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”.