An international conference for adventure therapy will be held in the Agder region of Southern Norway next year. Practitioners, researchers, and students from all over the world come to be inspired by how Norwegians interact with nature and our “friluftsliv” tradition.
“More and more professionals have noticed that not all patients benefit from therapy sessions indoors. Experiences of nature and being physically active can provide people with a sense of mastery and lead to multiple health benefits. In Norway, our relationship to nature is different than in many other places. This is something international colleagues are eager to learn more about”, says Dr. Carina Ribe Fernee.
She is an outdoor therapist and researcher at Sørlandet Hospital and holds a position at the Department of Sport Science and Physical Education at the University of Agder (UiA). Along with UiA, Kristiansand Municipality, Agder County, Sørlandet Hospital and the Blue Cross, she is involved in organising the 9th ‘International Adventure Therapy Conference’, which will be held from the 20th to 25th of June 2022.
“Spending time in nature is restorative, unlike more traditional treatment. We want to show the natural diversity of our region, from the coastal town of Kristiansand to the mountain village of Hovden and inspire other health practitioners to make use of the outdoors in their work”, says Fernee.
It is not easy to find a simple definition of what outdoor therapy is, since the field is so broad. In general, one can say that outdoor therapy is all forms of mental health work that take place outdoors, from hikes in nearby nature to larger expeditions in more remote areas. The common denominator is the combination of nature and therapeutic intent.
There is a growing community for nature-based health work in Southern Norway, through Energiverket – a service provided by Kristiansand Municipality for people who struggle with mental health problems, or substance use - the Blue Cross Children's Station, and the Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (Abup) at Sørlandet Hospital.
The conference will consist of scientific presentations, practical workshops indoors and outdoors and opportunities to experience Norwegian nature from the coast to the mountains. The programme includes opportunities to sleep in tents, canoeing and mountain hiking, both to experience nature and to strengthen international cooperation in the field.
“Building networks is one of the most important aspects for conferences, and here we have the opportunity to combine this with fantastic experiences of nature in the region. Many people are interested in the relationship Norwegians have to nature, and the public right of access we have to the outdoors is quite unique internationally”, says Sveinung Berntsen Stølevik, head of the Department of Sport Science and Physical Education.
The conference was, like so many others, supposed to be held in 2021. Since it was impossible to gather researchers, therapists and other professionals from around the world during the pandemic, the conference was postponed until 2022.