When you get right down to it, psychology aims to answer two basic questions: why do we hurt, and more importantly, how we can be well? Various schools place their focus on different areas such as how we think, how we process emotions, our behavior or personal and family relationships. Ecopsychology does not seek to replace or contradict any previous models or methods, but adds a larger field of focus: our place in the natural world.
In this sense, the underlying ideas of ecopsychology are ancient, predating modern psychology. Stated simply, human beings are part of nature, not separate and not greater; our mental and physical health is dependent on our being in right relationship with the Earth and the entire family of living beings.
While psychotherapy rightly focuses on the painful stresses related to family, work and relationships, people also feel grief, fear, anger, tension and stress at the abuse and destruction of the natural world. Such reactions are natural and left unacknowledged and unaddressed, contribute to depression, anxiety, alienation, addiction and dysfunctional human relationships. Ecopsychology points out an unhealthy split in our conscious lives from the life all around us and suggests remedies for resolving this.
Practical Methods of Ecopsychology
First, and most simply, we can include in our conversation, the relationship to nature as part of the family of relations that make up our life. We can support and encourage the healing effects of spending time in nature. Experiential therapeutic processes can include guided inner journeys into places you have experienced as peaceful and healing, demonstrating that you can find a safe emotional space within yourself. We may explore the role of natural elements that occur in dreams as a mirror of internal psychic forces. Finally, inthe- field practices drawn from indigenous cultures such as ritual experiences in natural settings, sweat lodges, night vigils on the mountain or vision quests, may be seen as ecopsychological approaches to personal change.
Additionally, ecopsychology has become part of the environmental movement, helping people live in more ecologically sane and sustainable ways. As a study, it helps us to better understand the mindset of people behaving with little regard for the planet and to find more positive ways of educating and motivating healthier lifestyles and support for environmentally conscious public decisions. Likewise, the ecopsychology message serves to awaken those in the healing professions to see that people find meaning and purpose when they serve a larger purpose such as relating to the needs of the earth community.
Most importantly, ecopsychology takes us on a different kind of spiritual journey, feeling gratitude and appreciating the sacredness of life in its infinite forms.
Alan Levin, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has a private practice in Nyack and integrates an ecopsychological and ecospiritual orientation in his work. He has led group wilderness quest experiences in the desert mountains of California. His program “Coming Home” is a contemplative approach to healing in nature. He can be reached at 271- 3623 or firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting SacredRiverHealing.org.