Volume 54, Number 3 Summer 2021

Rural Interest Group

Edited by Susana Helm, Univ. of Hawai`i at Mānoa, 

The Rural IG column of TCP highlights rural resources as well as the work of community psychologists and allied professionals in their rural environments. As of summer 2021, the column editor will transition to a new person to be identified at the SCRA virtual biennial.

Brief Report: Rural as Healer

Rural Rescue

Written by Susana Helm, University of Hawai`i,

Rural spaces are healing spaces according to global sustainability initiatives (see the UN), in spite of the fact that rural and remote areas internationally remain medically underserved and rural people consistently rank higher in physical and mental health ailments. I continue to grapple with this juxtaposition – that (sub)urbanites withdraw rural assets to sustain life in the metropolis, and later deposit themselves in rural spaces to heal from urban ills without addressing the rural-urban inequities.

Rural as Healer is a social movement to elevate the value of forests, mountains, oceans, and lakes to rebalance the global climate crisis, and to save ourselves. Rural as Healer in contemporary society counteracts stress related to the past century of global mass migration from the symbiotic bucolic lifestyles possible in the countryside to industrial-urban centers. The pace and demands of (sub)urbanicity separate us from nature and encourage natural resource excesses. For overviews with an emphasis on shinrin-yoku:  Florence Williams’ The nature fix. Why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative (2017); and from the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine Chairperson Dr. Qing Li’s The Japanese art and science of shinrin-yoku, forest bathing. How trees can help you find health and happiness (2018). 

In prior Rural IG columns (see TCP50-1, 51-1), I wrote about seeking refuge in rural areas by camping and hiking for extended periods. I have since realized that my fascination with nature is partly a product of awe, as described by Keltner and colleagues (Anderson, et al. 2018; Yaden et al. 2019; Zhang et al. 2016). My treks mirror the goals of montagnaterapia, a relatively intensive activity in which groups gain confidence and camaraderie via alpine hiking (Calzolari, 2020; Finelli, 2020; Giulianni, 2020). Montagnaterapia has gained popularity in Europe – for example it has been adopted by the medical service branch of the Club Alpino Italiano. Montagnaterapia improves the lives of people dealing with a variety of health challenges, ranging from youth with diabetes (Fontana, 2020) to adults recovering from substance use (Frigerio, 2020). Montagnaterapia appears to be less rigorously empirically validated relative to approaches like shinrin-yoku, though it builds on traditions of nature and adventure therapy.


A consequence of the past year pandemic lockdown was a rapid pivot to working in the zoomosphere. Early March 2020 our Research Division of about 25 faculty, students, and staff did a blitz purchase of laptops so everyone would be able to work from home. Prior to this we were ‘hot racking’ our desktops. With Spring 2021 bringing an easing, I wanted to kick-off a progressive “return-to-office” to coincide with Earth Day. Montagnaterapia was a bit extreme, so we opted for a shinrin-yoku inspired social distancing mini-retreat in the back of the valley in which our university resides. For my final contribution as column editor, my colleagues and I share our experience with “rural as healer.”

Psychiatry Research Division Mini-Retreat with Forest Bathing Hawai`i.

Written by Tai-An Miao, Yoko Toyama Calistro, Taira Masuda, Ishmael Gomes, Davis Rehuher, Bailey Monick, Suzy Bruno, Evan Kuniyoshi, Michael Juberg, Tiare Sabellano-Tsutsui, & Susana Helm.

Mahalo to our certified guide, Phyllis Look, from the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs for hosting us at Lyon Arboretum in Mānoa from April 21-23, 2021. Over three days we organized in small groups of 5 to 9 people to abide by our state’s social distancing rules. We embarked on 2-hour restful jaunts in which Phyllis settled us in a series of invitations to immerse ourselves in the healing properties of nature - by bathing with all five senses in the ambience of the forest. Some of us were familiar with the science showing shinrin-yoku has numerous psychological benefits, ranging from improved cognitive functioning, less stress as measured by cortisol and blood pressure, to reduced depressive symptoms in subclinical populations, to improved functioning among veteran’s experiencing PTSD (Anderson et al. 2018; Bettmann, et al. 2020; Stier-Jarmer, et al. 2021, Tsunetsugu et al. 2010). Developed in the 1980s simultaneously to promote forest preservation and prevent urban office-related stress, shinrin-yoku has risen in prominence in the health care system of Japan (to the extent that some businesses opt for employee insurance packages inclusive of preventive forest therapy, see 

Our group clearly benefitted from the FB experience as reflected in post-survey comments (N=17, see Table 1), as well as in the one-hour talk story debriefs about how to transfer these principles to our regular home and work life. In fact, several of us who “turn to nature & the outdoors for recreation/restoration/rejuvenation” on an annual or monthly basis have decided to be in relationship with nature each week as a result of the mini-retreat. The FB mini-retreat served to inspire us in two ways – gratitude and relationships. We collectively expressed gratitude for the experience of forest bathing in the moment and for sharing time in-person with co-workers and friends who have scarcely been seen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congregating safely in a natural setting improved our moods, leaving us to reflect on the importance of strengthening relationships - with one's loved ones, one's self, or the natural world. The theme of reconnecting was important to us, as expressed in our desire to spend more time with loved ones in the great outdoors, the importance of self-care and taking breaks from work, and wonderment and admiration for the beauty of the natural world. 

Table 1. Reflections on Forest Bathing

Post-Survey Question


Selected Quotes

Thinking about the past month and any stress-anxiety-depressed mood, how has today’s FBHi experience improved your feelings of wellbeing right now?

a sense of grounding, stress relief and calmness, and a sense of togetherness

  • Before today I was feeling very ‘in my head,’ second guessing myself and my experiences and decisions. I feel returned to my body now.

Research shows a single forest bathing encounter improves feelings of openness & self-awareness. How did this aspect contribute to your wellbeing today?

Responses ranged from a minimum of “it helped a bit” to my “internal activities went through transformation”

  • It reminded me to be present and still. To slow down my thoughts, observe my surroundings, and absorb the sounds, smells, colors, and feelings around me.

In what ways might we incorporate shinrin-inspired activities in our work for our collective wellbeing?

Mindful/meditative practices; meeting in nature, regular nature retreats; place-based experience of nature; get outside & move; bring nature into office

  • Team meetings in nature (psst, we don't need computers all the time).

  • Being together outdoors for meetings if feasible – [our office building] is next to the ocean!

  • Dedicate a room to forest noises, smells, and visuals for meditative stress relief.

Overall, the forest bathing experience illustrated the importance of our bond with one another and with the natural world. At the time of this writing, one month since our FB mini-retreat, we have held walk-n-talks in the park rather than zooming from home, organized meetings in outdoor spaces on campus, and have ordered hotspots so we can untether from our desks for designated work-at-wa`ahila (state forest) days.


Anderson, C. L., Monroy, M., & Keltner, D. (2018). Awe in nature heals. Evidence from military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students. Emotion, 18(8), 1195.

Bettmann, J. E., Anstadt, G., & Kolaski, A. Z. (2020). Therapeutic adventure for military veterans with mental illness. A conceptual argument. Ecopsychology, 12(4), 277-284.

Calzolari, L. (2020, Ottobre). I passi della solidarietà. Montagna 360, 12-13. 

Finelli, F. (2020, Ottobre). Le terre alte fanno bene. Montagna 360, 26-27. 

Fontana, F. (2020, Ottobre). Sogni sospesi, strani silenzi. Montagna 360, 20-23. 

Frigerio, A. (2020, Ottobre). La speranze corre sul web. Montagna 360, 18-19. 

Giuliani, L. (2020, Ottobre). Spazio di crescita, spazio di confronto. Montagna 360, 14-17. 

Stier-Jarmer, M., Throner, V., Kirschneck, M., Immich, G., Frisch, D., & Schuh, A. (2021). The psychological and physical effects of forests on human health: A systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1770.

Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, B. J., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku”(taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 27-37.

Yaden, D. B., Kaufman, S. B., Hyde, E., Chirico, A., Gaggioli, A., Zhang, J. W., & Keltner, D. (2019). The development of the Awe Experience Scale (AWE-S): A multifactorial measure for a complex emotion. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(4), 474-488.

Zhang J.W., and Keltner D., Awe and the natural environment. In: Howard S. Friedman (Editor in Chief), Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2nd edition, Vol 1, Waltham, MA: Academic Press, 2016, pp. 131-134.