Doctor of Philosophy
Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
This qualitative phenomenological study explores the experience of connection with nature in the forest setting. Research on nature-based therapies and health promotion interventions suggests that connecting with nature is important to receive optimal health benefits from nature contact. The research evidence suggests that the concept of connection with nature is commonly characterized as a stable trait, typically assessed using quantitative psychometric scales. However, the experience of connection with nature varies from person to person and from place to place, and there is scant research that explores the intricacies of the lived experience of this phenomenon.
Employing Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), this study aimed to investigate the lived experiences of adults who value connecting with nature in the forest and what this experience means to the informant’s health and well-being. Two research questions guided this study. The primary research question was: What is the experience of connection with nature in the forest setting? The secondary research question was: What does the experience of connection with nature mean to health and well-being? Semi-structured interviews and the go-along method were used to generate rich, detailed descriptions of the phenomenon from ten (n=10) adults residing in Ontario, Canada.
Data analysis from the informant’s accounts illuminated four superordinate themes: (a) grounded body awareness; (b) temporal awareness; (c) nurturing and nourishing relationships; (d) personal wellness promotion practice. Informants expressed that the experience was grounding, relaxing, and restorative, relieved bodily tension and stress, and enhanced vitality, mindfulness, and overall mood. The experience was also viewed as an opportunity for solitude, self-care, and reflection, which enhanced feelings of belonging and created meaning in informants’ lives.
This study is one of the first to investigate the lived experience of connection with nature in the forest setting. Insights generated in this paper provide new contributions to our understanding of connection with nature as a subjective experience. Implications for ecotherapy, health promotion, and future research are provided.
Summary for Lay Audience
Connection with nature has been widely studied in recent years due to its positive impact on well-being and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour. Research evidence establishes that it's not just about spending time outdoors to benefit health and well-being but about experiences that psychologically and emotionally connect people with nature to receive optimal health benefits from nature. Several aspects of contemporary lifestyles, including living in cities and the emergence of primarily sedentary indoor pastimes such as watching television, playing computer games, and using the internet, means we are spending less time in nature. Given the pace at which urbanization, globalization, and the degradation of natural areas are occurring, investigating the phenomenon of connection with nature in the forest is a worthy and timely endeavour.
One approach to research suitable for investigating lived experience of a given phenomenon is phenomenology. Phenomenology is a way of studying how people experience the world around them. It's all about understanding what an experience is like for someone. Researchers using phenomenology want to know about everyday experiences and the meaning people give to them without being influenced by preconceived ideas. Phenomenological research can discover things that might have been previously hidden about a phenomenon. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is one approach to doing phenomenology research.
IPA is used in the present study to explore 10 informants' meaning-making related to significant lived experiences of connection with nature in the forest and what this experience means to their health and well-being. The interpretative analysis led to the creation of themes that communicate the essence of the experience. Informants of the study expressed that connecting with nature helped them ground and release tension and stress, and feel more energized, happy, and mindful. The experience was also viewed as an opportunity to be alone, take care of themselves, and reflect, which made them feel like they belonged and gave their lives more purpose. Findings are discussed in relation to the relevant scientific literature.
Slade, Shawn M.T., "Freedom to Be - An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the Experience of Connection with Nature in the Forest" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9621.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Available for download on Wednesday, January 01, 2025