what is ecopsychology?

Ecopsychology has emerged over the past several years as an intellectual and social movement that seeks to understand and heal our relationship with the Earth. It examines the psychological processes that bond us to the natural world or that alienate us from it. A major focus of ecopsychology thus far has been the integration of psychological insight into the environmental movement. Although many people have worked for years toward this integration, it first received widespread public visibility in 1992 with the publication of Theodore Roszak’s groundbreaking book The Voice of the Earth (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992).

A central assumption of ecopsychology is that the outer world of the environmental crisis and the cultural and political processes that support it influence our most intimate personal experiences and feelings. In turn, our states of mind find expression in the way that we relate to the natural world. The outer and inner worlds reflect and support one another, which means that a healthy ecosystem is inseparable from a healthy psyche.

Few could deny that we live in an ecologically destructive culture. Ecologically minded cultural theorists have identified many ways that urban-industrial society creates a sense of separation from the land and steers us toward ecologically unsustainable actions. The qualities of our culture that are most damaging to the Earth are also those that are most destructive to the human soul. Social forces such as the centralization of power and the replacement of cultural diversity with corporate monoculture undermine our ability to have meaningful, nourishing interactions with each other and with the more-than-human world.

From this perspective, it makes little sense to address human suffering only on an individual level. If we live in a pathological culture—one that threatens what is most sensitive and beautiful in humans as well as the future of life on the planet—then we need to uncover ways to heal the culture as well as the individuals who live in it. Ecopsychology is essentially about becoming cultural healers. Ecopsychologists draw on psychological knowledge to become more informed and effective transformers of society.

Mary Gomes, from ReVision, Spring 1998, Vol. 20, #4, p. 7.




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