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:
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
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. 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.
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 for adolescents and that was the beginning of what became a clinical research project and the establishment of a friluftsteam.
International networking has been an incredible source of inspiration, knowledge and support throughout these past few years, and we are honored to be hosting the upcoming 9th International Adventure Therapy Conference (IATC) in Norway in June 2021. Besides being the Norwegian representative to the Nordic Outdoor Therapy Network (NOTN), I also co-chair the International Adventure Therapy Committee (ATIC) this three-year period (2018-21), where my main area of responsibility is the 9IATC.
I hope to see you at the upcoming conference in Norway in 2021. Hjertelig velkommen til Norge!