The goal of Forest Therapy is to support the health and wellness of participants through guided immersive experiences aimed at cultivating healthy relationships with the More-Than-Human World. In cultivating healthy relationships between people and nature, the goal of ForestTherapy also includes the health and wellbeing of the More-Than-Human World.Through these relationships, participants may experience an array of physical,psychological, and emotional healing benefits in what the Association describes as a journey toward wholeness.
A Forest Therapy Guide facilitates safe, gentle walks,providing opportunities for sensory connection—referred to as “invitations”—along the way. These walks follow a standard sequence. They begin with guided sensory attention and embodiment activities that establish contact with the present moment and place. Next comes a series of connective invitations,often improvised in the moment and in partnership with the land. The walk ends with a ceremony of sharing tea made from foraged local plants.
Guides are not therapists. Support for wellness, personal development, and possible healing comes to participants from their interaction with the environment. Guided walks have as their sole aim creating and sustaining opportunities for safe, meaningful, and relational contact between participants and nature. Guides do not diagnose participants, nor do they enter into agreements with participants about specific complaints and goals for wellness. Apart from simply helping people to connect, guides aim to be agenda-free. We view the healing contract, if any, as existing between theForest and the participant. In this way, a Forest Therapy guide works in partnership with the land and does not supplant the Forest as the source or director of any healing process.
Forest Therapy has the general goal of increasing well-being. This includes wellness and resilience of body, mind, and spirit in the process of remembering wholeness through relationship. Over time, those with regular Forest Therapy practices are likely to experience increased happiness, pleasure in life, sense of well-being, and improved relationships,including relationships with the More-Than-Human World that are characterized by a “kin-centric” sensibility.
Guided walks are structured in three stages, known as connection, liminality, and incorporation. The first stage (connection) uses sensory attention to shift participants’ awareness away from ordinary preoccupations, primarily characterized by thinking. Guides do this through connective invitations that mobilize the power of the senses. Senses give a steady stream of input from here and now—the present moment and present place. This is where relationships are cultivated.
When participants become connected to present moment and place, they enter the second stage: liminal space and time. “Liminal” means“in-between,” specifically the span of time and experience that is between the ordinary experiences before and after the walk. In liminality, there is a heightened potency in the ways people are in communication with the world around them, and often it is where participants experience nature in ways they never have before.
The liminal stage of the experience persists until the incorporation phase, which is signaled by gathering as a group to share tea.Completion of the tea ceremony marks departure from liminality and re-entry into ordinary life.
Over the course of a guided walk,invitations are given to continually return to the senses, which promotes an experience of embodiment. Embodiment allows participants to learn and experience through the intelligence of the body, so guides generally work to prioritize sensory experience over intellectual process during Forest Therapy walks. From the beginning of the walk until the closing tea ceremony, guides support participants in their journeys towards embodiment, without demanding or coercing them away from intellectual processes. In this way, guiding is a gentle and supportive approach; nothing is forced and participants are always in full control of their own healing process and physical autonomy.
Unlike more familiar approaches to nature education, ForestTherapy guides are not primarily concerned with imparting naturalist knowledge,though we are keenly aware of its value and importance. While guides do not actively share naturalist knowledge during the walk, they do continuously cultivate their own knowledge about nature and about the bioregions and ecosystems in which they operate and they use this knowledge to enhance connective experiences as appropriate. Nurturing curiosity and asking good questions is emphasized over imparting factual expertise during the walk, but afterward, many guides like to share their naturalist knowledge as the group returns to their cars.
Forest Therapy can be practiced wherever humans and the rest of nature meet. City parks, gardens, arboreta, and natural settings near cities are typical locations. Walks often also include place-tending as an act of reciprocity, e.g. collecting trash, being aware of trampling, etc.
Forest Therapy operates within the philosophy of “bodyfulness” practice. By focusing on the sensations of the body in the present moment, participants are encouraged to cultivate embodied self-awareness, bodily autonomy, and care and affection for the body through their practice.
On Forest Therapy walks, people have a wide range of experiences, some of which they feel are significant, even profound. Guides are open to, and supportive of, participants’ descriptions of the experiences they have and the meanings they find in them. It is outside the guide’s Scope ofPractice to evaluate if these experiences are valid, right or wrong, or better or worse in comparison to the experience of others. It is outside the Scope ofPractice to promote or encourage participants to have deep, or big,experiences. Guides offer hospitality to all experiences equally.
Guides are trained within a pedagogical framework that aims to avoid cultural biases and are encouraged to think of the practice itself as culturally adaptable. This means that guides are encouraged to adapt some of the techniques and nuances of the experience to make the walk culturally comfortable for those they are guiding.
When guides have developed baseline proficiency in the practice of Forest Therapy, they may begin to integrate Forest Therapy practices with other professional skill sets. For example, Forest Therapy can provide an excellent context for psychotherapy, professional coaching,expressive arts, mindfulness meditation, and many more fields of professional endeavor. Individual guides bring their creativity and experience to the design of new and/or modified invitations and are encouraged to share these with other guides by way of the Facebook group maintained by the Association.
Guided Forest Therapy helps participants build their own skills. The practice helps people build their capacity for confidence, ease,and bodyfulness in self-guided solo or group walks that support a healthy lifestyle and love of natural environments. Thus, guides contribute to the movement to reconnect people with nature for the sake of their own well-being as well as the well-being of the natural world.
The terms “Forest Therapy” and “Forest Therapist” a reregistered trademarks in Japan. The terms “Nature Therapy” and “NatureTherapist” are registered trademarks in Israel. Guides trained by theAssociation of Nature and Forest Therapy should be sensitive to the intellectual property rights of the organizations that own these trademarks. We advise guides to identify as “Forest Therapy Guide,” and to be explicit that the certification is from the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs.
The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku was one thread of inspiration for the Association’s practice of Forest Therapy, although theJapanese practices are quite distinct from our methodology.
Shinrin-yoku was developed in Japan during the 1980s in response to a health crisis brought on by mass urbanization and a culture of extreme stress. Shinrin means “forest” and Yoku means “bath.” Shinrin-yoku is a fairly loose term for a collection of activities that happen at certified forest therapy trails, of which there are now about 60 in Japan,mostly located outside densely populated urban centers. During a Shinrin-yoku experience, a guide leads a group into the Forest and presents activities that engage the five major senses as a way of grounding and decreasing stress.
Shinrin-yoku then inspired a more clinical variant called Shinrin Ryoho (translated as “Forest Therapy”), in which licensed doctors and nurses, known as “Forest Therapists,” may design and lead forest-based programs to promote health and healing for people with disabilities,and people suffering from illness, mental health ailments, or lifestyle diseases. Shinrin Ryoho is supported by a robust collection of physiological and neurochemical research coming out of Japan focused on the impact of forest environments on human health.
The following information is quoted from “An Introduction to the Forest Therapy Society of Japan, Forest Therapy®, and Forest Therapist®”, by Michiko Imai
“Users of a Forest Therapist’s services would be those who wish to add forest effects to existing medical treatments, or those who wish to improve their quality of life by alleviating mental and physical disorders and chronic diseases, lessening the effects of aging, or easing other injuries…however, no direct medical treatments are allowed by either ForestGuides or Forest Therapists without the guidance of a physician.”
The ANFT model focuses on developing relationships with the More-Than-HumanWorld as the primary pathway toward achieving the benefits of nature connection and uses an expanded palette of senses and sensory connection activities to support this. Unlike the Japanese model, ANFT fully identifies the Forest as therapist and trains guides to faithfully abstain from any diagnostic or prescriptive behaviors. The ANFT model of Forest Therapy draws less from the field of scientific research (although we recognize its value and the inherent physiological benefits of time spent in nature) and is inspired more by the fields of deep ecology, Jungian psychology, and other sources as an approach to holistic health, deep nature connection, and pro-environmental consciousness.