Connecting Ecology and Psychology


Did it ever happen to you to simply have a walk in the woods or a countryside trail, and all of a sudden had a surge of wellbeing crossing your body and mind, and many of the challenges and issues you were facing at the time did not seem that great and impactful? Of course you did, we all had this experience at some of our lives, to different extents. The simple explanation is that physical movement combined with oxygen of course create more well-being than desks, led lights and long hours spent between four walls. All true, yet let’s have a deeper look at the reasons why we feel better, more balanced, more focused and more at ease when we are in open air and natural environments. 


One of the main criticisms of psychotherapy nowadays is that in its most classic formats it has the ambition to heal people by allowing them to return to what is generally accepted as normality, which can also be understood as conforming. What if normality, or what our culture and societies consider normality is actually quite toxic and unhealthy. Freud himself expressed these doubts after witnessing the horrors of World War I and the rise of National Socialism, questioning the whole psychoanalysis approach. If we look at human society’s behaviour today, the perpetrated consumerism, individualism with elements of narcissism, self-destruction through depletion of resources and harm to the biosphere in the only planet that we know that is liveable to us. In classic psychology if humanity would be a person the therapist would diagnose quite a few pathologies to our species, and how we are behaving towards each other and our own homes. 


The times we live in demand our species to develop new coping systems and methods to deal with the existential threats and menaces we face today, which mostly stem from our behaviour as humans. We actually possess of the possible technology and know-how to actually solve our problems, but somehow it seems we are collecting an epic failure after the other, and in the meantime the climate crisis becomes harsher, glaciers and polar caps melt, entire species go extinct, deserts advance, the sea rises… well we know all that. So why don’t we do anything about it? Why don’t we apply our advanced technical and scientific knowledge to tackle and solve these major issues? Because we lack one major important element, we miss the attitude to do so. What does that mean?

What has brought us to the present environmental crisis was exactly an attitude, a very individualistic attitude that convinced us that we, as individuals, are the only existing subject, and everything and everyone around us are simply objects, meaning inanimate tools that exist to serve me, the subject. Then natural resources are objectified, environments and ecosystems are objectified, people are objectified, meaning that all that surrounds us has a purpose to serve the Self, to serve me. What is the result? If something is useful to me, to my personal and individual well-being, then this becomes a functional object, therefore let’s extract fossils, let’s grab land; and if something is not useful to my purposes then becomes a dysfunctional object, meaning it has no use therefore I will not care about it, nor will safeguard it. This is what is at the root of today’s environmental crisis, exactly this very possessive and toxic attitude, and when looking for solutions we still behave as if our own personal object and belonging is broken and we need to fix it; and that is the reason why today’s application of scientific and technological advancements are not working as they should and not applied, because of our attitude towards the solution. So what is the necessary attitude?


The solution is exactly in expanding the concept of Self, expanding the subject beyond just “me and my inner world” to “me, my inner world and the outer world”. Understanding that the attitude of solving today’s crisis is one of connection, that healing the biosphere, healing the community means also healing the subject, healing “me” where me means the individual, within its human ecosystem, within the biosphere at large.

Ecology is a branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to each other and to their physical surroundings; and we as humans indeed are organisms that relate to each other as well as to our surrounding environments. While psychology studies the human mind and how it works, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context. Putting those definitions together we have ecopsychology, a transdisciplinary field grounded on promoting sustainability as a behaviour and as an attitude. 

Going back to the initial question at the beginning of this article, the reason why walking in the woods and generally in nature makes us feel good, besides physical exercise and oxygen, is because we are in an ecosystem that is more balanced, therefore healthier, and that is why and how this affects us, and generates well-being. Now try to imagine this whole approach adopted to our education system, to support professions, to working with young people, what a giant step that would be for our communities and ecosystems.