«One elder [a mentor] often said to me, ‘We think clearer out there, the burdens drop away. We’re in the bush and connecting with our culture – the land is our healer.’ That was the starting point for me,» she says.
Through her own business, Metaphorically Speaking, Van Sambeek works with individuals, small groups and corporate clients.
«As a therapist, I wanted to look at ways of using nature in my work,» she says, noting that a nature walk is very different to a bushwalk.
«Lots of people describe it as meditation on feet. They are very slow walks; we don’t cover more than a kilometre. I invite people to walk as if their feet are kissing the earth,» she says.
For many participants in a nature therapy walk, the results can be powerful.
«People set aside three hours of their time and often are not really sure what to expect. When, at the end of their walk, they reflect on the significant impact it has had on their life, that’s also really significant for me,» Van Sambeek says.
Nature therapy guides come from a variety of backgrounds. Although 600 are trained globally there are currently only a handful in Australia – nine are listed on the website of Nature & Wellbeing Australia, a collaboration Van Sambeek is part of.
Today, most qualify through the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy, a US-based organisation that offers global certifications. To date trainings have all happened overseas although there is hope that an Australian course will run in 2019.
«You don’t have to have a therapeutic background for this. We have people trained in environmental science or as teachers. The only real requirement is you have some sort of connection to nature: people come in with that and want to develop it further or share it,» Van Sambeek says.
Van Sambeek says although it is important that nature therapy guides can relate to people, the training helps participants develop their group work and leadership skills.
«We have a lot of introverts doing this job: I’m an introvert,» she says.
Study: The US-based Association of Nature & Forest Therapy is the leading certifier of nature therapists. Training is multifaceted; even the application process is reflective in nature. It is followed by a seven-day intensive and a six-month mentored practicum, which includes a set of assignments.
Skills: Nature therapists need to know themselves well and be quite grounded. They usually feel driven to the work, either to help people or help the planet by re-establishing our connection to nature.
Tips: Natureforesttherapy.org has a useful section on becoming a guide. Plenty of books can help you learn more. Van Sambeek recommends Your Guide to Forest Bathing by Amos Clifford.