Defining Ecopsychology, Part 1

Posted on March 27, 2009 by Amy Lenzo

by Robert Greenway

There is no common definition of “ecopsychology” —  to many,  in and out of academia,  it has come to mean any or all of the following:   a kind of “pop psychology” or quasi therapy that helps ease fears about the decline of “the natural world”;   just about any kind of environmental-social or environmental-political topic;   gardening, hikes in the wilderness,  fishing —  anything having to do with “humans” and “nature”  (with “nature” usually meaning something separate from humans).  Etc.
Perhaps it’s all good —  keeping an urgently needed conversation going about the human-nature relationship —  but such usually superficial eclecticism prevents the depth necessary to fully understand the deep psychological dynamics of how humans became such adversaries of Nature,  prevents the incredible overlaps between human’s
natural processes and “nature’s” natural procvesses —  where we overlap, etc. —  and it prevents (as does “green washing”) the crucially-needed in-depth healing of the relationship.

“Ecopsychology” could,  and should in my opinion,  be the field,  the instigator,  and guide for a genuine re- orientation of human culture —  an orientation that is not damaging to
natural processes —  could begin to occur.   So far,  this promise has not been realized.


I take ‘ecopsychology” to be an articulation —  an accurate depiction —  of the human-nature relationship (or, “HNR”). It must be based on experience,  but couched in language, perhaps “deepened” by ritual and art.  It must be founded on the deepest meanings of “relationship”,  “mind”,  and the functioning of the “natural world”.

The rapid expansion of this “field”,  meaning so many different things to different people,  reducing coherence and depth, has diminished EP’s usefulness.   This,  coupled with
increasing confusion and anxiety about the rapid decline of “natural processes”,  plus a yet-to-be articulated linkage between “nature” and “economic practices”  diminishes
the hope that EP will have the time, space (now seemingly a luxury) to help human civilizations alter their courses towards a “sustainable” future.



EP is a set —  in some kind of language —  of core assumptions and principles about the HNR,  drawing from ANY field of knowledge,  but primarily (or initially) from various psychologies, ecology, and biology.

AND, EP is drawn from experience-in-nature —  and from awareness of one’s own “intrinsic human nature” (the “inner wilderness” ….)

EP-as-language is ALSO drawn from political attempts that deal with the HNR —  such as the creation of Earth Charters (cf., Thomas Berry),   attempts to stop devastation of the earth via political and local means —  and these,  and many other sources (i.e., farming and organic farming,  the local food movement,  tree planting, etc.)  —  all these activities feed
into the core language at the heart of EP.   (Note that these activities should not be confused with EP per se —  but a source of language for EP  (This would help remove a huge amount of confusion about the parameters of EP-as-field. Obviously I advocate a “field” bounded by certain boundaries,  so a focus — and thus effective usage —  can
be found.)

Such a language can support all the above activities,  and contribute to a personal  healing of the HNR and a turn towards social, educational and political patterns that will help create a clear, potent, in-depth “pattern” that will help create a context by which real healing of the HNR can take place,  etc.


EP can be seen as the inter-relating of psychological processes and natural processes (“mind” and “nature” interacting) —  and it can be seen as an umbrella for anything having to do with human activities and “nature” (meaning “nature” is “over there” —  away from where humans are ….  a place to “get into”,  or “travel to …”,  thus ignoring or diminishing the reality that humans are,  in fact (now and always) an intrinsic part of nature).   This keeps EP superficial.

Seen as language,  embracing a set of core assumptions, EP-as-field becomes a strong, deep, and clear —  a diagnosis as it were —  of the underlying dynamics by which humans can expand their natures,  can relate to nature as it exists,  can join with (rather than attempt to manage and dominate) the processes of evolution  (or at least include these processes in human evolutionary programs (i.e.,  the Internet,  the harnassing of “sustainable” forms of energy,  etc.)).

Seen as language,  embracing a set of core assumptions, EP-as-field could deal with the serious and growing dis-junction between “urban psychology” and “natural psychology”
that seems to be distorting the HNR —  to the degree that the earth herself is in serious peril.


“Ecotherapy”,   of which wilderness work is a paradigm,  is a rapidly emerging aspect of EP,  focusing on diagnoses (which are often —  usually —  hidden) of the HNR,  of the
psychology within the HNR —  the pathology —  and especially activities which are meant to heal the HNR.   (The “deeper dynamics”  of the HNR —  often very theoretical   —    of just how “minds”, “brains”, “neurophysiology’ etc. interact with simpler but highly complex interactive systems — remain largely unexplored by both “ecotherapy” and “ecopsychology” —   and this is where the true benefits of EP remain hidden.

For more on this subject, read Part Two.

by Robert Greenway
for Esalen Workshop on Ecopsychology, 2007
superficially revised,  March, 2009 for Thomas Doherty

What Others Are Saying

  1. Jana Rupnow February 5, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I think it is outrageous in this time when health care dollars are so stretched that someone wants to make $100/50 minute hour. or more for this. They are already doing it with what basically used to be religion now called therapy they collect big bucks on an assigned diagnoses, invented for insurance claims! I had my life ruined by a Jungian “cult” Quack and this big insurance racket is being used by all sorts of therapies in nooks and crannies all over the globe. Why dont you just start a church or stay in education institutions? Because you cant rake in all that dough for ideology!

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