David Roland is a man of nature. Of the ocean and the forest. Of compassion and resilience. It can be said that he is a musician, singer, PhD in Clinical Psychology and forensic Psychologist. He is a Certified FTHub Forest Bathing Guide who also took part in the Hong Kong FTHub 3-day Immersive training.
After being diagnosed with traumatic stress disorder, he gave birth to some essential books and rediscovered the soothing medicine of nature, while starting a new healthcare journey: that of the trees as a consulting room. He takes his car, two chairs, and sees his patients in natural environments.
He takes part in the massive Woodford Folk Festival giving forest bathing walks and also two presentations on Easing Eco Anxiety with Forest Bathing and Forest Bathing for Well-being. Struck by how people see contact with nature as being equal to connection with nature, he guides Silent Forest Bathing Walks, Forest Bathing walks while hiking in the rainforest, and Workshops for Heathcare professionals.
Nature and trauma
“In 2007, I had a busy private practice as a clinical and forensic psychologist, and I became traumatized by my work. So I think it was an accumulation of hearing horrible stories over the years. I was doing a lot of forensic work as well, working for the children’s court clinic, and I suffered post traumatic stress disorder. I was actually diagnosed and I stopped my practice.
« I had all the symptoms of trauma. The sense of dread and jumpiness and difficulty sleeping and nightmares and imagining bad things happening. And ocean swimming was the one thing that would soothe me. Sometimes if I felt very panicky, it was the ocean swimming that, not make me cured, but would soothe me ».
“And the other aspect was that the friends we would swim with always go for coffee afterwards. But two years after that, I had a stroke out of the blue, got a brain injury – I think that was due to immense financial stress. Once again, it seemed to trigger all those trauma symptoms and I couldn’t think properly. I was getting a lot of mental fatigue and I couldn’t think things through like I’d always relied on before.
“That was the most difficult period of my life, for about five years, where I needed to recover from the trauma and from this brain injury. As I got much better, I realized that I’d learnt a lot of things and that I liked writing about my experiences because I’d kept a journal. So I learnt how to write stories, as I’d written lots of court reports and academic journals, technical writing, and I got this book published, How I Rescued my Brain ».
« When I came across Shinrin Yoku, I remembered my own experience of being in the forest when I was feeling highly anxious, that just being in the atmosphere of the forest or being in the ocean would soothe me. I said, Shinrin Yoku makes sense to me.
« When COVID lockdown came, a local friend said they’d started a new walking club, and we went to these wonderful rainforests, much without tracks going through. That’s what I needed: to be in the forest again. And we started to walk in silence as a group. Supporting each other, but being silent so that we could really connect with where we were. People got interested and said what a relief it is to walk in the forest with a group without somebody talking about their dinner or what their husband said.
« That’s when I remembered about Shinrin Yoku: it’s about actually consciously connecting with the forest and with nature. What drew me to Forest Therapy Hub was that it was international, that it was based in Europe, I thought I’d like to have a different perspective. It also appealed to me that the teachers were international, and that it was more research based”.
The trees are my consulting room
“In the walks I lead for that walking club, I do a forest bathing walk. We’re walking through the forest or along a creek. I introduce the activities and then we hike in silence. We do some guided nature connection activities, and then when we get to the end, we can sit down and have lunch or go for a swim in the rock pool or whatever the landscape tells me we can do.
“The people that really love nature connection come along and my walks get booked out, and I do that as a volunteer, so none of us are paid for that. And then that blossomed into my work as a psychologist. So I’m the consultant psychologist for the Renal Health Service, which is for people who’ve got kidney disease and they have to have dialysis.
“I feel a real affinity for people that have got a chronic illness and disabilities. They pick up a sense of authenticity, and I’m just speaking to them as another fellow human being who’s also known suffering. I still feel like I’ve got an invisible disability because of the mental fatigue and the sensory overload. So when I returned to work as a psychologist after writing books I didn’t want to sit in an office anymore ».
“I didn’t want to sit within four walls. Now my consulting room is just my two chairs that I take in my car, and we just find a tree to sit under or sit by a river. So I see all my clients outside. Sometimes I see them in their home. But I don’t have a consulting room anymore.
“I’ve been doing mini workshops for the community and health professionals -busy doctors and psychologists-, a two and a half hour forest bathing and then an hour workshop, where I give them a handout, to introduce nature connection into all aspects of your life. And people really love this.
“Everybody is just so surprised what a difference it makes when you consciously open your senses to the environment and form new connections with the nature around you, whether it’s a tree or it’s a rock. It changes your perception of your natural world”.
Chronic Illness, Eco Anxiety and Compassion
« Other area that I’m developing is nature connection for eco anxiety. I have three young adult daughters. One of them is quite taken by how much dread she feels about the future. And the other area of work that I’ve become trained in over the last ten years, which I think feeds into what I do, is Compassion Focused therapy.
« One of the big motivations for myself is easing the suffering, my own suffering, but also the suffering of others. And Forest Bathing and Forest Therapy are ways of easing suffering as well as improving well being. When I think about how I operate now, my work needs to be nature based. I can’t sit in the room. I can’t be that expert professional that I was before. I need to be a real person and also a natural person.
“I’m really struck by how people see contact with nature as being equal to connection with nature. They go for a picnic in the park, or they go camping, and then they have drinks and then lots of talking and they have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with it, but they think that’s connection”.
“I grew up on the east coast of Australia, with a big sort of mountain range that comes down to the coast. It’s called the Illawarra Escarpment. We lived across the road from the bush. There was a creek there and all the neighborhood children would go running into the forest and we would just play our games and run around bare feet.
“As a young adult, being in nature was about adventure and being remote and out with your friends and sitting around a campfire. But I didn’t have a sense of it as being connection. Now I live in the most easterly point of the mainland of Australia, a beautiful coastline with also subtropical rainforests.
“I joined a group swimming across the bay. Sometimes you see turtles and dolphins, fish and other animals. So the big thing about ocean swimming was how much I just loved the feel of the water going over my body. When you’re swimming, you need to concentrate and you have to be very aware of your breathing. So I think it’s a mindfulness meditation exercise ».
PH: Courtesy David Roland, author of How I Rescued My Brain, The Power of Suffering and The Confident Performer.