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TIME Article on Eco-Therapy

Posted: 07/29/09 09:50 AM ET

Time journalist Bryan Walsh reports on "'Eco-Therapy' for Environmental Depression":

A new and growing group of psychologists believes that many of our modern-day mental problems, including depression, stress and anxiety, can be traced in part to society's increasing alienation from nature...

"[People] began to get the impression that we were somehow above and separate from nature," says Craig Chalquist, an instructor at John F. Kennedy University in San Francisco and co-editor with [Linda] Buzzell-Saltzman of the new book, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind [Sierra Club Books].

So how can ecotherapy help with the growing epidemics of depression, stress and anxiety we find in modern society?

While traditional psychotherapists focus their treatments on the patient's interior -- whether through pharmaceuticals like Prozac, mindfulness practices like meditation, or old-fashioned couch-bound therapy by the hour -- practitioners of the burgeoning field of eco-therapy believe that patient care must include time spent in the great outdoors. "It's psychotherapy -- as if nature really mattered," says Linda Buzzell-Saltzman...founder of the International Association for Ecotherapy...

Actually, ecotherapy involves both internal and external practices. In fact, two sections of Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, address this paradox.

"Working From the Inside Out" deals with more traditional internal therapy practices like journaling, processing feelings and dream analysis. This section also includes an essay on "The Waking Up Syndrome" that explores the psychological stages people go through as they become fully aware of the extent of the environmental threat. One of these stages involves "eco-anxiety," a state of persistent fear about the very real crisis we face that can be at the core of many of the "environmental depressions" Walsh refers to.

Another section of the book, "Working From the Outside In," addresses some of the more familiar external nature-connection ecotherapies, including wilderness work, garden therapy and animal-connection.

The fields of ecopsychology and ecotherapy have unfortunately been ignored by both the mainstream media and mainstream psychology for over a decade - as our environmental situation has worsened -- so it is tremendously encouraging to find renewed interest in the relationship between the human mind and the rest of nature.

As many experts have pointed out, we humans already know the basic solutions to the environmental crisis we face, and it is only our reluctance to psychologically confront and process the need for changes in our attitudes and behavior that prevents us from living a truly sustainable life in harmony with the laws of nature.

As Walsh reports,

Eco-therapists point out that human beings have evolved in synchrony with nature for millions of years and that we are hard-wired to interact with our environment -- with the air, water, plants, other animals. But in the past two centuries, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, people have been steadily removed from the natural world, our lives regulated not by the sun or moon but instead by the factory clock. Recently it's gotten worse, with the rise of the Internet and other technologies, like iPhones and BlackBerrys, that dominate our lives, pushing us even further from any appreciation of our natural surroundings.

And without that appreciation, we don't really confront the losses all around us. As the psychologically-astute Harvard University scientist Stephen Jay Gould once cautioned us, "We will not save what we do not love."

To here to read the whole article.

To find out more about ecotherapy, you can go to www.ecotherapyheals.com and http://thoughtoffering.blogs.com/ecotherapy