Susan Andrien

“Joyful healing”: Forest Bathing for educators, children an Muslim mothers and daughters

Susan Andrien lives in Oakland, California, and has decades of experience as a Marriage and Family therapist, Restorative Justice Circle keeper and Camp Counselor for traveling camps with children and teenagers. 

She is an FTHub-trained Guide and her next steps in Forest Bathing -a training that has given her professional “sinergy”, “grounding” and “community”- are more sessions with educators and a groundbreaking Forest Bathing intervention for Muslim mothers and daughters to support them “start to feel a sense of home” in the new land and reconnect with each other. 

Susan has an ageless appearance though she has seen a lot in her long career, which has begun a new phase of “just embracing joy”. This woman is one of five siblings who grew up in Hingham, a small beach town outside Boston where the ocean was her playground: “By being involved with FTHub in this collective experience I learnt a lot“.

Reflecting on the educational approaches

“I’ m licensed as a Marriage and Family therapist. I am from Massachusetts and always worked with families and children, then in schools for 20 years. I have always used nature and outdoors, movement art, non traditional therapies. In these therapeutic summer camps I bring them backpacking to the beach and that was always the most powerful experience for my kids.

“Nature has always been my place, it’s the place I connect, is the place where I heal. I decided to leave my position because I don’t really believe in what we are doing: there’s been a lot of talk about coming back from distance learning in the pandemic focusing on the emotional needs of kids but instead we are just trying to cram learning into their brains and bodies in a way that it doesn’t work. I feel like the current model that insurance pays for is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and things I don’t think really work very well”. 

Reconnection for Muslim mothers and daughters 

“I am excited I’m working with a Muslim students group and we are planning a Muslim mother and daughter forest bathing intervention in the summer, so I’m working to really just be thoughtful to make sure it is culturally responsive, and we are going to need translation so I am very excited to bring this mother and daughter healing work. 

“So many of them experienced so much trauma getting here and to be in this country, having so much difference experiencing the city, I can only imagine what is like for them. I am hoping they start to connect to the land and start to feel a sense of home in this space where everything is so new and different for them. So I hope to help them to feel their hearts find some roots in the land of Oakland which is so different from whichever country they had to emigrate from. 

“I also hope to provide healing for their trauma, to be able to heal part of their nervous system and to connect with each other, mothers and daughters, because they have this very different experience, as a lot of daughters are becoming americanized or culturized so there is this relational aspect”. 

Forest Bathing for educators: permission to let go 

“Educators are in so much emotional pain and crisis right now. Teachers, principals, people that have been in education for a long time are disillusioned, they are just hardened, they are tired, and I’ve been taking teachers out to do nature connection activities using the FTHub Model, and it brings me joy and it brings them joy. 

“At first it was hard because they are used to controlling things a lot, they have lots of responsibility and they were reluctant to let go. So it took a little while for them, but once we got there and I provided the activities and the sequence that FTHub developed I could see and feel their nervous system relaxed, I could see the shift in the energy on their bodies and with each other. That was really powerful because there is a lot of trauma they are still experiencing also with the potential of their school closing. 

“It was hard to get them to be willing to take care of themselves and I had to not use the language ‘self care’ because they are over that language, so I used ‘build up reserve’ and ‘build up your strength to be able to show differently’. I saw this slow-down and them being in their bodies and being regulated”. 

The Forest Bathing training as personal sinergy and collective healing 

“Every time I saw Forest Bathing on my social media feed I felt my heart like saying ‘that’s where I should be going’, like every time I saw it it called to me. Nature has always been for me the most important self care tool, and also in the experience of having taken kids in nature I really wanted to develop my skills, to have more intentional practices, to bring all my skills together. 

“It definitely opened doors for me. It felt like a perfect melding of many of the things that have been in my life and career, putting them together, because I have also  been a Restorative Justice Circle keeper for many years. It was sinergy to all of these components I was passionate about, it put them together in a way that would help me a lot in the next phase of my career”.

“Forest Bathing gives tools and grounding and also a community, that’s the other piece. I need a collective community to be a part of, I feel like that’s a central piece of healing. By being involved with FTHub in this collective experience I learnt a lot. I learnt both skills, technical skills, but also a balance of research and skill, that there’s this research attached to it. It really was very attractive to me. 

“For the last 5 years I’ve been training with Dr. Bruce Perry, developer of the Neurosequential Model and I’m a trainer. It’s a lot about matching the intervention to the developmental needs of your client. Looking at brain development, and windows of when trauma happened and really being able to recognize the physiological impact of trauma on the brain and body.

“When I saw the FTHub model I said ‘yes’, that’s exactly aligned with everything I am learning, with everything I’ve learnt about the body, what I know from my own experience and I want to embrace joyful healing”.

 

Ph: Courtesy by Susan Andrien, founder of Hope Reimagined and the podcast The Awakening Educator.

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