Ecopsychology

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Ecopsychology explores the relationship between humans and nature, specifically involving this relationship’s influence on mental health, environmental health, and spirituality.

The core of ecopsychology is the belief that humans and the environment are deeply interconnected, and that needs and health of one should best be explored by examining and responding to the needs of the other as well. Without the health of the environment humans are unable to thrive, and thus human treatment of and relationship with the environment can be seen as a reflection of human treatment and perception of the self. Disconnection with nature will result in decreased mental health, instability, and delusions, which will lead to self-destruction concurrent with environmental degradation.

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Main tenets of ecopsychology

Ecopsychology can be broken down into three main tenets, according to psychologist John Davis:

  • There is a deeply intertwined and reciprocal relationship between humans and nature, often manifesting as home, mother, siblings, or self
  • The illusion of separation between humans and nature leads to suffering
  • Opening to the connection between humans and nature leads to healing

Origin of the term ecopsychology

The term ecopsychology first emerged from Theodore Roszak's book Voice of the Earth (1992), which called for a need for new methodologies to understand human treatment of the earth, and find more effective ways to prevent environmental degradation. Ecopsychology grew out of the necessity for a new paradigm in western psychological analysis that recognizes the limits of technocratic solutions in addressing issues and relationships which cannot be examined through a body of thought or ‘expert analysis’ because they exist in the realm of ‘experiencing’ and ‘being’.

Ecopsychology and the environment

The realm of ecopsychology explores how a person’s level of connection with, view of, separation from, or dominance over the environment will affect mental health, views of self-identity, treatment of others, and treatment of the environment. The importance of this relationship is the foundation of therapeutic methodologies utilizing nature and outdoors for healing, such as ecotherapy, wilderness therapy, shamanistic healing modalities, and other earth-based therapies that involve immersion into the outdoors and deep exploration of the inherent human-nature connection for the purpose of healing.

Ecopsychologists believe that “environmental crisis is a crisis of consciousness” [1], that our environmental issues are driven by unhealed emotions and psychological states, and vice versa. A lack of access to healthy environment can drive social and mental unbalance. Ecopsychologists thus explore the role of nature in healthy development starting at a young age, and often work with people and cultures that feel deep pain, anxiety, and despair due to environmental destruction, species abuse, and loss of sacred places.

Ecopsychologists often stress the importance of activism, as establishing mental and ecological balance can only be achieved through experiential methodologies, not just the act of thinking and analysis. Establishing a reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving with nature is essential, and a large body of work in ecopsychology deals with prescribing methodologies for people to become better caretakers of the environment, as well as identifying the changes that need to be made in psychological and social beliefs in order for a global shift toward sustainability to take place.

The realm of ecopsychology involves studies in environmental conservation, environmental philosophy, psychology, activism, social justice, ecological development, sustainable living practices, wilderness immersion, spirituality, transcendentalism, poetry, and other art focused on the aliveness of nature in humans.

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Author: Shena Turlington