By: Amos Clifford, Director of the Association of Forest Therapy Guides & Programs, and John Hendee, Trustee of the WILD Foundation
Humans evolved in nature over 5 million years, yet today may live in highly mechanized, developed and stressful environments; for such people a return to “mother nature” is restorative, healing and inspiring as one reconnects with one’s-self and our natural origins.
Nature and Forest therapy, defined as “short [2-4 hour] guided experiences in natural areas and forests for positive physical, emotional, psychological and even spiritual experiences ,” is an established and growing practice in many countries, with a growing list of benefits documented by research. For example, in Japan the practice has been called Shinrin-Yoku, translated, as “forest bathing,” [i.e. bathing in the ambiance of the forest], is well established and studied. Based on competent research by Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki and his team at Chiba University, documenting several positive physiological and psychological responses, Japan is establishing a growing nationwide network of forest therapy Centers to help support better health of its citizens. Korea’s newest Minister of Forestry, Professor Won Sop Shin from Chungbuk Nat’l University, in 2013 announced a similar program to establish forest healing centers in several forested regions of his Nation. Worldwide, comparable programs are evolving in other countries to fit their cultures and local conditions.
Forest Therapy is not yet well established in the USA but is growing, has great potential, and is certainly aligned with the WILD Foundation’s interest in encouraging people to experience nature, so they will come to love it and support its protection. So it was logical that WILD would participate in a proposal to establish an “Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs” to help expand and improve the quality and acceptance of Nature and Forest Therapy to benefit the wellness of people, as well as their enjoyment and love of nature. And since Nature and Forest therapy is a short duration and leisurely rather than vigorous activity, it is available to busy persons with time pressures, or elderly persons and those with physical constraints.
Forest Therapy appeals to WILD and our belief that experiencing nature is good for all people; it can deepen their appreciation of nature, and their willingness to be active in protecting it.
The Association of Nature and Forest Guides and Programs [ANFT] was established in Spring 2014 with a mission: to support the expansion and quality of Nature and Forest Therapy Programs as an accepted use of nature and forests to benefit the wellness of people, and to expand their appreciation for the healing values of experiencing nature.
ANFT actions toward these goals include: establishing an ANFT member organization and registry of guides and programs; develop guide certification standards, and training programs leading to guide certification; provide public information in support of nature and forest therapy; operate a model local forest therapy demonstration program in northern California; and support professional dialogue and research to improve nature and forest therapy.
After 18 months of operation, ANFT is steadily progressing: membership is growing; several trainings nationwide have updated the skills and knowledge of would-be guides, several of whom have begun or completed their apprenticeship toward certification [one training was for docents at Chicago’s Morton Arboretum]; Amos Clifford’s local program near Sonoma, CA regularly serves many scores of participants seeking the benefits of forest therapy. Collectively, the overall effort has attracted much press coverage including several news and feature articles in diverse print and video—including a one-hour TV special by the Korean Broadcasting System on Forest therapy in Korea, USA and Japan–articles in Psychology Today, Outside Magazine, and many other national and local media, plus interviews of Amos by National Geographic.
In recognition of what might be learned from the Japanese and Korean field experience and research on Nature & Forest Therapy, the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs and the WILD Foundation are sponsoring a Forest Therapy Study Tour to Japan and Korea, June 18-July 1, 2016. View the “Save the Date” announcement for the tour, which includes the response form for those interested in more information.
* The Association of Nature and Forest Guides and Programs (ANFT) is a Collaborative Conservation Project of the WILD Foundation. Learn more about ANFT here >
Some years ago I attended a similar experience run my Marianne Karsh of Arbor Vitae Organiztion in Canada. She made a brief visit to South Africa. I wish I could follow up with her regular Retreats.