Utendørsterapi – Outdoor Therapy Norway
Norway has a long and proud friluftsliv (outdoor life) culture and identity. The reasons are complex and perhaps also coincidental. Historically a poor country with a harsh climate, people have had to deal with, and adapt to the premises of nature. Though beautiful, Norway is to be frank basically a big rock surrounded by the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean (and of course some good neighbours to the east). Small farming, forestry and fishing was a rough, but for most, the only means for living.
In 1814 we got our own Constitution, and in 1905 the union with Sweden ended. At this time it also turned out that Norwegian explorers fared particularly well in Arctic and Antarctic regions. The boost to national pride and self-esteem was tremendous as we realized that our ways of adapting to nature, together with Sami knowledge, was an unbeatable cocktail when placed in the hands of hardened men like Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen and others. At least that is the story about ourselves that we like to tell. It became typical Norwegian to gå på tur, which translates to “go outdoors”, basically meaning anything from a stroll whilst picking berries to prolonged winter expeditions. Ut på tur, aldri sur, a cherished saying by some, yet dreaded by others, is the epitome of this national outdoor identity. Meaning, “go outdoors, never moody” it points directly to a notion that when we are outdoors we should always be happy and never complain. Reality is, of course, not so rosy.
In 1957 the Public right of access, Allemannsretten, was adopted, basically meaning that our nature belongs to no one, or everyone, depending on your point of view, and as such is available to all. This also falls in line with the emergence of the eco-philosophy movement spearheaded by Arne Næss, Peter Wessel Zapffe, Sigmund Kvaløy and others. Eco-philosophy means nature wisdom and focuses on the interdependence, both physically and emotionally, between man and nature. Civil disobedience in order to stop major encroachments on nature was, and is in these environments seen as a high worthy moral stand.
Friluftsliv is a simple outdoor-oriented lifestyle that holds intrinsic value and at the same time, according to Nils Faarlund, challenges the patterns of thoughts, values and lifestyle imposed by modernity. Statistically Norwegians still spend much time in the outdoors, but we now see a wider range of activities than the traditional “slow-adventure” associated with classic friluftsliv. New action-packed sports like off-piste skiing, kiting, mountain biking, rafting, paragliding etc. increase the options of what to do in nature. We are as a nation still in the process of finding viable balances between these activities, not only to preserve the wild itself, but also so that some activities are not performed at the expense of others.
With the above in mind it should come as little surprise that Norwegian universities and colleges offer a range of high quality outdoor educations, many of which tap deeply into the essence of our friluftsliv culture. We also have a long tradition within our public health domain to utilize outdoor activities both as prevention of ill-health and as means of increasing overall quality of life. However Norway does not have an impressive resume when it comes to outdoor therapy work, and particularly not when it comes to documenting this work. This is however about to change, and it is only now that we are gaining some overview of the outdoor therapy status in Norway.
First, there are a number of dedicated individuals in the private sector, public health sector and within the specialized health services that bring their work to the outdoors. As for outdoor therapy facilitators that have been or are active we should at least mention the following:
- Energiverket: Based in Kristiansand Energiverket is a municipality level center for people with mental health challenges. They have a range of outdoor therapeutic activities.
- Norsk mestring: A private company offering villmarksterapi to groups of troubled adolescents or young adults.
- Modum Bad: Offered wildernes therapy to patients with avoident personality disorders.
- Samisk Nasjonalt Kompetansesenter (SANKS). Offer Utmarksterapi/ meahcceterapiija as part of a family treatment for Sami families.
- Sørlandet hospital: A group of clinicians and researchers working on a clinical research project called Friluftsterapi for at-risk adolescents.
We also want to mention that we have close allies in a vibrant professional community that focuses on outdoor rehabilitation (www.utrehabilitering.no).
Outdoor therapy research is also on a rise and there are a handful of PhD-level projects that are either ongoing or about to start. Also we see a considerable increase in outdoor therapy related thesis and articles.
As a consequence of the increased focus on outdoor therapy, we now have a couple of conferences that specifically target mental health and the outdoors. In 2018 there was a conference at Gardermoen in March arranged by JobbAktiv, as well as the second Camp conference at Bragdøya in Kristiansand in May. Finally, Norway is hosting the 9th International Adventure Therapy Conference in 2021. Our facebook group is Utendørsterapi – Outdoor Therapy Norway
Carina Ribe Fernee
I grew up in the coastal countryside of Southern Norway and spent much of my childhood years playing outdoors with my brothers, friends, and our dogs. Our little farm by the sea was surrounded by woods and there were always things to explore along the coastline or among the trees. Every now and then we would hike to a nearby lookout point and we felt like we were on top of the world when we could look over the treetops, down upon our little house, and gaze towards Denmark across the Skagerrak strait.
Nature has been my companion ever since and I feel unwell if time passes by without having played out in the rain or wandered beneath the trees. I just need to be in nature, I don’t really need the kick or adventure, but I do enjoy a nice lookout point every now and then.
Being able to bring my work into nature with me is just the best thing that could happen. I have worked at the Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at Sørlandet Hospital since 2003. Ever since I started working with youth at the emergency ward I would bring them outside with me. The hospital is beautifully situated by the Otra river and nearby forest. In 2012 Leiv introduced me to his visions for developing a wilderness therapy program and that was the beginning of what later became a clinical research project and a friluftsterapi team that is presently made up of eight wonderful therapists and researchers.
Currently I am in the process of finishing my PhD project where I have explored the wilderness therapy treatment process through interviews and fieldwork in the friluftsterapi program. I am also presently administrator of Utendørsterapi – Outdoor Therapy Norway, coordinator of the Nordic Outdoor Therapy Network, and together with Leiv a Norwegian ambassador in the Adventure Therapy International Committee (ATIC).
I hope to contribute in the process of delineating a Nordic approach to outdoor therapy and together with Nordic colleagues work towards establishing outdoor therapy as a viable approach to improving health across the entire continuum of care ranging from prevention, recreation across to treatment and therapy.
Leiv Einar Gabrielsen
I work as a PhD-level researcher and outdoor therapist at Sørlandet hospital in South Norway. Here I am head of a clinical research project called “Friluftsterapi for at risk adolescents”. In short, experiences in nature are utilized with purposefulness and precision to facilitate and strengthen therapeutic processes. Furthermore I am one of Norway’s representatives to the Adventure Therapy International Committee (ATIC). Professionally my interests have been personality-, existential-, experiential-, eco- and positive psychology. So when I some years ago discovered, almost by accident, the fabulous world of outdoor therapy, it was like a homecoming to me. At that very moment my lived life and profession merged. Within this line of work I get to meet the coolest people ever. And best of all I can contribute in helping troubled people back onto their feet by using the most powerful agent there is – man and nature in interaction.
Luckily work is only part of my identity, and besides my family I find the greatest happiness when I go kayaking, skiing, backpacking, paragliding or seeking alpine adventures. In short I am, and always have been an avid outdoor person.
Heisann, jeg arbeider ved Sørlandet sykehus hvor jeg sammen med kolleger utvikler, prøver ut, og forsker på et behandlingstilbud for ungdom med psykiske helseutfordringer – friluftsterapi. Vi har lært og erfart mye, men har fortsatt langt igjen for å forstå alle mulighetene og utfordringene som ligger i denne arbeidsformen. Vi ser at at friluftsterapi ikke er for alle, men veldig virksomt for noen, og akkurat det er bare så spennende!
Ta gjerne kontakt med mine kolleger eller meg om du har innspill eller lurer på noe. Sammen kan vi bidra til at utendørsterapi blir en anerkjent måte å bidra til at folk får bedre helse, økt livskvalitet og rett og slett større appetitt på livet.