Forest Futures: Forests as Therapy

forest-bathingA stewardship strategy for forests is to envision and promote their “value proposition” to the public, or in simpler terms, highlight why they are valuable. That might involve innovating new uses or perhaps reimagining old uses in a creative way. Take “forest bathing,” which was highlighted in a 2015 Trends Report by SpaFinder. It describes in vivid language how a “walk in the woods” has therapeutic value. I suspect a few of us knew that, but perhaps there is something more to it?

One of the major themes of my work as a futurist has been tracking the emerging shift to postmodern and integral values. A key manifestation of that shift is growing concern about wellness, which I’ll define simply as a holistic concern for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. A concrete manifestation of wellness is the huge growth of complementary or alternative medicine, along with many other practices such as the explosion of yoga. All this to say that many “soft” trends such as forest bathing are pooh-poohed at first. Futurists know that change always emerges at the edges. Of course,  not every change makes it to the mainstream – not every alternative medicine or practice made it, but enough did!

The edges in the case of forest bathing, noted in the report, are Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Finland. Japan and Finland both index very high in postmodern values with Korea and Taiwan not too far behind. As postmodern and integral values continue their slow and steady growth, I suspect we will see a host of therapeutic uses of the forest emerge. Forest bathing may not be “the killer app,” but it suggests an area to keep our eyes on.

The Houston Foresight program and the US Forest Service Northern Research Station are developing and implementing a horizon scanning system for the USDA Forest Service, Strategic Foresight Group. We will use our blog to feature interesting scan hits from the project.— Andy Hines

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Comment