What is Forest Therapy?
You may have heard of the term "forest bathing," which is a translation from the Japanese term, Shinrin-Yoku. This term originated in Japan when in the 1980's the government started to notice an increase in stress-related illness and suicide from "over-work." To combat this, investment, and research into health benefits from spending time in nature was accelerated. Scientific discoveries included the identification of chemicals produced by conifer trees, termed "phytoncides," which function not only to protect and heal the tree, but that also have statistically significant positive impacts on both human physical and mental health. The term "forest bathing," is therefore a literal reference to spending time "bathing" in the phytoncides produced by the forest - otherwise, described simply, as spending time in nature.
In practice of Forest Therapy, we are aware of the many associated health benefits of forest bathing. What we don't do as part of the practice, is quantify, or measure these. Also, helpful to know, is that we don't look at our time in nature as anything with a specific objective or outcome. We don't focus on any goals such as getting to a certain location in a certain time, as we might if we were hiking. Rather, time is spent connecting with one's senses, slowing down and noticing the More-Than-Human World (MTHW) around us, and incorporating this experience as further knowledge of ourselves and the natural world.
Do you ever get negative thoughts stuck in your head? Who doesn't! This study by Bratman et al. highlights that time in a nature setting can actually interrupt and reduce thought "rumination," or the replay of negative thoughts.
Memory and Mood
Forgetful? Nature can help! This study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, showed that time in nature can lead to a significant increase memory span and capacity, as well as have a positive affect on mood.
This meta-analysis study reviewed 28 articles on the effects of nature and Forest Therapy on depression. They concluded that "forest therapy is an emerging and effective intervention for decreasing adults’ depression levels."
Reduction in Sick Days
Nature-based therapy is now recognized as an effective treatment for stress-related illness, leading to significant decrease in both long-term disability time off from work, as well as in physician visits by employees.
The spit won't lie! Studies show that stress-related chemicals detected in saliva, including cortisol and amylase, are reduced after just 10 minutes in nature. Optimal results begin after 30 minutes and accumulate with additional time in nature.
Imagine if you could influence your child's ability to fight off future disease and illness just by providing time in nature. Well, it turns out you can. Research is showing strengthened immunity in children from time in natural settings vs urban locations.
In the News
PaRx: In Canada, doctors are now prescribing nature as treatment; what you need to know
February 07, 2022
Some doctors in four provinces of Canada are now prescribing year-long national park passes to their patients under a program called PaRx as a way to improve physical and mental health.
Led by Dr Melissa Lem, a family physician, PaRx or Park Prescriptions recently partnered with Parks Canada to provide free admission to national parks, national historic sites, or national marine conservation areas.
It can be termed as forest therapy. It has been around for sometime now and proponents argue it has healing effects on people with physical and mental health issues.
Space to grow: wilderness therapy could help abuse survivors
May 20, 2022
Wilderness therapy and access to green space may help domestic abuse survivors heal while improving therapy outcomes, a study has found.
Scientists from the University of Essex worked with the Wilderness Foundation, a charity that offers outdoor therapy programmes, to see if treatment in the natural world could work better, or alongside, traditional methods.
In its Blossom programme, which helps survivors of domestic violence, patients take part in outdoor group therapy as well as learning outdoor survival skills such as making shelter and fire and making arts and crafts from foraged materials.
Nature Rx: Should you prescribe the forest to patients?
May 18, 2022
Nature prescriptions are becoming increasingly popular. They use the forest and green spaces, which are freely available to all.
Nature prescription is associated with various health benefits including improvements in diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and mental illness—although more research is required.
Before prescribing nature, have a conversation with your patient that explores their interests, commitment, and goals.
Each of these books shares the central theme of the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. Inspirational exploration of the power of spending time, or just "being" in nature including benefits for both the body and the mind.
Robin Wall Kimmerer takes us on a beautiful exploration of reciprocity between humans and the natural world weaving threads of her scientific training, Potawatomi Nation roots, and life experience. A must read for anyone looking for insight into natural world connection and reciprocity. One to come back to again and again.
The link to her website (click book title) is also well-worth exploring.
Peter Wohlleben uncovers the life of trees characterizing them as sentient beings and detailing their lifecycle including how they communicate, protect each other from disease, and strategically support each other in a family-based system. A forest becomes a family with no going back after spending time with Wohllenben exploring their world.
A science-based overview of the effects of nature on our mental health. Sue Stuart-Smith writes from the unique perspective of a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst insightfully highlighting examples of the healing effects of gardening.
As Stuart-Smith notes, "By tending your plants, you are also gardening your inner space and, over time, a garden is woven into your sense of identity, becoming a place to “buffer us when the going gets tough.”"
Highlighting what gardeners already know - spending time in the garden is to nurture one's mind through an intimate connection with nature.
A personal exploration and explanation of the effects of nature on our minds and bodies. Florence Williams dives into evolving research highlighting the positive effects of even small amounts of time in nature.
As Edward O.Wilson stated, this book is, “A beautifully written, thoroughly enjoyable exposition of a major principle of human life now supported by evidence in biology, psychology, and medicine."