This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
Chief Seattle’s Letter to the American Government (1800s)
Empirical research suggests that living a life that is disconnected from nature and that is unsustainable for humans, non-human animals, and the earth that we all share, is associated with higher rates of human emotional distress and psychological disorder. Undoubtedly, our disconnection from nature is enabling us to inflict devastation on the planet and on the other lives who inhabit it. Ecopsychology proposes that this disconnection is rebounding on us, causing devastation of our psychological health. Conversely, a simple, sustainable lifestyle, that includes reconnection and harmonious interaction with the natural, non-human world, is associated with higher rates of psychological wellbeing and happiness.
Ecopsychological research is demonstrating ecotherapy to be a clinically valid, cost effective, accessible treatment choice for mental distress, with significant positive effects on mood, self-esteem, and general wellbeing.
Ecopsychology should pertain not only to the healing powers of the more than human world on humans; it is imperative that we ourselves become healers of the earth that we inhabit and that we refrain from inflicting harm on any of the lives we share the planet with. In order to do so, we must first become open to, and aware of, any inherited patterns of living, thinking or feeling that we engage in that inadvertently affect the rights of others to the same things that we want for ourselves: the right to life, to peace, and to some degree of happiness. We begin by acknowledging our own animal nature, and recognising that in all the ways that matter, other lives share our capacity to feel, our struggle to avoid pain, and our desire for peace and wellbeing.
What is Ecotherapy?
Clinebell (1996) coined the term Ecotherapy, and defined it as a mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship in which humans gain psychological benefits from interacting with and being nurtured by nature, and the natural, non-human world benefits by our reconnection with it, as we nurture nature.
Ecotherapy or Ecopsychology involves conducting psychotherapy in a way that helps us connect with the natural, more than human world, and to return to our true home as one of many animals who inhabit the earth. It is an evidence-based approach to some of the most serious causes and consequences of psychological suffering in our current world.
Psychological pain understandably entails a focus on the self. Ironically, human happiness is found when we become more concerned about the happiness of others than our own happiness. Ecopsychology stretches the boundaries of compassion because there is no valid reason why our focus of compassion should not extend beyond our own species, to include the billions of other species in existence, and the earth that we all depend on for our survival. If we regard the wellbeing of the planet and of those who share her with us, as being at least as important as our own wellbeing, we will act with justice and compassion, and these acts are very likely to improve our own psychological wellbeing.
Ecotherapy aims to foster a healing reconnection with the natural, non-human world; it helps to motivate and teach the skills necessary to live a more sustainable, just and compassionate life that benefits everyone and that is demonstrated to be an extremely important factor in our mental health.
We are not passive members of the earth. Our actions have consequences for others. One of the most important aspects of Ecopsychology as it is practiced at The Compassion Foundation, is veganism. Clients are encouraged to research the rational for veganism and to adopt its non-violent philosophy into their daily lives.
“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.“
Clinebell, H (1996) Ecotherapy: healing ourselves, healing the earth. Mineapolis: Fortress Press.
Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health, May 2007. Mind UK http://www.mind.org.uk/assets/0000/2139/ecotherapy_executivesummary.pdf
Green Care: A Conceptual Framework. A Report of the Working Group on the Health Benefits of Green Care. COST 866, Green Care in Agriculture. Editors: Joe Sempik, Rachel Hine and Deborah Wilcox. Loughborough University, April 2010. http://www.friskinaturen.org/media/green_care-a_conceptual_framework.pdf
Louv, R (2005) Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books, US.
Macy, J and Young Brown, M (2010) Coming back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, New Society Publishers, Canada.
Peacock, J, Hine, R and Pretty J (2007) Got the Blues, then find some Greenspace, The Mental Health Benefits of Green Exercise Activities and Green Care. Mind week report, February 2007. Jo Peacock, Rachel Hine and Jules Pretty. Centre for Environment and Society, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex. Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQalth.