Finishing high school, I considered studying to become an outdoor instructor, yet after talking to people in the field I realised that they were mostly working weekends and during the holidays and that pay was terrible…..this put me off and also really felt a calling to doing something bigger that could change the world for the better….it was then that I came across a study called Health Promotion focussing on complex health issues. This really clicked for me and I studied with a lot of joy and passion, specialising in physical activity promotion and women’s health, particularly during pregnancy and motherhood, realising their influence on the future generation.
This passion brought me from the Netherlands, to Sweden and from Sweden to Australia, where I completed a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC).
One of my published research articles: The Stigmatisation of Pregnancy: Societal Influences on Pregnant Women’s Physical Activity Behaviour
Towards the end of my PhD, my plans to implement my developed wellbeing program in the local government program fell into pieces when the local government changed (Politics right!!). They wanted something new, and cancelled all existing community programs. I moved back to The Netherlands (Maastricht) and started working for COACH (Centre for Overweight Adolescent and Children’s Healthcare), where I noticed a growing interest in becoming a life coach or teacher to teach youth, especially girls, important life skills that I had learned when studying and practicing Buddhism in Australia.
Yet, life happened and my love for a man brought me back to Australia, where I found an interesting research position at USC’s Centre of Human factors and Sociotechnical Systems. I worked on a project that was applying systems thinking to create solutions to adverse events (e.g., injuries and accidents) in the Led Outdoor Activity Sector. I have always loved the outdoor sector and my brain loved systems thinking, so I stayed for a few years. It was during this time that I attended a conference, where I joined a presentation about nature therapy and its power to improve community connectedness. I noticed becoming increasingly interested in applying systems thinking to health and community connectedness/social cohesion, but that was not the focus of my research team. When I ended my personal relationship, I decided to move back to Maastricht, hoping to be able to apply this in my home country.
Back in in the Netherlands, while looking for an interesting research position or project, I decided to start my training to become a life coach. While working as a life coach and an outdoor travel guide, it became clear to me that I wanted to further specialise to become a nature coach. After completing my nature coaching training, I wanted to reach the wider public, not only people who were looking for a coach. I wanted to help people in slowing down, finding their inner wisdom through nature, and build a relationship with nature in a way that is healing and nourishing to them as well as the more than human world. This brought me to the path of becoming a forest therapy guide.
At the same time, the researcher in me, loving systems thinking approaches to health, is still alive. And so, when I recently attended the launch of the One Health Belgium Network, discussing how human, animal and nature health is interlinked, I knew this too had to become my future. I am currently involved in facilitating research around biodiversity and sustainability and involved in a project that aims to create a green space at the Maastricht University Randwyck Campus, that increases native biodiversity, and improves wellbeing of staff and students by facilitates connections with nature (flora and fauna). In addition, I am exploring, with other researchers, ways in which we can secure funding for One Health research projects and research to further support the evidence base for the practice of forest therapy, nature coaching and other nature based practices that have a similar goal: facilitate healing (physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual) for all beings through a deep human-nature (re)connection.