Becoming a Certified Forest Therapy Guide
Over the last year or so, I’ve had quite a few people reach out to me inquiring what it’s like to be a certified forest therapy guide and what’s involved in becoming certified. Since this is a long post, I’ve broken it up into a handy table of contents you can come back and skip around to. Hopefully anyone interested in becoming a certified nature and forest therapy guide will find my thoughts helpful.
Since this journey can cost a significant amount of money and time, I completely understand why people have questions to see if this is a right fit for them! Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to spend an hour or two on a call chatting about it, but when I do, I love talking all things forest therapy.
That being said, I’m always thrilled to spend time with those who are genuinely curious about forest bathing and book a walk with me. This is great for two reasons. 1. booking a walk with me and seeing forest therapy guiding in action is one of the best ways to decide if this is a good fit for you or not. 2. after you’ve experienced a forest bathing walk, you may have even more questions, or deeper questions may have arisen for you.
You booking a walk is reciprocal – it helps support me financially as a guide, and you get to see how it works, how it feels, and have me answer questions you have for as long as you need.
But in case you can’t do either, or you live quite far away, or don’t have time for a chat, I’ve written this post to give you an idea of the process and what it’s like to be a certified forest therapy guide.
This post reflects my own personal experience in becoming a certified forest therapy guide with the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides & Programs (ANFT). I do not have any information about any other forest therapy certifications or schools. Opinions are my own and I was not solicited, paid, or sponsored to create this post. I decided to write it in hopes of helping prospective guides out. 🙂
So! Let’s dig in!
What is a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide?
A certified forest therapy guide is a person who facilitates walks in a group or private format, providing “invitations” to open up participant’s senses, while holding a safe and comfortable space for people to relax and deeply immerse themselves in the walk. These “invitations” are simply gentle activities for people to become comfortable and reconnect with nature in a non-prescriptive way so that all can have their own unique experience.
Forest therapy walks aren’t your typical walk or hike. A walk usually lasts between 2-3 hours and the purpose isn’t in how far one travels – in fact, the walks can be quite short in distance. The goal isn’t from point A to point B, but rather slowing our mind and body and connecting with nature in a deep and meaningful way. The other thing we discover is we often reconnect with ourselves. People who have experienced a forest therapy walk have many unique experiences, and many say they are quite profound.
Our ultimate goal as a guide is to hold space for people to reconnect with The More Than Human World.
Finding My Way to Forest Therapy
About 6 years ago, I stumbled upon an article about a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku. The culture and history of Japan has always fascinated me, and I was trying to practice meditation with little success. I had a very stressful job in the engineering world and some issues in my personal life left me depressed, stressed, and my anxiety meter was on ‘full-tilt’ at all times.
My mental wellbeing and physical health were so bad that I – and I’m ashamed to admit it – I ghosted a job. I got so overwhelmed and stressed and full of despair that I just got up and left. Everything that day crashed down on me and I cracked.
And just because I quit the stressful job, didn’t mean my life got easier or any better. No, the shame spiral kicked in and I fell further into depression, as I wasn’t a person who did that. I put in notice no matter how much the job sucked. I felt even worse over the guilt.
Eventually I poked my head above the covers, realized I had a child who needed me – needed me to be better – and I delved into my self help files once again and discovered – shinrin-yoku.
Ever since I was little, I’ve had an affinity with nature. For hours, I would play in my backyard or nearby woods, conjuring up old Norse trolls, forest fairies, woodland princes, and would swear the animals talked to me. No one believed me, of course, but I believed! I loved coming home with my tales, smelling of earth and wood from my time spent in nature. I brought home pissed off toads, confused salamanders, leaves, twigs, feathers, rocks and stones – once I brought home an injured crow and tried to nurse it back to health, but sadly it died.
Of course, I gave it a proper funeral. Yes, I was that kind of kid. 🙂
When you have a childhood filled with trauma you play pretend.
You invent a world where it loves you and accepts you.
(But that tale is for another day.)
Anyway, in my life this connection to nature has ebbed and flowed – it has risen and then almost totally dried out – lost and forgotten. And although I walked my dog almost every day, I realized that I was starved for nature. When I stumbled across the article about the benefits of shinrin-yoku – the literal translation of that term is “forest bathing” I felt like I heard my calling. I began researching articles, reading books, and the next walk I took with my dog was amazing. It was like coming back to my childhood forest of magic after all these years.
It’s funny how something so incredibly simple can be so immensely transformative. I began forest bathing on my own and noticed that I was sleeping better, I was less jumpy or quick to anger, and honestly I felt a whole helluva lot less alone. I felt understood in the woods again, like I had come home after being away for hundreds of years.
Why I Wanted to Become a Certified Forest Therapy Guide
At a certain point, I felt like I had hit the wall when it came to educating myself on forest bathing/forest therapy/shinrin-yoku and still wanted to know more. Could I deepen the practice? Was I missing anything? This practice was definitely helping me in the mental health department, and I wanted to keep that up.
Then I thought, if it can help me, maybe becoming certified would help me more? And what if I could help others? I always feel better when I help people in a genuine and authentic way with no expectation of anything back, don’t you? No brainer, right?
This practice has changed my life in a profound way.
I feel even more connected with nature and The Untamed World than I ever have before.
I have a strong desire to help others and to help preserve nature.
I looked into forest bathing certification and decided that the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs was the gold standard of forest bathing certifications and the best fit for me. It took me a few years to align my life and finances to do it, but this desire to be a certified guide never left me. That might be a good thing to test out if you are unsure. Let it sit with you for awhile. If it is still a strong desire or calling ,then maybe you need to do it.
ANFT Training Process
There are three steps in the certification process with ANFT to become a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide.
6 month remote training. Content is covered online and through group Zoom calls.
When 4 months of online instruction is complete, you are eligible to complete a 4 day in-person immersion with instructors. Must be completed for Step 3.
Once steps 1 and 2 are completed, you are now permanently certified as a ANFT Certified
Forest Therapy Guide.
My cohort, Bee Balm, was a lovely group of people from all over the United States and Canada. We had people of every age group and background. Our trainers were those type of folks you swore you’ve known all of your life but just hadn’t seen them in a while. Everyone was open, kind, vulnerable, and helpful – it really is a beautiful program to journey with together. After a few weeks, you didn’t feel like strangers. You felt like friends and comrades. At least that was how I felt.
Our course material is by drip, meaning we received it bit by bit and not all at once through a website called Thinkific. We all progressed together. This is not a “do at your own pace” kind of thing. To get the most out of the course and your investment, keep up with the readings and assignments.
We would meet online and discuss our weekly topic, do our assignments and readings on our own time. You will need to do a few remote forest therapy walks with a trainer and there were lots of options at different times of day to do that. It was an enriching and unique experience to be connected with about 10 people all forest bathing yet in different parts of the world, all experiencing and sharing together. We also had smaller bioregional groups to do some more specific studying with.
We had various assignments, and one of my favorites is the web of interbeing. The web of interbeing is about our interconnectedness – every living thing relies on all other living things. For my assignment, which was to show your web of interbeing where you live, I painted the portrait below.
There are other delightful assignments included in this practicum that I really enjoyed, but this was my favorite. It is so much fun and so enchanting to see other people’s interpretations and works of these assignments.
- 6 month online course practicum with
- live discussions via Zoom with multiple trainers
- forest bathing as a group via Zoom
- private cohort Facebook group
- readings, videos, homework assignments
- After 4 months of online instruction, you qualify to complete the 4 day in-person immersion with trainers.
- There are multiple dates and locations you can choose from for the immersion, as well as multiple online cohorts you can sign up for to learn online.
- Diploma of certification, embroidered patch
- Professional private guide portal for professional development and resources
I enjoyed the online study immensely. The course is done at a good pace, and the instructors are kind about deadlines and when “life things” get in the way. As previously stated, I was in the first group that went 100% online due to the COVID pandemic and at first felt like this was just going to be another boring online course to slog through. I thought, “How will I really FEEL this forest therapy practice if it’s just online?” I didn’t worry long. For every class group, or “cohort” as they are called, you will receive an invite to your own private Facebook group. I truly felt a very deep and wonderful connection with the instructors, my fellow students, and the material.
It’s hard to describe the experience, but coming together with like-minded people who all loved trees, animals, nature, and the value of this Earth was really special. People were vulnerable. We laughed. We cried. We shared. It is truly a special experience, yes, even when done online!
Check out ANFT’s page on what you can get out of the course and the up to date costs involved. as costs and even formats may change.
Training Costs Involved
At the time of this post, costs to become a certified forest therapy guide through ANFT are approximately $3500 and do not include travel, lodging, and meals expenses for the 4 day immersion program. You will also need to be Wilderness First Aid trained and costs vary depending on which approved course you take. I took a course online approved by ANFT and the cost was about $200.
- 6 month online training $3,350.00*
- In person immersion $495 (does NOT include lodging, meals , or transportation)
- Wilderness first aid training – $100-$300
- Additional expenses if setting up as a business (read further for more info)
*Tuition figures are current as of most recent update on March 1st, 2022 and are subject to change.
Once certified, you can enjoy a private professional guide network which contains professional resources such as:
- Peer reviewed library of research: studies, articles, books, and other media on forest therapy
- Member curated resources: invitations and activities to help your guiding
- Discounts on ANFT professional development courses and other discounts
- International and local exposure on the ANFT guide map and directory
- Private Facebook community where guides help guides
Access to the professional guide network does cost $, but it is a very minimal cost per month and you can unsubscribe anytime.
Things to Consider
Can I Do This Full-time?
One of the most popular questions people ask me when thinking about becoming a certified forest therapy guide is “Can I do this full-time?” or “Can this be my sole source of income?”
Of course the answer is yes, it is possible, but speaking from my own experience and what I have heard from other guides, it’s not likely. At least, not in the beginning. Forest therapy or forest bathing as it is commonly known, is still a relatively new wellness movement and unless you already have a huge social media following or live in a large “green” city, it will be extremely difficult.
I don’t mean to say this to discourage you! You can build up your business if you have tenacity, grit, and fortitude! Starting up any business is hard, every entrepreneur and business owner will tell you that. And as forest therapy gains more exposure in the media, the more people will come to your walks.
Flexibility and patience is the key.
Usually guides already have a main source of income or a related occupation like therapist, coach, naturalist, environmental or a current business or occupation where they add this as a secondary service, and that definitely helps ease the burden of income.
Plus, you may not want to do forest therapy full-time. In the United States, a full-time job is considered 40 hours a week. To run my current business and actually do the guided walks (which are roughly 2-3 hours each) I probably already put in 10-20 hours a week depending on how much marketing work I’m doing. I would feel pretty depleted if I guided more than one 3 hour walk per day, and I personally don’t want to do it everyday.
That being said, some outgoing folks might bask in the glow of guiding people multiple times per day, every day. It’s really personal preference, but if you’re wanting to make this your sole income, it might look like this: the first two examples would be the ultimate scenario, provided you like to be actually guiding that much per week. The third is slightly more realistic, but still can be a struggle to achieve.
The is to just get an idea of how much you need to charge and how many people you can get per walk. The key here is how likely is it that you can get 100 people a week to forest bathe with you? To be perfectly candid, I struggle to get 15 people a week.
Unless you have a special connection, it can be difficult to gain new and repeat customers. Some guides are getting into the retreat and corporate wellness industries, and this can provide many more opportunities to make more income with guiding. I recommend reaching out and partnering with local parks and recreation employees in cities, nature centers, and nature preserves. Show them examples of other people partnering and guiding on similar lands.
The other thing I think guides wrestle with is the capitalism of it all, capitalizing on nature and whether or not that that’s ethical. We all need to make a living to survive in this world, and I do believe we all need to reflect and think on how that affects the More Than Human World. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “greenwashing”. Some companies pretend they really care about nature, but they don’t. It’s all about marketing.
I have concluded that it is not only important to help people reconnect with nature, but by my doing so I help cultivate a deep relationship which inspires these humans to go forth and protect and take care of nature. My goal isn’t to make a ton of money, but rather enough that helps pay the expenses of running this company. Still, if you become a guide, you may hear this discussed a lot and it is worth mulling over.
Will I Need Other Skills?
Whether you plan to forge ahead as a certified forest therapy guide as your only source of income, side hustle, or adding it to your current practice, you will need certain skills to ensure your success as a business owner if you’re just starting out.
I’ve listed some of the skills I needed to learn in order to run my business as a certified forest therapy guide and herbalist. While these aren’t inclusive, and there may be others, it will give you an idea of how to formulate your business and what to expect.
- Website design – you will need to create your own website or hire this out.
- Should I use WordPress, Wix, Weebly, etc?
- Can I design a website myself, or should I hire someone?
- How will you book people? There may be addons and plugins needed for your website.
- Payment options for your customers
- Marketing – you need to find the right people to find you and find your walks/services.
- Social media accounts.
- read the rules of Facebook Groups – not all let you self promote.
- Email list building.
- make sure email capturing is legal – people must opt-in!
- Coupons, promotions, events in your area.
- Social media accounts.
- Networking – you will need to get your face out there, connect with people to find opportunities.
- Media kit or press kit.
- Marketing materials to connect with landowners and managers of nature centers, parks, etc.
- Business Savvy – the more you plan out your business first, the better organized you will be.
- Sole proprietor or LLC?
- Business name is important. It will define your whole brand.
- Check Google, Trademark websites, and test the URL of your proposed business name. Don’t use or slightly change what is already out there.
- Filing documents with state.
- Accounting – you will probably want to do this yourself when first starting out.
- Have a spreadsheet or software to account for all income and expenses.
- Does your state require you to charge for sales tax or not?
- Is it worth hiring someone to do your taxes?
- How do they affect my personal taxes?
- Legal – you need to know the legal aspects of your business.
- You can’t just pick a business name if its already taken. You will need to research that your name is available.
- Designing your own branding – make sure you have the appropriate license type to use that graphic or font.
- Is your website up to snuff?
- GDPR cookie regulations?
- Liability insurance – in case of injuries on your walks.
- Having people sign a release form or waiver isn’t enough!
These are just a few things to think about when creating your forest therapy business, I’m sure there are lot more. ANFT does have some resources when you graduate to help in this area.
Looking for something to get your started?
I created a useful page for new guides to get started in their business. I also created a handy business planner which helps you organize your business, events, and most importantly, your forest therapy walks! Check out my planners and business tools here.
Questions? contact me and I’ll get back to you!