Ecopsychology & Nature Based Therapy

I take care of my canoe and my body so as to be able to reach the other shore.

An urgent message, a past experience with which to live the present, an existence in which life is not absent.

Have you still not talked to the trees or listened to the mountains ?

Have you still not made a pact with our brothers, the animals ?

Have you still not learned the language of the clouds ?

Come and reconcile yourself to nature.

  • My Canoe, author unknown

Ecopsychology: Working with and within nature

We often conceptualize the challenges we face as disconnected from the larger world around us. For example, we might feel and understand our experiences of depression or anxiety as our personal challenges to bear and overcome. This way of thinking makes sense as traditional psychotherapy has worked on the premise that the client has a problem, related to their own ego structure, which can be fixed through clinical interventions, personal growth and development. Along these lines, the dominant Western paradigm is premised on an ego-centric perspective in which it is natural to place ourselves and our problems in the center of our own worlds. Alternatively, ecopsychology invites a shift from ego-centric identification to an eco-centric perspective, expanding the way we see and make sense of ourselves in the world.

Ecopsyhcology as a framework for healing:

“Interdependence is the ongoing recognition that we are not separate from other beings or the world around us. Life is a web of infinite relationships.” Djuna Deveraux

Ecopsychology bridges human psychology with ecology, focusing in on the interdependence and interconnections among all forms of life on earth. Ecopsychology situates the human psyche and each “individual” psyche as nodes in a vast, interconnected, relational network within and among all beings. With all beings, we include everything in the world around us, sentient and nonsentient, including, for example, entities like mountains, rivers and stars, as well as death, pollution and decay. 

From an ecological point of view, nothing exists on its own or individually or independently; everything exists in an interconnected set of relationships. As humans, we are part and parcel of larger ecosystems. As a result of our relationships to the world around us, we are impacted both positively and negatively by our surrounding environments. Our health and wholeness depends on the health of our environments. 

So, within an ecopsychological frame, each human and each psyche is not an independent unit, apart from others. Rather, humans are all already a part of their environments and surrounding communities. This approach understands psychological wounds like grief, depression, or anxiety, as symptoms of disconnections from the natural world and from others. The painful feelings we carry may be empathic responses to our environments; we may be responding to the destruction of nature on our planet, unhealthy cultures or disconnected communities. So, ecopsychology holds that our wellbeing depends on consciously affirming and strengthening our connectivity to the natural world and to those around us. 

Ecopsyhology in practice:

Working with nature in mind has the power to change our mindsets and our ways of being with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.  In our search for health and wholeness, ecopsychology encourages us to re-member ourselves as co-existent with our physical and social environments. Answers to our challenges (personal and collective) can often be found and reflected within the natural world. 

Ecopsychology encourages us to see how the renewal and resilience of the natural world is reflected within ourselves. For example, we might feel like our world is on fire, or that our love in a relationship is dying. We might then notice how a forest fire is regenerative, or how a dead tree becomes home to a vibrant network of fungi. In this way, ecopsychology can involve using metaphors and processes from the natural world to frame and make sense of our experiences. 

We can also bring our experiences of nature into the counselling room to be processed and integrated. For example, if we are drawn to mountains, we might integrate the strength and sturdiness of a mountain into our own sense of ourselves. If we are drawn to rivers, we might look at the flow of life energy within ourselves. We might practice feeling the elements of earth, air, fire and water in our bodies. Or we might connect imaginally to spaces in nature that help us feel relaxed and rejuvenated. 

Outdoor sessions are another powerful and often fun way to work ecopsychologically. Working in natural settings enables us to draw on the direct and immediate experience of nature as a resource in the healing process. In an outdoor session you and your counsellor might sit by the ocean, take a stroll in the forest, learn about the medicinal and energetic properties of plants, build an outdoor shelter, or co-create a ritual. Practices like forest bathing and establishing sit spots (places we regularly visit to sit meditatively in nature) are also ways of working with nature. 

The possibilities for working with nature are vast, often creative and meaningful. Outdoor sessions can teach us how to connect with nature in an intentional and therapeutic way. These practices and the connection to nature as a resource can be drawn on outside of counselling sessions and integrated into everyday life.