Ecopsychology is a scholarly and professional field that offers insights, practices, and concepts to promote wellbeing by fostering a renewed sense of harmony and union between people and the natural world. Ecopsychology combines the study of ecology and it’s central focus of relationships and inter-dependencies with the study of the human psyche in psychology.
Ecopsychologists work with individuals and communities to develop healthy ecological identities to shift environmentally destructive behaviors. The modern Industrial Growth Society is based on an anthropocentric, “Cartesian” world-view, that sees all worldly phenomenon as mechanistic, separate, and hierarchical, with humans in a position of domination above, or “power-over,” all other life forms (Conn, 1998, p. 181). This is an unsustainable model that enables a human-nature relationship marked by the destruction and exploitation of vast, irreplaceable networks of life considered “resources” at human “disposal.” Ecopsychology supports the emergence of a life-sustaining, eco-centric worldview that considers All of Life as having equal importance. It acknowledges the Earth and Universe as an extended-self and seeks to illuminate the intrinsic, reciprocal connection between people and the natural environment to promote psychological well-being and develop a nature-centered culture based on synergy, cooperation, and the “power-with,” model (Macy, 2000). It aims to facilitate a shift from the disassociated cultural world-view to a more harmonious, more fulfilling one.
The psychological component of this new worldview is exemplified by the Deep Ecology practice of developing an “ecological self” and recognizing the rights of All of Life. Having an experience of being part of the incredible web of life leads people to “be inclined to care for all of living nature,” the way they would care for their own selves or families. (Capra, 1997, p.12). We recognize the natural world as an important community we intrinsically belong too, and this felt-sense of belonging to a vast, interdependent, self-organizing, living planet initiates the process of reshaping the current world-view and inspires action.
Ecopsychology uses transpersonal practices and language to accentuate and articulate the profound human-nature connection on which it is based. One of Transpersonal Psychology’s core concepts is the fundamental idea of non-duality, which is both a state of consciousness and a way of viewing the world that transcends a personal identification with the more limited, ego-mind. Ego-transcendence is the first step towards embodying a non-dual frame of reference that allows personal identification to take place with a felt-sense of union with a larger, more universal self – be it the community, the natural world, or the greater cosmos. This is a present-centered way of being in the world that is not defensive but is instead curious and more fluid in relationship to the present moment and phenomenon. Ecopsychology, therefore, promotes transpersonal nature experiences to soften the boundaries of the rigid, representational ego, resulting in a sense of feeling open to the dynamism of life in the moment.
Ecopsychology shares with Transpersonal Psychology an optimistic attitude that views life as already perfect, whole, and complete in all of its expressions and it views challenges as opportunities. This optimistic view has far reaching implications for working with environmental concerns. It helps us face the environmental challenges in our own back yards with bolstered confidence and provides practices that help us sit with difficult emotions that arise when confronting them.