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Feeling Stressed? Depressed? Time to Take a Bath—A Forest Bath

A path through the forest

by Scott Wangsgaard, LMFT

“Trees do not preach learning and precepts. They preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life,” wrote the German essayist Hermann Hesse. It is that same “ancient law of life” that directs the work we, as systemic therapists, conduct with individuals and families in our offices.

But we should be heading our clients—and ourselves, for that matter—more frequently into the forest, according to Dr. Qing Li, president of the Society for Forest Medicine in Japan.

This perspective is rooted in a practice—an art, really—developed in Japan about 35-40 years ago called shinrin-yoku, which literally means “forest bath.” It doesn’t necessarily involve getting wet—unless you decide to walk through the forest when it’s raining, or cannonball into a forest stream. Instead, Dr. Li, says, the idea is to allow yourself to disconnect from the barrage of electronic media and daily pressures of life and allow yourself to be immersed in the sights, smells, and textures of an environment that could have the power to reduce blood pressure, boost the immune system, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory.

To me, those sound like the kind of goals I want to lead my clients toward, and the kind of refreshing hopefulness that can ward off symptoms of therapist burnout.

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