deep into ourselves, in that individual nature connection in all of us.
-Katriina & Heidi –