Dr Maren Østvold Lindheim’s Visit to WA: Harnessing Nature for Healing

Nature Play WA recently welcomed esteemed clinical psychologist, Dr Maren Østvold Lindheim, from Oslo University Hospital, Norway, to Perth. Dr Lindheim’s visit marked a significant milestone in ongoing efforts to explore the benefits of incorporating nature into medical treatment for WA children. Her visit brought together leading pediatric healthcare providers and supporting organisations, and provided a platform for knowledge sharing and inspiration. 

Years of planning and preparation paved the way for Dr Lindheim’s visit, with Nature Play WA working closely with experts and advocates in paediatric health to ensure an enriching and valuable experience.  

Research has demonstrated that incorporating nature into therapeutic practices can have a profound impact on children and young people receiving medical treatment. As a specialist in Clinical Children’s and Youth Psychology, Dr Lindheim’s expertise is focused on utilising nature for better therapeutic outcomes for pediatric patients and their families through delivering treatment in natural surroundings, and her work highlights nature’s ability to alleviate stress and anxiety, promote joy, relaxation, creativity, and instill hope for chronically ill children. 

Dr Maren Lindheim delivers her keynote at the Revolutionising Paediatric Care Breakfast

During her visit, Dr Lindheim engaged in a series of events, sharing her expertise with healthcare professionals and stakeholders in child health. These events included a thought-provoking “in conversation” style breakfast at Fraser’s in Kings Park, held in partnership with Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation and Rio Tinto and attended by dignitaries His Excellency the Governor Chris Dawson and Mrs Dawson, Dr Katrina Stratton MLA, Member for Nedlands, (representing Minister for Health and Mental Health Hon. Amber-Jade Sanderson MLA) and Meredith Hammat MLA, Member for Mirrabooka (representing Hon. Dr Tony Buti, Minister for Education; Aboriginal Affairs; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests). A meaningful and engaging Smoking Ceremony and Welcome to Country was delivered by Professor Len Collard, which included a presentation of a glass message stick, which Dr Lindheim was honoured to receive. Notable guest speakers, Professor Helen Milroy and Professor Desiree Silva, added further insights to the discussions on the significance of nature in therapeutic interventions, in a conversation facilitated by Nature Play WA CEO Dr Kelsie Prabawa-Sear. 

Dr Lindheim emphasised the importance of creating therapeutic interventions that include nature surroundings, utilising pictures, activities, and stories to make nature an integral part of the treatment experience. She noted, “For children in hospitals, they can go from feeling really scared and out of place to feeling okay, through creating this kind of environment. The environment plays a crucial role in shaping their experiences and promoting a sense of comfort.”  

Dr Lindheim highlighted the significance of allowing patients the freedom to explore, and fostering environments that empower them to find their own strength and ways of dealing with challenges. She noted, “What I talked about was well received and not new in the sense that it’s what we’re all trying to achieve; positive health outcomes for children.” 

Dr Lindheim participated in a walking tour of Rio Tinto Naturescape with the Kings Park and Botanic Gardens Education Team, who provided a firsthand experience of the positive impact of natural environments on children’s well-being delivered through their programs. Additionally, she presented seminars at Perth Children’s Hospital and Telethon Kids Institute, engaging healthcare professionals and researchers in thought-provoking discussions on the integration of nature into medical practices. 

The success of The Outdoor Care Retreat, a cabin situated in the woodlands near Oslo University Hospital, was a focal point of Dr Lindheim’s presentations. The retreat’s positive impact on patients’ stress and anxiety levels, as well as its facilitation of therapeutic interventions, has garnered attention from national and international audiences. She compared the retreat to traditional hospital environments, sharing insights from hospital leaders, therapists, and parents of children and adolescents who had been admitted to the hospital.  

Dr Kelsie Prabawa-Sear, Dr Maren Lindheim and Associate Professor Hayley Christian at Telethon Kids Institute

Dr Lindheim acknowledged the role of being introduced as an international expert and the potential it has to promote collaboration and inspire further action. She said, “Some of this (the things she presented about) is common sense, and there are so many brilliant researchers and clinicians here, but having someone come from overseas might promote conversation and ideas.” 

The visit also brought about opportunities for Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation to share plans for the Green Space Upgrade project, and for representatives from Ronald McDonald House Charity and Starlight Foundation to speak with Dr Lindheim about their work at PCH. 

Dr Lindheim observed the tremendous effort put into making Perth Children’s Hospital a place where children can feel like children, and highlighted the importance of collaboration, stating, “There are so many different organisations that contribute in different ways with so many good intentions, so it’s important these organisations work together.”  

Nature Play WA CEO Dr Kelsie Prabawa-Sear echoed these thoughts, “Dr Lindheim’s visit underscored the need to create environments that allow paediatric patients and their families to benefit from elements of nature – whether that’s views of trees from beds, greenery on balconies, or spending time outside the hospital. Perth Children’s Hospital’s new Green Space development and the Koolangka Kids’ Bridge between PCH and Kings Park offer promising opportunities to incorporate nature into the therapeutic experiences of patients, families, and hospital staff.” 

Dr Prabawa-Sear expressed excitement about the opportunities that Dr Lindheim’s visit brought to the WA health community. “We can’t wait to see what we can do for WA kids off the back of Dr Lindheim’s visit,” she said.  

Carrick Robinson, CEO of Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, noted the collaboration between Nature Play WA, Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, and Rio Tinto exemplifies a shared commitment to championing the significant role of nature in children’s health and healing. “We already know that being closer to nature creates opportunities for kids to play, relax, heal, learn, and discover. However, when it comes to demonstrating evidence of the lifechanging physical and mental health benefits of nature for WA’s sick kids, Dr Lindheim’s expertise is invaluable.”  

“By bringing world-leading experts like Dr Lindheim to Western Australia, we aim to build an in-depth understanding of what clinicians, patients, and families need, so that we can ensure that the projects we fund at Perth Children’s Hospital make a tangible impact where it counts most.” he said. 

Matt Kimball, Vice President People at Rio Tinto, expressed pride in supporting initiatives that create thriving and resilient communities, “This is a wonderful opportunity for our partners and health care providers to learn from a leading international child health expert on the value of improving health outcomes through best-practice therapeutic nature-based interventions. We are excited to see how these ideas can help support the mental and physical health of all Western Australian children.” 

Dr. Lindheim’s visit to WA has brought forth valuable insights, ideas, and inspiration. The collaborative efforts of Nature Play WA, Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, and Rio Tinto, along with the participation of healthcare professionals and stakeholders, promise to enhance the therapeutic experiences of paediatric patients in Western Australia, and look to a future where nature plays a central role in the healing journey of pediatric patients. 


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