Research & Practice
Nature-based solutions for optimal health and wellbeing…
Evidence base underpinning forest bathing and forest therapy
There is an emerging evidence base that supports the work that we do in Nádúr.
Opportunities for experiences in nature are decreasing globally
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2018) 68% of the world’s human population will live in cities by 2050. Modern life for many involves reduced regular contact with outdoor nature and increased time spent indoors, on screens, and being sedentary (Hofferth, 2009; Atkin yet al., 2013).
Less people are engaging in nature-based recreation (e.g. park visitation, fishing, camping, and outdoor play) (Clements, 2004; Frost, 2010; Pergams & Zaradic, 2008). Both older people and younger people and people living in developed and developing countries have shown this pattern (Chopik, 2016; Sigmund et al., 2015). Direct nature experiences are becoming more and more unavailable to new generations, causing ‘environmental generational amnesia’ and ‘extinction of experience’ (Soga & Gaston, 2016).
Nature contact/connectedness is related to psychological wellbeing
Evidence suggests that frequent exposure to natural environments is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction (Chang et al., 2020), reduced anxiety (S. de Vries et al., 2016), less depressive symptoms and depression (Shanahan et al., 2016; Fong et al., 2018), and the development of personality (e.g. Openness) (Snell et al., 2020).
Nature connectedness (the feeling of ‘oneness’ and having an emotional connection with nature) is positively associated with psychological wellbeing. A recent systematic review concluded that those of us who are more connected to nature have higher levels of autonomy, purpose in life/meaning, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, and environmental mastery (Pritchard et al. 2019). Consequently, these people are more likely to be flourishing and functioning well psychologically.
The review’s authors questioned whether these relationships may be explained by nature offering us a route to having our psychological needs met (e.g. autonomy, competence, and relatedness), awe in nature expanding our frames of reference and sense of self, and nature offering freedom from the values imposed by society. These factors may allow people to find inspiration in nature, reinforce their own intrinsic values and beliefs, and gain perspective on ‘what really matters’ to them.
The evidence base supporting the role of Forest Bathing in promoting mental health is emerging
Meta-analytic evidence has shown how that the practice of Forest Bathing is effective in reducing depression, anxiety, stress, and anger in both clinical and non-clinical samples (Kotera, Richardson & Sheffield et al., 2020). The authors of this review concluded that the strongest evidence comes from its effect on anxiety, that long term studies are needed to examine if these effects endure over time, and that key concepts related to mental health (e.g. self-compassion, isolation, nature connectedness) need to be further explored in Forest Bathing research.
Nature has a role in mental health recovery
People with experience of mental health difficulties have described nature experiences as being of vital importance in mental health recovery (Birch, Rishbeth & Payne, 2020) and many who have received nature-based mental health interventions, value them. Perceived benefits include increased levels of physical activity, greater self-esteem, and enhanced sense of identity. They support people to experience freedom from their day to day lives, be present, have social contact, and experience personal growth (Adams & Morgan, 2017). A systematic review of service user perspectives concluded that nature-based mental health interventions promote intrinsic motivation, overcoming perceived challenges, and finding purpose and meaning (Picton et al., 2020).
Evidence supporting the use of Integrative Forest Therapy for mental health difficulties and psychological distress is being developed.
While the feasibility, practicality, high demand for, and limited efficacy of a Forest Therapy intervention for adults experiencing stress has been previously demonstrated by an evaluation study conducted by the members of the Nádúr Management Team in the National University of Ireland, Galway (Gleeson et al., 2020), the feasibility and efficacy of Integrative Forest Therapy for mental health populations is yet to be evaluated rigorously. We are currently in the process of submitting funding applications for competitive research grant calls to address this.
Programmes and Projects
Members of the Nádúr Management Team have recently contributed to (through Forest Therapy Institute or Ecowellness Consulting) or are currently involved in the following funded programmes and projects:
Forests for Health Coaches in Europe
‘Forests for Health’ is a 3-year Erasmus+ funded project with 8 other European partners. Its aim is to develop competencies and deliver a training programme for ‘Forests for Health Coaches’, linking the health and forestry sectors at a European level.
Youth Action for Nature and Wellbeing in Europe
‘Youth Action for Nature and Wellbeing’ is a 28-month European Union Erasmus+ funded project with partners from 5 countries. The aim of the project is to find new ways of working with young people that combine empowerment, environmental action, and nature-based strategies for positive mental health.
Connecting Nature in Europe
Connecting Nature is a consortium of 30 partners within 16 European countries, with hubs in Brazil, China, Korea, and the Caucasus (Georgia and Armenia). It is a €12 million Horizon 2020 investment establishing Europe as a leader in nature-based innovation and by working to bring nature-based solutions into cities for improved health and wellbeing.
The Green Prescriptions Project in Spain
The Green Prescriptions Project is a nature-based wellness initiative aiming to support women experiencing economic violence through Forest Bathing in Barcelona, Spain. This project is part of the Healthy Municipalities Initiative of Barcelona Council.
The DKV Health Insurance Prescribing Nature Project in Spain
The DKV Health Insurance Prescribing Nature Project aims to develop nature-based resources for the customers of one of the largest health insurance companies in Europe. Resources included identifying suitable forest bathing trails, nature-based audio recordings, and self-guided Forest Bathing activities.
Forest Bathing Guide Training for Scottish Forestry
This project trains Forest Bathing Guides throughout Scotland to offer nature connection practices to the individuals and communities that need it most. It is funded through Scottish Forestry – the Scottish Government agency responsible for forestry policy, support, and regulation.
Wellness Tourism and Forest Bathing Guide Training in Ireland
This project trains Forest Bathing Guides in West Cork for the Ecotourism Sector. It is funded by the LEADER Programme and SECAD Partnership.
Wicklow Forest Bathing Eco Tourism Training Project, Ireland
This joint initiative with Entrepreneurs Academy, County Wicklow Partnership, and the LEADER Programme trains Forest Bathing Guides for ecotourism and business development.
Forest Bathing Spa Training for NG Hotels in Turkey
This project trained staff at one of the leading luxury hotel chains in Tukey to offer Forest Bathing to their guests and was run in partnership with Shinrin-Yoku Sweden.
Forest Bathing Guide Certificate
This training covers the areas of nature-based health promotion, ecowellness, and disease prevention.
Integrative Forest Therapy Practitioner Certificate
This practitioner level works with individuals experiencing psychological distress, mild, or moderate mental health difficulties.
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Centre for Integrative Forest Therapy
71 Lower Baggot Street