Guest Post – “Psychology Goes Green: An Introduction to Ecopsychology”
Note from Sam: I have another guest post for you here, this time refreshingly broader in its perspective. It’s a great post which looks at the relatively new field of psychology focused on ecology and nature. I suspect most of you will have never even heard of the term (I hadn’t), so it’s a very worthwhile introductory read. A massive thanks to Patricia Duggan for providing the article (more information on the author at the end of the post)
It seems like everyone is going green these days, and the field of psychology is no exception. Ecopsychology is a relatively new term, coined in 1992 by the historian Theodore Roszak in his book, The Voice of the Earth. It draws on concepts from ecology, psychology, and philosophy and concerns the intimate connection between humans and nature.
Although the human mind is shaped by modern society, it remains adapted to the natural world in which it evolved. Thus, humans have a latent instinct to find emotional connections with nature. As a result, the sources, consequences, and solutions for environmental problems are deeply connected with the human psyche, self-image, and behavior. The illusion that a separation exists between humans and nature causes suffering for both, in the form of environmental devastation and our own feelings of despair and alienation. However, by realizing that this connection exists, healing can occur.
Ecopsychologists believe that when humans are away from the influence of nature, mental delusions can occur. On the other hand, living in harmony with nature as a part of it forms the basis for human sanity.
Ecopsychology searches for ways in which humans can bond and reconnect with nature. This can include ecotherapy, dealing with grief about environmental destruction, taking action to restore the environment, and living a sustainable lifestyle.
One of the most important practices of ecopsychology is to take psychotherapy into nature. Direct encounters with the natural world, such as a walk through the woods, along a lake, or even in a park can foster healing in a number of mental health issues such as addiction, emotional trauma, stress, along with improving self-confidence and spiritual growth. In fact, the benefits of spending time in natural settings have been measured and verified in many psychological studies.
Ecopsychologists also examine cultures that have histories of embracing nature, such as aboriginal, pagan, Buddhist, Hindu, and shamanist cultures. For these groups, loss of nature has an effect that is far more profound because it is so entwined with self-identity. We can learn from their practices of living in harmony with nature.
Ecotherapy is broadly defined as any way in which nature can be used to promote mental and emotional health. This may include wilderness retreats, relieving stress in nature, or using it as a base for spiritual growth. Many ecopsychologists use the term in a more narrow sense to refer to psychotherapy in nature, which could include dealing with a client’s feelings about environmental problems or discussing positive responses to experiences in nature.
Some examples of ecotherapy include:
- A group of sexually assaulted women meets in a park. As a result of being in nature, they feel more free to share their deep emotions.
- A therapist recommends that a client with anxiety take daily walks to relieve stress.
- Men with histories of violence work with horses to increase their capacity for empathy.
- Members of a therapy group choose a stone from a box containing rocks of all shapes and sizes. They take turns to describe themselves by describing the stone and disclose more about themselves as a result.
- Children with ADD are more successful at focusing and completing tasks in a natural setting.
- A retreat in the wilderness helps a new father realize that he is a man, not a boy, and he can later draw on the experience of being alone in the woods.
- A prison with windows that look out on natural environments can help reduce behavioral problems in inmates.
There are a number of other terms used to describe ecotherapy or share similar philosophies. These include but are not limited to psychoecology, environmental psychology, green psychology, Gaia psychology, global therapy, green therapy, nature-based psychotherapy, and Earth-centered therapy.
* Patricia Duggan has a Masters in Psychology and has been practicing for 11 years. She maintains the site Psychology Degree. She writes about various subjects within the psychology field. *
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