Without him, the importance of forests for human health would not be the same. Forests are a public policy by law in Korea thanks to him. The studies, research and efforts of this child born in a very small Korean village surrounded by forests and mountains reaped rewards.
He will be giving an online lecture during the IV International Congress Forest and its Potencial for Health in Portugal.
Dr. Won Sop Shin obtained his Ph.D. in Forestry in 1992 from University of Toronto, Canada. Is a professor at Chungbuk National University in Korea, and has lots of experience in research and conducting projects on forest and human health for about 30 years. His main research interest is psychological benefits from forest and nature experiences.
While Minister of Korea Forest Service (KFS), KFS developed many new forest policies related to the use of forests for human health and welfare. He is now a Head of Graduate Department of Forest Therapy at Chungbuk National University enrolling about 150 students in masters’ and Ph.D. programs and also working actively with international organizations such as FAO and International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine.
Meet one of the greatest ambassadors of forest therapy in the world, who still remembers the hours spent playing in the woods until nightfall.
Research: the whys and hows of Forest Therapy
“My presentation in the IV Congress Forest and its Potential for Health will focus on the Strategy of using forests for public health in Korea. I will introduce the Forest Policy regarding forests and human health and also will introduce the legislation we have relating to this area, and the programmes, services and research we have developed in this matter in Korea.
“The benefits from forests have been used for a long time, even though we have investigated and researched this area very recently. We have investigated the effects of forest therapy in various populations: cancer patients, people with addiction, people with disabilities, youth at risk and so on. Most of the reports are these very positive effects in mental, psychic and physical health.
“Recent research is more focused on how and why these positive effects occur: these mechanism studies are very important because they are the evidence for science-based Forest Therapy. Forest Therapy evidence based in science. And these mechanisms are what make the application of Forest Therapy possible.
“What surprised me most is that every population has shown that forest therapy is effective. In the Forest Therapy programmes the forest’s powerful effects can be measured. But we still have to investigate why and how the benefits occur. So the research should focus on these areas because we have a very useful tool with Forest Therapy in public health”.
The impressive Korean policy on Forests for Welfare
“Forests are very important to Korean people. Our forestry rate is 64% of the total national land area. The Korean Forest Office provides forest services for public health as a main policy. During 2013 to 2016 I was Minister of the Korean Forest Service and my superiors gave me lots of opportunities to research and turn the academy into policies and practical implications.
“At that time I tried to persuade the high level of policy makers and lawmakers about the importance of forests for public health, and other social values, mostly intangible values. And fortunately now Korea has the Forest Welfare Promotion Act that proclaims the use of the forests for people’s happiness, health and welfare.
“We also have a public agency called Forest Welfare Promotion Institute, and have this very unique legislation –Forest Welfare Promotion Act– with very special guiding instructions relating to Forest Therapy, with a Guide designated officially to follow the therapeutic value of forests”.
How does the structure of Forest Therapy guides work in Korea
“There are Forest Therapy guides who work in each forest providing some therapy programmes for health purposes. They should have some special studies, for example in forestry or medical sciences. If they want to be Forest therapy Guides, they have training for more than 3 or 4 months, and after graduation they have to take exams to obtain a license and, after passing the exam, then they own a national license.
“We have two kinds of Forest Therapy Guides. The first-degree Guides deal more with policy, programmes’s development, research; and the second-degree Guides lead the walks, sessions with the clients.
“In Korea there are more than 37 Forest Therapy centers run by the central/local governments. Korea is one of the leading countries in which forests are led by the government: we have the legislation, the national licenses for special workers and Forest Therapy guiding, and we are very lucky that it is spreading, but still need the private interest in this area too. I would advise to make a balance between forests led by government and private sectors”.
The “happy time” of the forest boy who became a Doctor in Forest&Health research
“I was born in a very small village surrounded by mountains and forests, so the forest was my playground. I still remember vividly about the forest, the barks, the trees, the flowers. We would play hide-and-seek with my friends in the forest until very late, so I still have these beautiful memories.
“I have been naturally tied to forests since my earliest childhood, so I had no difficulties in choosing forestry. After graduating from university I flew to Canada for my graduate studies. When I was in the Masters programme I involved my supervisors in this research project to investigate the effects of contact with forests and the psychological benefits. So I decided to focus my career on research in this area.
“There is not a specific time I would suggest going into the forests. Everytime you can, get some nature. You will benefit and get in a better mood. I work in a Therapeutic Center and I go alone, or with my students, or with my family. In the Forest Therapy Center, I feel happy to meet people there, talk to the Guide about the benefits of the forest. That is my happy time”.
Ph: Courtesy Dr. Won Sop Shin