Is it Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy?

You may have heard about Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy. Are they the same thing? Why the different names?

In short -  yes, they are the same thing. They both stem from the Japanese public health practice ‘Shinrin-yoku’ where people are guided through a 2-3 hour walk in a forest and given activities to help to aid relaxation and connect them to their senses.

So why the different names in English?

The front cover of Dr Qing Li's book titled 'Forest Bathing' (the Japanese Art and Science of Shinrin-yoku) with an illustration of a pine tree.

Well the direct translation of ‘Shinrin-yoku’ into English is ‘Forest Bathing’ so this was the original name in English for this practice. Some popular books by well known authors in this field (such as Dr Qing Li and Amos Clifford) use the name ‘Forest Bathing’ in their title, so people learning about this practice through these books associate the practice with this name. Many people like this name and some guides working in the field continue to use it to describe what they do. Others don’t like it so much. Some people find it confusing to think of bathing in the forest. Google does too - when I go to Google images using the term ‘forest bathing’ I get photos of people in an outdoor bathtub. For others it brings up connotations of nude hippies and this connotation can influence their decision to come to a session. 

So those wanting this practice to be seen as a serious, evidence based, public health practice have advocated for the name ‘Forest Therapy’ and this is perhaps more commonly used now by practicing guides and training institutes. This name implies its therapeutic base and its link to researched health benefits. Just like ‘Horse Therapy’ or  ‘Kneipp Therapy’ and other emerging therapies that are becoming more well known. But some drawbacks of this name is people come on the session thinking that the guide is a psychotherapist and that it’s a group therapy session (which it isn’t,) or that guides are offering counselling services to trees. Mmmm. 

I guess it all boils down to translating a name for a new practice from another language - what can sound natural and normal in one language can have different connotations in another when it’s a direct translation. Trying to come up with a name in the new language that sounds appropriate and also encapsulates the essence of the practice can be challenging, as any new words can subtly change meaning.

But whatever you call it - Forest Bathing or Forest Therapy - it’s a beautiful and healing practice that is well worth a try.

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