Can you make a living as a forest therapy guide?

I totally get it. You’re working a job that is killing your soul and you go to the forest as a way to heal, only to discover that there are people who are forest therapy guides and perhaps this is what you’re meant to do!

That could very well be the case! I hope it is. But as far as making a “living,” — the answer is it’s complicated and it depends on a number of factors. The more experience I get, the more nuanced my stance on this has become.

Here are some factors to consider before paying for that forest therapy certification or quitting your job! I don’t want to dissuade you at all, I just want you to be informed. In the wellness industry, there’s a lot of spiritual materialism and brainwashing that is used to take advantage of well-meaning people. My intention is to share my experience in a honest and authentic way.

Grit

How entrepreneurial and creative are you? How much grit do you have? Are you ready to try a lot of different things and are you okay with some of them failing? How creative can you get in terms of collaborations and partnerships? Are you clear on the audience or the community that you want to work with?

Since starting the Forest Bathing Club, I’ve tried a lot of different offerings. I’ve done group sessions, corporate forest baths, private forest baths, and collaborations. I’ve offered mentorship programs and online classes. From the outside, it might look like a mess. But the entrepreneurial process is quite messy!

As a designer, I’m used to prototyping and learning what works and what doesn’t work. You learn through the process of doing and not thinking about it. Eventually you will find your niche, but you might have to try a lot of things before honing in on your core offerings.

Finances

How much money you need/want to make? Do you have a mortgage to pay? Are there other people who depend on you? Do you have debt or student loans? Do you want forest therapy to be a full time job or a side hustle/passion project?

When I quit my job at a design studio in 2015, forest bathing was not yet a term people knew. I had so much conviction that I needed to do this work. I took a leap of faith — but I had a strong safety net and a ton of privilege. I was able to move in with my parents to save on rent. I knew I wouldn’t go hungry under my mother’s roof. I had no one else that I needed to take care of.

Uniques

What other skills you bring with you? Are you an artist, yoga teacher, a gardener, or an engineer? Are you already a therapist and want to expand your practice to include eco-therapy? What can you bring to the practice of forest bathing to carve out a niche for yourself? Is there a community that you’re connected to that you can bring this work to?

I leverage my skills as a design strategist a lot. I also bring my training as a yoga teacher, reiki master, and permaculturist to this work. I like to bake and collaborate with friends and organizations I admire so that is part of what makes my offerings unique, too.

Location

Like they say in real estate: location, location, location.

If you’re in a city where people need and want guided experiences in nature, you have a built in audience. There are lots of people in a city so you can have newcomers every week. Or if you live in a tourist hot spot like Hawaii or Tahoe, you can position yourself as a must-do when traveling.

When I lived in San Francisco, I had a thriving in-person forest therapy business and was even working with corporate clients. There are so many people in the Bay Area who love nature and want to try new things. Since moving to the forest in Southern Oregon, I haven’t led any in-person forest baths (though I have done a lot online!). The population is a lot less dense and people who live here are deeply connected with nature and less likely to spend their time on a guided forest bath when they could just step out their back door.

Trends

What’s happening in the world? What are people desiring at any given moment? In general all trends point to a reconnection to Nature.

Pre-pandemic, I was getting invited to guide forest baths at festivals which was fun and a great way to network, too. But will there be festivals in the future? Who knows! On the flip side, a lot of opportunities for digital forest bathing, which sounds like an oxymoron, but is a real offering.

There was once talk that forest therapy could become something that insurance companies pay for, like acupuncture. If that happens, that would be great for this business. But who knows!

Luck!

There’s definitely an element of being in the right place at the right time that can determine your success. Does a journalist discover you? Do you meet other partners or collaborators that help you along? What opportunities are naturally opening up to you?

I do believe that when you’re living your purpose, you exhibit a certain magnetism that draws people and opportunities to you. So if this is what you’re meant to do and you’re doing it in a good way, you may open yourself up to some magic. I sure have witnessed some miracles since starting down this path. When people ask me how it happened, I say “the trees worked their magic.”

Trees are very powerful and support those who support them! But fair warning: nature provides, but not necessarily in the ways you might think you want. The path of listening to the trees does not always make sense when you’re having to deal with the logistics of late stage capitalism.

Integrity

Are you making money off of stolen land and some appropriated traditions? Will you see forest therapy as a money-making opportunity and create a line of clothing or perfume? Do you have systems in place to give back in reciprocity? Are you helping all people experience nature connection or just ones who can already afford it? Forget what the email marketers and personal business gurus tell you and trust your gut. If something feels icky, it probably is icky!

I do believe connecting to Nature is the most important thing we as humans can be doing on the Planet at this time. I also see how capitalism destroys everything in its wake and when you take something as pure as nature connection and try to make money on it in a capitalist sense, the essence gets diluted.

If you truly listen to Nature, you’ll start to understand collaboration and reciprocity. You’ll see that making a living off of something the forest gives freely is inherently icky. You will grapple, grieve, feel the pain of the Earth, and begin to understand how capitalism lives inside of you and has programmed you to be extractive and opportunistic. There’s a lot of grey area and we all need to make a living at this point, but can you align your living with Life? That’s the challenge and something to ask yourself every day.

It is a radical act but the only hope for the future of our planet. I hope you’ll join me on this quest for greater harmony.

May we all find ways for our work to be supportive of Life.

Julia Plevin is the founder of The Forest Bathing Club and author of The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing. She is a design strategist committed to healing the planet.

Full disclaimer: she works as a design strategist and doesn’t make her living as a forest therapy guide.

Nature-Centered Designer | Entrepreneur | Founder of Forest Bathing Club. I write and design things — it’s all in service to Mother Earth.

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