IFTDays Seminar 2018 Conclusions

The first international Forest Therapy Days was held in Karjalohja, at Elontuli course center in the beginning of August this year.

The seminar was a full day of sharing knowledge, life and work experiences, good practices and forest therapy methodologies. The presentations gave to us a possibility to travel the world and to discover how different and at the same time similar we are: facing similar environmental, social health or human challenges.

Dr Iwao Uehara from Tokyo University of Agriculture shared with us his story about how Forest Therapy in Japan was born and how it evolved during the last decades. Kirsi Salonen from Jyväskylä and Tampere Universities helped us to reflect on the Finnish nature experiences and ongoing research in comprehensive health experience field, relationships between wellbeing, self-acceptance and connectedness with nature, role of social support in rising awareness on nature positive influences and finding that nature, which comforts each of us.

Dr Heli Jutila from Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation, shared her experiences from the protected areas, highlighting the fact that even in the forest rich countries like Finland, we have to stay vigilant to preserve forest resources for future generations to be able to continue to enjoy forests as provisioning, regulating supportive, cultural ecosystem services for human health and wellbeing.

Adela and Marko from Luonnontie consultancy brought us on the path of how practically, with powerful tools like knowledge, compatibility and creation of feelings of safety we can get closer to forest paradise.

Film maker Nitin Das´ experiences and given examples showed us the importance of music, forest art and creativity in bringing more people into nature and of creating a global community.

More speakers underlined the role of communities for personal development, healing processes in dependencies, life crises or searching for meaning of our lives. The examples from the Sápmi region stressed the importance of nature and culture based work forms for people whose culture is tied to the land. The SámiSoster´s Goaikkanas project is also the first work form that considers the Sami´s language and culture. Riitta Wahlström from Taiga institute provided us with some very practical tips on how to help others to respect and love nature more and how to use forest therapy to increase self-knowledge, to enhance social skills or to empower teenagers.

Sara Malve-Ahlroth
Riitta Wahlström, foto by Sara Malve-Ahlroth

In the afternoon session we took a closer look at the well established American Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT) approach, when Ben Page walked us through the ANFT growth story, their mission and ways of operating. From the same ANFT family, Petra Cau Wetterholm from Shinrin yoku Sweden shared great insights and considerations from her practice of taking forest therapy as treatment in public mental health care system in Sweden. Also a practitioner from the ANFT approach of Forest Therapy, Youmin Yap from Shinrin Yoku Singapore showed us, that we can also connect with nature though nature or forest therapy in urban settings.

The Finnish Sirpa Arvonen gave us an introduction to her Forest Mind method, born from a combination of years of work experience around employee wellbeing in organizations together with her personal nature connection, all backed by scientific evidence.

Anders Mickos and Malin Heikkinen showed us how they have translated everything we heard in the seminar into primary health care and social services in Sipoo city. To close the day, Dr Liisa Tyrväinen from Natural Resources Institute Finland gave us a very informative high level update and statement from the world of research in her speech titled “How Convincing is the Research Evidence of Health Effects of Nature? “

Our goal was to create a space where practitioners and scientists could meet to exchange experiences and help drive forward this fast-growing field. We succeeded in bringing together people from a variety of backgrounds: majority came from health and medical sector, nature sector (wilderness guides, nature educators) and the creative sectors. We also included academic researchers from different disciplines, forestry sector representatives from different countries, and from the corporate sector.

Though women were in majority, men made up a quarter of the participants of the retreat. European participants made up over 60% of the participants, with a majority coming from the host country Finland. In addition, participants came from different parts of Asia, such as Japan, Singapore and India. North-America, both USA and Canada, were represented as well.

Sara Malve-Ahlroth

Feedback from the long seminar day was mostly good or even excellent (95%), though the length of the day and some practical items about the organization received some criticism. We are thankful for all the feedback we have received that allows us to improve our activities next year.

The partner search of IFTDays2019 will be launched by end of September. Please follow the Facebook page of IFTDays and the website, which will be undergoing some renewals as well.

If you haven´t already signed up for the IFTDays email list, you should do so by explicitly stating this on an email to the address: foresttherapydays@gmail.com

More experiences in various languages can be read here (under construction):


How IFTDays 2018 came to be

We have been asked time and time again, what brought on IFTDays.  Here is our story, written a while back already but got buried under all the other work.

The idea for this event started brewing in the hearts and minds of two Finnish forest therapy practitioners. Heidi Korhonen, a project manager from the southwestern coast of Finland and Katriina Kilpi, an expat Finn working as a consultant in Belgium, work as a Nature Connection Coach and a Forest Mind guide, respectively.  The two exchanged experiences and realized how different their contexts were, and how these contexts shape their work as forest therapy practitioners.

Heidi was astonished to find how her work as a nature Connection Coach, which is based on ecopsychology and ecotherapy, was received in Finland. Although forests and nature at large are a crucial part of our culture and important to the general wellbeing of Finns, the value of Heidi´s work was difficult to establish.

Outdoorsy lifestyle is something typical to the Nordic countries and in Finland and forests have traditionally been a place for many utilitarian functions. Quoting Florence Williams in her book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (2017, p.134): “Nature is where the Finns can exult in their nationalistic obsessions of berry picking, mushrooming, fishing, lake swimming, and Nordic skiing. They don’t watch moose, they eat them the way their ancestors did. And they do these things often”.

The forest has always been a place for the often introverted Finns to get away from the world and find peace. Was there no need for coaching for nature connection in Finland? The challenges in Finland made Heidi look beyond her home country. She established her work online, and as a result, her Forest Therapy Today website and social media has now a few thousand subscribers.

Katriina brought the Finnish Metsämieli, a method of forest bathing that includes elements of mindfulness and coaching, to Belgium under the name of Forest Mind. Belgium, one of Europe´s least forested countries, had not heard of forest therapy before. Trying to understand what she was up to, many tried to fit the label of life coach on her. However, where life coaching in nature, or wandelcoaching, as it is called in Belgium and the Netherlands, focuses on the dialogue between the coach and the coachee, Katriina´s form  of Forest Mind focuses on the dialogue between the person and her surroundings. Both approaches are good, but different.

Forest Mind was not an instant hit in Belgium, though it was well received among those who came to try it.  Katriina was met with surprised reactions, as people found Forest Mind to be very “spiritual”. But of course, there was nothing more spiritual about those walks except what people were experiencing as they were connecting with their natural environment in a more mindful way. Katriina felt she needed more work on her guiding skills and decided to let Forest Mind rest for a while and continued guiding  regular nature walks, all the while sneaking in elements from Forest Mind.

Power of Global community

Feeling somewhat alone with their endeavors, both women stumbled upon the Forest Friends Facebook group put together by Nitin, a new acquaintance from India. They quickly learned that forest friends come in all shapes and sizes, ages, skin tones and cultural backgrounds. And, from different kinds of natural environments. The group and the newly found community made these two realize how much power there was in the global community and how much wisdom every individual had to share. Driven by their own nature connection and the belief, that helping people find their connection can be the key to solving many of the current challenges we are facing in the world, IFTDays started shaping up. And because the two had already learned to know people from various backgrounds and domains through their interaction in the Forest Friends community, they knew exactly who to contact first.

Dreaming big

The first ever IFTDays has come up organically. Friends invited friends, who invited their networks. Heidi and Katriina came across people in their work and studies, and as references in the works they read. After word got out, they were contacted by people who wanted to participate in the program. The efforts have been very well received, which is a sign of the right timing for this event.Though a number of practitioners and scientists whose work is tremendously important were not able to be fit into this first edition, we hope that the event itself is a testament to all the incredible individuals´ effort thus far and that in the following editions of IFTDays, all of this important work will become recognized.

Heidi and Katriina are organizing everything from “thin air”, meaning that no outside funding has been used.   “We hope to change that in the next editions to make the event accessible to more people. We had to start somewhere and we are learning as we go along”, say Katriina and Heidi who have received inquiries for next year´s event from people who are not able to join them this year.  “Give us a few more months, and we will start on that too. First we want to see what IFTDays 2018 will become”.

Katriina and Heidi: “We are the engines of IFTDays but we all make it. What drives us is the idea that everyone will return home from this event inspired and fired up by the experiences they have had, armed with new knowledge and contacts they can use to take this important work forward, as well as a feeling of belonging to a solid worldwide forest therapy community”.