Ecopsychology: What it is, and Why it Matters – Part 1

Set aside the learned ways of perceiving the world as dead matter for your use and see if you can recover again your actual perception of the world as a community of beings to whom you are meaningfully related – Erazim Kohák

Some of my most meaningful childhood memories stem from experiences that I had while I was outdoors with nature. For example, I remember spending countless hours with neighbourhood friends building (illegal!) tree forts in a local woodlot. For a number of reasons, building these forts connected my friends and I in ways that many other activities did not: we each had an important role to play during construction, we each gained a sense of accomplishment from building something of our own, and the fact that our activities were banned by local by-laws, made these projects incredibly exciting!

While I remember these friends fondly, twenty years later, I have an even stronger appreciation for the tree(s) which hosted our forts. I can still smell the fresh scent that the Manitoba Maple would release when we drove nails into her. I can still feel the sense of safety that would overcome me as I sat in her canopy–able to observe the world around me without being seen. My experiences with these trees are some of the most meaningful events of my childhood.

The many hours I spent building tree forts as a child are likely one of the many reasons I am captivated by the field of ecopsychology, a discipline which argues that the relationship between humans and the natural world runs very deep.  While ecopsychology is difficult to define, in his book Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, historian Theodore Roszak suggests that it consists of (at least) the following four elements:

1) An emerging synthesis of ecology and psychology.

2) The skillful application of ecological insights to the practice of psychotherapy.

3) The discovery of our emotional bond with the planet.

4) Defining “sanity” as if the whole world mattered.

In Part 2 of this post, I will delve deeper into ecopsychological thought and share with you how it might help us confront the environmental crisis is productive–and healthy–ways.


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