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Ecopsychology connects psychology and ecology in a new scientific paradigm. The political and practical implications are to show humans ways of healing alienation and to build a sane society and a sustainable culture. Theodore Roszak is credited with coining the term in his 1995 anthology, Ecopsychology, which he co-edited with Mary Gomes and Allen Kanner. This book, with articles by each of the editors and many others who would become prominent voices in the field, is still considered by many to be an excellent primer on Ecopsychology. To others, it could be more accurately termed a call for such a field to be developed. As mentioned by Roszak, there are a variety of other names used to describe this field: Psychoecology, ecotherapy, environmental psychology, global therapy, green therapy, Earth-centered therapy, reearthing, nature-based psychotherapy, shamanic counselling, sylvan therapy.

The basic idea of ecopsychology is that while the human mind is shaped by the modern social world, it can be readily inspired and comforted by the wider natural world, because that is the arena in which it originally evolved. Mental health or unhealth cannot be understood in the narrow context of only intrapsychic phenomena or social relations. One also has to include the relationship of humans to other species and ecosystems. These relations have a deep evolutionary history; reach a natural affinity within the structure of their brains and they have deep psychic significance in the present time, in spite of urbanization. Humans are dependent on healthy nature not only for their physical sustenance, but for mental health, too. The destruction of ecosystems means that something in humans also dies.

Practical benefits

An important part of ecopsychological practice is to take psychotherapy out of office buildings and into the open. A simple walk in the woods, even in a city park, is refreshing, because that's what humans have over thousands of years evolved to do. The beneficial effects of natural settings, and even of looking at pictures of landscapes, can be measured. They have been verified in psychological studies.

Steps taken to accept and notice nature can sharpen the senses and give new skills. For example, the ability to track and navigate through a wilderness is improved if nature is noticed and accepted rather than feared. Sailors who appreciate the sea gain a keen sense for breeze directions, giving them speed over water. An appreciation for nature gives greater skills in its domain. While these survival skills may not be needed in modern society, they can have broader value by improving confidence and awareness.

Reasons to embrace nature

Ecopsychology explores how to make links and bonds with nature. It considers that this is worth doing, because when nature is explored and viewed without judgement, it gives the sensations of harmony, balance, timelessness and stability. Ecopsychology largely rejects reductionist views of nature that focus upon rudimentary building blocks such as genes, and that describe nature as selfish and a struggle to survive. Ecopsychology considers that there has been insufficient scientific description and exploration of nature, in terms of wildness, parsimony, spirituality and emotional ties. For example, parsimony is the best way to produce an evolutionary tree of the species (cladistics), suggesting that parsimonious adaptations are selected. Yet today, the brain is often seen as complicated and governed by inherited mind modules, rather than being a simple organ that looks for parsimony within the influences of its surroundings, resulting in the compaction in minds of a great diversity of concepts.

Cultures that embrace nature

In its exploration of how to bond with nature, ecopsychology is interested in the examples provided by a wide variety of ancient and modern cultures that have histories of embracing nature. Examples include aboriginal, pagan and Hindu cultures, and shamanism. This is not to say that such cultures are viewed without scepticism where appropriate. Of interest is how the self identity becomes entwined with nature, so that loss of those sacred places is far more devastating to indigenous people than often understood. Other lessons include how to live sustainably within an environment, and the self sacrifices made to tolerate natural limits, such as a nomadic existence that allows the environment to regenerate, or population control.

Pain and delusions without nature

Ecopsychology recognizes the escalating spread of pain and despair being felt by people in response to nature’s continuing destruction. It is disappointing to a human that this destruction occurs at the hands of his or her own species, which makes one doubt the quality of one's species, or the current degree (or delusion) of its wisdom. The destruction is not likely to end, until humans regain an identity and bonding with nature.

Ecopsychology recognizes that without the influence of nature, humans are prone to a variety of delusions. For example, they can become self-centered, alienated and insensitive. Wildness in nature is not controllable by humans, so can undo preconceived ideas. If nature is excluded, insights that could correct a deluded mind will occur more rarely.

See also


Key texts – Books

  • Clayton, S. & Opotow, S, (2003). Identity and the natural environment: The psychological significance of nature . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Clinebell, H. (1996). Ecotherapy: Healing ourselves, healing the earth . Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  • Cobb, E. (1977). The ecology of imagination in childhood . Dallas, TX: Spring Publications.
  • Fisher, A. (2002). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life. New York: SUNY Press.
  • Kanner,AD Rozsack, T & Gomes, ME (1995) Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Sierra Club Books.ISBN 0871564068
  • Kahn, P. (2001). The human relationship with nature: Development and culture . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Kahn, P. & Kellert, S. (Eds.). (2002). Children and nature: Psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Kaplan, R. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature. Cambridge Press.
  • Kellert, S. R., & Wilson, E. O. (1993). The biophilia hypothesis . Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • Roberts, E. (1998). Place and the human spirit. The Humanistic Psychologist . 26 (1-3), 69-100.
  • Roszak. T. (1992). The Voice of the Earth: An exploration of ecopsychology. NY: Simon & Schuster.
  • Sessions, G. (Ed.). (1995). Deep ecology for the 21 st century: Readings on the philosophy and practice of the new environmentalism. Boston: Shambala Publications.
  • Sewall, L. (1999). Sight and sensibility: The ecopsychology of perception. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
  • Shepard, P. (1982). Nature and madness. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books
  • Winter, D.D. (1996). Ecological psychology: Healing the split between planet and self. New York, Ny: HaperCollins College Publishers.

Additional material – Books

Key texts – Papers

  • Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. The Humanistic Psychologist . 26 (1-3), 69-100.
  • Roberts, E. (Ed.). The Humanistic Psychologist: Special edition, humanistic psychology and ecopsychology . 26 (1-3), 69-100.
  • Wysong, J. (Ed.). (1995). The Gestalt Journal (special edition on ecopsychology). 13 (1).

Additional material - Papers

External links

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