Ecopsychology: An Emerging Discipline

April 19, 2013 — John van Bladel

    We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. – Aldo Leopold

Eco-what?  This is a common response when one mentions the term Ecopsychology.  For some it conjures up images of Vegans wearing tie-dyed shirts, hugging trees, and eating mung-bean sandwiches. The concept seems a bit too “touchy-feely” for many.  This whole issue of “being in touch with nature” can seem a bit strange, even unnatural.  We often do not see ourselves as part of an interdependent ecosystem, but as the dominant force that controls it.  This perspective, or ecocentrism, poses many problems both for us and the planet as a whole.

So how do we encourage people to invest in developing an appreciation of our relationship with nature? This is where Ecopsychology comes in. Our individual and collective attitudes determine the way we relate to each other and to the world around us. Ecopsychology explores the human-nature relationship. By viewing psychology within an ecological context, the relationships between mental, physical, and environmental health are examined within a framework of interdependence.  From the perspective of Ecopsychology, a healthy ecosystem is reflective of a healthy human psyche.  To heal our planet, we must heal our individual and cultural psyche by developing healthy relationships with each other and with the animals, plants, and resources that make up the ecosystem to which we belong. Sound a bit vague?  It becomes clearer when one practices it.  A walk in the woods or a garden, while practicing awareness of the world around us, makes all the difference in understanding the concept. 

Why is all this important?  Well, let’s look at an issue that touches many of us.  We are in the midst of an epidemic of largely preventable life-style diseases, such as diabetes, that create a great deal of unnecessary suffering and drastically increase health care costs.  This crisis is directly related to consuming in a manner that is detrimental to our physical and emotional health, and the health of the environment.   Likewise, our daily consumption of pesticides, fossil fuels, plastics, and many other products contributes to poor health and environmental degradation.  The challenge becomes living in a manner that supports both our health and the health of the ecosystem in which we live.

So what can we do?  We can begin to raise awareness about the issues we face.  Providing  a future for the coming generations, meaning all inhabitants of this planet, requires changing our relationship with the world around us and learning to live sustainable lifestyles.  There are plenty of opportunities to work on this at the college, local, and global level.  Some possibilities include FM’s Sustainability Committee, Outdoor Adventure Club, Gardens and Trails Club, the FM-Liberty Garden Project, Audubon Society, or the many other groups that focus on the environment.  Some simple steps you can take are: recycling, purchasing environmentally safe products, or planting a garden.   Little things make a difference and a great time to start making some changes is Earth Day on 4/22/13 or the Annual FM-Liberty Spring Clean-Up on 4/26/13. For an excellent source of ideas take a look at the Better World Handbook: http://www.betterworldhandbook.com/2nd/.  By caring for our planet, we are caring for ourselves.

John van Bladel is Instructor of Psychology at FM.

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