Representatives from the Nordic countries met for the second time, now in Aalborg, Denmark. Markus Mattsson from Team Finland does the reporting from this meeting. Other participants included Thomas Kjaer & Tinna Mariager (Denmark), Pekka Lyytinen (Finland), Harpa Ýr Erlendsdóttir & Alda Pálsdóttir (Iceland, through Skype), Carina Ribe Fernee & Leiv Einar Gabrielsen (Norway) and Maria Palmer (Sweden).
Intensive, productive, inspiring. Those are the adjectives I’d use to describe our time together in Aalborg. We all realized that three days would be an extremely short time together, and we worked from early morning until the wee hours of night.
Arrival in Denmark was every bit as heartfelt as could be expected from a meeting of friends and colleagues – some old, some new, everyone’s presence equally appreciated. Maria had found us a beautiful large house in the Danish countryside outside Aalborg where we could – besides of working – cook food, gather around a long table, find peace and quiet for concentrating on our own work and work in smaller groups in the beautiful surroundings.
Maria endured the first challenge of trip by finding out that her luggage had failed to arrive, and that she’d need to get by with the clothes she had on her back. This proved to be a small lesson in how little we need to get by – quite the same observation many make while on the move in the wilderness.
During the first evening it was time for news and updates from all the participating countries.The Danish network had organized themselves as an association, and Tinna and Thomas talked about the pros and cons of the choice. The obvious pro is the possibility of applying for funding in ways not possible for individuals or companies, whereas the amount of bureaucracy that was needed before getting started with the interesting work itself had proved rather overwhelming: for instance, the recent GDPR regulations concerning handling identifying information had caused our Danish friends a great deal of work.
Pekka and me provided an update from Finland. The number of active participants in the network has been steadily rising, and new people with interesting perspectives to adventure / outdoor therapy are coming along all the time. For instance, the latest meeting of the Finnish network was arranged after the Finnish Adventure Education Days, and we got the chance to meet colleagues living a bit further to the north in Oulu. They proved to be a knowledgeable bunch with a wide range of skills from adventure education to trauma therapy.
The aim of the Finnish network has been to develop adventure / outdoor therapy training, and even though the ultimate aim is to introduce courses at the university level, at the moment we are organizing peer training courses – from the members of the network, for the members of the network. One of the core values of the Finnish network has been openness: information and best practices are shared freely, and the peer trainings have been free of charge in this spirit.
We also compared the Finnish organizational structure of the network with that in Denmark. In Finland, the official body receiving financial support from the government and elsewhere is called The Finnish Association for Youth Centers. The Finnish Adventure Education Network functions under its umbrella, and the Finnish Adventure Therapy Network is a part of the Adventure Education Network.
Maria brought news from Sweden, and how it would be important to locate people doing outdoor therapy in Sweden to expand the Swedish network. The Nordic network, together with the other national networks, can surely be of help in this respect. The most notable single piece of news from Sweden was that of Petra Ellora Cau Wetterholm starting the European Forest Therapy Institute with colleagues from around Europe. This is wonderful news indeed, and we warmly congratulate Petra & colleagues!
When it comes to Norway, Carina and Leiv concentrated on talking about the current stage of organizing the ninth International Adventure Therapy Conference in 2021. The planning of the event is at a stage where the organizers are contacting local politicians for acquiring funding, and the logistics and other practical issues are being sorted out. It is perhaps best not to say too much of the details of the planning of the event at this stage when there are so many open questions, but rest assured: the conference will be a fine event. A common Nordic theme related to the conference was arranging pre- or post-conference events tied to the other Nordic countries. It is too early to speak of details yet, before confirming that the ideas we had can be realized, but let me just say that we can’t wait to tell you more!
On the morning of the second day it was time to vote for the most important topics to be addressed during the final day. The results of the vote can be seen in the picture below. But before that, it was time to visit the gorgeous sailing ship LOA. Upon our arrival at the dock and visiting the shipyards, the thing that immediately struck us was the friendliness of all the volunteers: they were all smiles and seemed to enjoy spending time working to prepare LOA for the upcoming season. Pekka asked one of them about the lacquer they use on the masts, and when the person could not answer immediately, he ran after us a long way to answer the question that was after all quite mundane. Such details spoke clearly of the general mood around LOA.
LOA’s project coordinator Leif Ervolder then told us about the ship’s history and adventures. Still, the perhaps most impressive thing about the visit was the way he had created a clear structure to coordinate the work of the 550 volunteers who worked at or for LOA: there were 46 work groups with a designated leader each. The structure was the result of Leif spending the first couple of months of his new work contract at LOA to get to know every single one of the volunteers and asking them what they’d like to work on – an impressive feat from a man having had zero experience of sailing prior to that! Leif’s way of leading volunteer work and motivating people is certainly something we can learn from. Equally impressive was the culture of openness around LOA: people from all age groups living in the Aalborg community were welcome to visit and get acquainted with the ship, and many of them had also sailed on LOA in one role or another. This was especially heart-warming to notice for us Finns, with the principle of openness steering our own work in the same manner. Finally, the slogan of LOA – which Leif has the habit of repeating to all new volunteers – is worth repeating and thinking about: LOA is not your ship, LOA is not my ship, LOA is our ship.
When we returned to our base camp, it was time for to concentrate on the Doing Camp: everyone picked a theme they wanted to concentrate on in peace and quiet for one hour, answering the following simple questions: What? How? What next? By the way, the concept and structure of Doing Camp (Tekemisleiri) is created by two innovative Finns, Timo Linnossuo and Joonas Laine (2018) and in its pure form it takes two and a half days of structured work.
For instance, I thought about doing longitudinal research based on performing ecological momentary assessments using cell phones, and presented a tool I had found (https://pielsurvey.org) together with a method (network analysis) for doing quantitative research on the causal mechanism underlying the effectiveness of outdoor therapy. For the sake of clarity, such a research design provides – at best – information on Granger causality (roughly, if A precedes B in time, A is inferred as the cause of B), but such results would still seem valuable with regards to the time / convenience –ratio of the approach.
Others concentrated similarly on what was most interesting for them at the moment. Pekka’s idea was interestingly similar to mine – and yet totally different methodologically: he’s interested in using semi-structured interviews to investigate the personal experiences of participants of an adventure therapy program and the meanings they associate with the experience. More specifically, he’d like to zoom into the inter-subjective, shared experiences of child-parent pairs taking part in adventure therapy. Acquiring funding for making Nordic co-operation possible in the future was similarly high on his priority list.
Carina worked on the two- and five-year plan of NOTN. Two-year plan is to maximize momentum before the 9IATC and apply for Erasmus funding. Five-year plan focuses on funding for Nordic research collaboration. Leiv worked on ideas for values and identity issues for NOTN. In particular, he focused on the environmental stands our network should consider taking.
Thomas thought about raising awareness of the NOTN through FB and webpage updates and about acquiring funding for conference trips. He was also interested in pre-conference ideas related to the 9IATC and links to the Danish network. Tinna had an important practical goal of finding out ways to practice outdoor therapy, either through the municipality or a private company, perhaps in collaboration with a nature guide.
After the Doing Camp, and going through the program for the final day, it was time to head toward a cozy restaurant and the local party street Jomfru Ane Gade. We asked someone to shoot a group picture of us outside a surf bar there, but the picture had mysteriously vanished by the time we got back to our temporary home – I guess what happens in Jomfru Ane Gade stays at Jomfru Ane Gade!
On the final day we set to work in small groups on the themes we’d voted as important during the previous day: our identity as Nordic outdoor therapy practitioners, our core values and thinking about what we’d like the future to bring us. Even though this is a work-in-progress, we’ll share what we have so far for everyone to comment.
I’ll start with the suggestions for core values we came up with. They are as follows:
1) Environmental responsibility and peoples’ interconnectedness with nature
2) Human- and bio-diversity
3) Relational dignity
We thought about the values as encompassing each other. The first describes our relationship with nature as a species and our place in nature: During the anthropocene, extinction rates soar while climate change is simultaneously getting out of our control. In this context, we also spoke about the ecopsychological view of humans and the way we as members of modern consumer societies have a lot to learn from native cultures about living in balance with nature. While the first value is the most all-encompassing one, the second one goes into a little more detail and points out that we value and welcome diversity among people and in nature. We see the two reflecting each other: the web of life has evolved such that there is a place for all the organisms that currently live, and the whole depends on the roles the individual species play; similarly, we view variety among people as an essential part of us our common humanity. Finally, the third core value describes what we consider essential in being in a relationship with others (people, other forms of life): dignity and the acknowledgment of the intrinsic value of the other are our starting points in interaction with others.
After thinking about the core values, we set out to ponder upon our identity specifically as Nordic practitioners of outdoor therapy. I will first simply list our proposed indicators of the Nordic identity and then elaborate on them:
- All have the right to pursue their individual needs in a way that does no harm to the natural world
- Being in nature carries with it inherent risks that need to be accepted
- Individual responsibility cannot be transferred to others
- Group members are viewed as participants rather than customers
The first of the above-mentioned statements acknowledges the fact that people have different kinds of individual needs (cf. the core value of human diversity), while taking a stand on permissible ways to pursue them – easier said than done when it comes to our strong habits (e.g. with regard to food or mobility)!
The second statement describes a way of relating to risks in nature. We suggest that this way of thinking is common to the Nordic countries, and contrasts to a degree with the risk-averse attitude common to Anglo-American countries. The third statement is related to the second one: accepting the risks also entails taking responsibility for one’s own actions without blaming others if something goes wrong. Finally, we suggest that one way of describing such group dynamics is to view group members as participants rather than customers. The role of a customer entails, after all, assuming a right to demand service rather than taking responsibility oneself for one’s wellbeing.
Finally, we talked about the best ways of organizing the NOTN representatives group. So far, the representatives have been people active in their respective countries and ones taking part in international events. Personally, and this is only my own opinion: I’m not even sure if “representative” is the best possible term to use, since the people called “representatives” have taken the role themselves rather than them receiving a mandate from their reference groups. In practice, however, the representatives are people wishing to promote the use of outdoor therapy and research into its effectiveness in their respective countries. In any case, we’d like to keep the representative roles rotating and inclusive for different people, yet in such a way that introducing new people into the group goes smoothly and the ongoing work continues naturally.
We’ve also had a rotating role of a coordinator among the representatives. The coordinators have the role of taking initiative in starting group processes and, in the future, to take care of our common information mail account. It was decided that Tinna and Thomas from Denmark take over the coordinator role after the Finnish team.
The next representatives meeting is planned to take place in Iceland in 2020, and people interested in working in the representatives group are encouraged to be in contact with us.
Finally, our plan / vision for the coming years looks as follows: during the next two years, we’d like to keep the national momentum going, but also to investigate the possibility to fund our work through the Erasmus+ program. Also, the 9IATC in Norway is an important event for all Nordic countries: co-operation in organizing the conference (and pre-/post-conference events) can well lead into co-operation in clinical or research work. In five years time, our vision is to continue building on the Erasmus+ program and furthering research collaboration. Our bold vision is to plan a multicenter study across the Nordic countries such that a similar kind of intervention would be run across the countries.
At around noon we contacted the Icelandic representatives, Harpa and Alda, by Skype and discussed the current state of outdoor therapy in Iceland. When it comes to the entire Nordic network, the most important topic we discussed was getting started with the Erasmus+ - application process. What we need, after all, to further the current ideas, is a solid economic base. Harpa has strong experience from establishing the Adventure Therapy Europe community and her expertise is valuable for the NOTN, as well. So, we decided to start preparing the funding process, with Maria taking the lead and Harpa being assuming a consulting role. Pekka was interested in being a part of the process.
The last thing to do before goodbyes was a short video summing up the basic thoughts of the days.
Phew, that was a lot of information, don’t you think? You are more than welcome to contribute by commenting on the ideas here in the blog, to us personally, or in the Nordic FB group.