Ecopsychology in Practice

Peter Cock

Graduate School of Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Australia

There are several ways the naturescape works with a person to aid in their developmental processes and, at the same time, facilitate deepening their nature connection. Such techniques begin with simply observing how you feel when in the bush or desert and taking note. We can see attributes of ourselves highlighted in the characteristics of plants, animals and elements, such as the hardness of rocks, the slipperiness of fish, the piercing eyes of an eagle, the persistence of a wombat. Nature heals and teaches through encounter with its varied attributes and capacities. A sunset offers an experience of transcendence, a desert storm or pounding seas offer humility in the face of nature’s power or peace in nature’s quiet. Awareness of our regeneration through such nature experiences is often vague or simply taken for granted. This can be enhanced through an ecopsychologist who focuses one’s encounter and facilitates understanding.

In the discipline of psychology too much responsibility lies in the hands of the professional carer who is expected to hold the client’s projections as they go through their therapeutic journey. While this is important, there are ways to reduce its extent and to mediate the relationship so that participants are more responsible for their journey. This can happen through allowing nature and the group process to do some of the holding. This makes the learning and therapeutic process a 4-way dialogue between the above players. This takes time to evolve. It involves a design that trusts the process through making provision for unfilled niches, with responsiveness to the weather and the evolution of the group. With a wider array of resources it is more likely the person will be enriched in ways that joins them with each of the parties without excessive reliance on either one. A difficulty is how to do this in a way that honours ecopsychology’s roots with first peoples and be authentic to where we are now. Now to a course that works with this dialogue.

The design of the course involves a variety of approaches. Some are developmental and others operate in parallel. Assessment tasks are designed to formalise experience while providing focus points along the way. This is not a one-on-one approach that puts the focus on the teacher/learner therapist/client. The role is rather one of the facilitator of explorations of nature connections in partnership with other players; a role dependent on having been there oneself with a guide.

Nature attractions for learning/healing/transcending

Each season and naturescape provides a different opportunity for personal exploration of being in nature. The core of the course is built around two weekend retreats in powerful naturescapes, one by the sea in autumn, the other in the mountains in winter. Participants organise some of the workshops which have included 'art expression through nature','creating songlines,'our body in nature','nature wounds and our shadow side'. At night there may be ritual dancing, drumming, story telling, a night walk.

My major intervention is the direct exploration of each person’s left field/right brain dialogue with nature. This is in order to explore how that can enrich the power and fullness of who they are and deepen their appreciation of their beingness in nature and the beingness of nature. Initially this involves participants spending time in a chosen place for at least an hour while being mindful of their attractions and resistances. They may keep a journal and write poetry. Initially they often find the prospect of an hour alone in one place, consciously in nature, daunting. They are asked to bring back to share with the group a sample of what particularly caught their attention. What is it that attracts and repels them? What does it mean?

Maybe there is something in the nature/human dynamic that picks up their under-expressed aspects? Whether the resulting image comes from direct channelling or a dialogue between right brain and the cosmos stimulated by the nature attraction is not central. It works and I can see that it works. The following provides a beginning description and my perception of what actions help or hinder. I have used left/right brain language; as clumsy and dualistic as it is, it does have a biological basis.

Developing a way of working as an ecopsychologist

This involves for me:

What comes through may be a straight mirror of who one is, that helps to develop more awareness of oneself. I think it is more likely to be a message about what participants need to work on to move forward, such as to create more balance in their life, or to face a troublesome pattern indicated by what they bought back to the group.

Because the experience comes out of their left field/ right brain and through nature it is harder to argue with. It can be powerful and take the form of a revelation. It can be quite upsetting, generating confusion, anxiety even hostility, requiring considerable processing and assistance. The following illustrates one participant’s experience while showing how the ecopsychology work can lead into other ways of working, such as with dreams or active imagination.


Ecopsychological practice is exploring our human nature through the diversity of what nature offers. It involves being open to oneself, the other while keeping in mind what the nature attraction is and what is one's response. Working with nature directly keeps participants in touch with their roots while they explore difficult and new dimensions of their being. While the burden on the psychologist through drawing on the eco is lessened, the struggle remains to develop a process that holds the individual sufficiently while not taking away from their response-ability. The dynamic between the nature that attracts and the meaning we give can only be subjective. The uncertainty principle needs to be held in the present or else we risk commitment to a false certainty.

It is not that dreams, free association, body analysis or clay expression and the stars do not work, for there are many pathways to the psyche. This is one other. An essential difference is the constraint on projections by the character of the nature-encountered. The eco comes before the psychology. There is a dialogue between the participant’s need and their nature encounter. This is affirming of being in nature in all senses of our being and an experience of ‘out there’ as ‘in here’. I do love the magic that can occur.

Ecopsychological practice is a way to be in nature as an eco-carer living sustainably (psychologically and spiritually) from Gaia. There is the little picture of what you gain for yourself and the larger one of being more conscious through this kind of experience that psychologically and spiritually we are in nature. Ecopsychological practice can be a building block to ecospirituality. Spirituality needs expression through experience of the truth of the Gaia theory or else spirituality becomes part of the paradigm that takes us away from being within the earth. This has left us vulnerable to our techno/virtual culture creating a false sense of our power as the earth’s god and, as such, no longer capable of listening and learning other than from ourselves.


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