Nature has always been an integral part of human existence, providing us with sustenance, beauty, and solace. However, as we have evolved, our relationship with nature has changed. The modern world’s fast-paced, technology-driven lifestyle has left us disconnected from nature, leading to a rise in stress, anxiety, and other health problems. In this context, two practices that have gained popularity in recent years are Forest Bathing and Forest Therapy. While both practices involve spending time in nature, they have different approaches and objectives. In this article, we will explore the differences between Forest Bathing and Forest Therapy and the roles of a Forest Therapy Guide or Forest Bathing Guide, and a Forest Therapy Practitioner.
Forest Bathing Vs. Forest Therapy
Forest Bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is a practice that originated in Japan in the 1980s. It involves immersing oneself in nature, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest to reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Forest Bathing is a mindfulness-based practice that emphasises being present in the moment and using all the senses to connect with nature.
On the other hand, Forest Therapy, when conducted by a Forest Therapy Practitioner, is a broader practice that encompasses various nature-based techniques aimed at improving mental, physical and social health. Forest Therapy is a more structured and intentional practice that involves guided walks in nature that draws on a range of disciplines, including ecology, education, social work, and psychology, a holistic approach to promote health and well-being. Forest Therapy Interventions are usually led by trained professionals who guide participants through a series of nature connection activities designed to connect them with nature and themselves. The Forest Therapy Practitioner is expected to be accompanied by the Health Care professional that supports that group, and also always works in conjunction of organisations or institutions that treat those groups (hospitals, schools, etc).
The first scientific article specifically mentioning Forest Therapy was published in 1990 by the Japanese Forestry Agency. Since then, the term has been adopted and popularized in other countries, such as Europe and the United States.
While both practices have been shown to have numerous health benefits, a Forest Therapy intervention is a programme destined to restore health and well-being considering the specific needs of people, usually specific groups with any kind of social, physical or mental vulnerabilities and/or disabilities.
Forest Therapy Guide Vs Forest Bathing Guide Vs. Forest Therapy Practitioner
Both a Forest Therapy Guide and a Forest Bathing Guide are trained professionals who help people connect with nature and improve their well-being. They are responsible for creating a safe and supportive environment for participants to connect with nature and themselves. They are trained to lead them through a series of activities that promote sensory awareness, meaning and soft attention.
Despite the terminology used, both Forest Therapy and Forest Bathing Guides share a common goal of helping people connect with nature and experience its therapeutic benefits.
A Forest Therapy Practitioner, on the other hand, is a trained professional who adds to the previous approach a focus on the natural environment as a therapeutic tool to support individuals with specific health issues. Forest Therapy Practitioners are usually social workers, psychologists, teachers, pedagogists, counsellors, among others, who have additional training to conduct interventions. They use the healing power of nature to support the participants through a range of health and social issues. Forest Therapy Practitioners are trained to use a specific methodology to design and implement Forest Therapy interventions, a type of nature-based program, to promote health and well-being which include sensory awareness, expressive arts in nature and nature connection activities.
While both Forest Bathing Guides and Forest Therapy Practitioners use nature as a therapeutic tool, they have different training and qualifications. Forest Therapy Guides and Forest Bathing Guides are trained to lead groups through Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy sessions, while Forest Therapy Practitioners learn specific skills and techniques to use nature as a therapeutic tool to support individuals with specific needs conducting Forest Therapy Interventions, a type of Nature-based Intervention.
Spending time in nature has numerous health benefits. While Forest Bathing is a nature-based practice aimed at reducing stress and promoting overall well-being, a Forest Therapy intervention operates on deeper levels to promote healing and is led by a Practitioner trained to work with nature as a therapeutic partner increasing participants’ nature connectedness to enhance well-being, a better quality of life and recovery from specific disorders or vulnerabilities.