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Community Highlights: Meet Heidi Schreiber-Pan of Center for Nature Informed Therapy


Sep 26, 2022

The Story Behind CNIT

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heidi Schreiber-Pan.

Hi Heidi, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today. I remember the day my research advisor told me: “You need to pick a topic for your dissertation that you have a lot of passion for because that topic is going to be the front and center of your life for a long time.” Instantly, I knew it had to include the natural world because nature had been my alley and my place of peace since my earliest childhood days. In 2015, I graduated with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology having completed a successful investigation of nature and mental health, specifically nature’s role in psychological well-being, resiliency, and spirituality. The real dream, however, was to create a living organization informed by my research.

At the height of the Covid pandemic, we celebrated the grand opening of the Center for Nature Informed Therapy at one of our partner locations, Puhtok in the Pines. People came in droves. I gave a fiery keynote address that spoke to how my upbringing in the European Alps had begun a lifelong love affair with Mother Nature. I was curious how mental health professionals could help people better their mental health with some guidance from trees and streams. My vision of combining my personal love for the natural world and professional passion to integrate nature into counseling has become reality.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The journey has not always been smooth. The field of psychology with its roots in psychoanalysis and behaviorism is still skeptical that spending time outdoors can actually aid people in mental distress.

So, I take every chance I get to present in front of groups to share research findings or tell stories of people healing in the woods. Also, it’s not easy to find partner organizations that allow us to conduct therapy on their land. Therefore, we are ever grateful to our current collaborators Irvine Nature Center, Ladew Gardens, and Talmar Horticulture Center for partnering with us.

The search continues to find a Baltimore city partner who will team up with us to further the mission of connecting people with nature for the betterment of people’s mental health and for the sake of improving the city as a whole.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?

What exactly is Nature Informed Therapy? It’s a therapeutic approach that integrates the healing elements of nature into established, evidence-based counseling techniques. It builds awareness of how the human connection with trees, streams and animals improves mental health and wellbeing by restoring a healthy bond with nature, self, and others. Nature informed therapy enjoys many pathways such as backpacking, hiking, walking and talking, nature-based mindfulness, boating, horticulture, nature arts and crafts, and nature immersion retreats.

I think we all can agree that our planet is in need of better caretaking. At this point, all careers should be nature-informed. Imagine a world of nature-informed lawyers, doctors, and teachers. I can’t make all that happen. What I can do is try to train every mental health professional to become a nature-informed therapist. That’s the dream, that’s the vision. Therefore, our center trains professionals to offer therapy to the public and provides mental health first aid to outdoor organizations.

In essence, if we create a deeper relationship with the more-than-human world, we create deeper care for it.

We all have different ways of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?

For me, success means guiding people into true reciprocity with nature. This applies to anyone who walks through the doors of our center; staff as much as clients. Human.Nature.Healing – that’s what matters most – that’s success.

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