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Forest Poet Blog

Contemplative ecopsychology expressed somatically, artistically and poetically. 

The Differences Between Ecotherapy and Ecopsychology

Laurel Vogel

In what is perhaps the most useful book for outlining the actual practice of ecotherapy, Nature and Therapy, Martin Jordan makes a plausible distinction between the two names we use to describe what we do. Ecopsychology posits that our core psychological illnesses emerge from the split between what is considered the natural world and the industrialized world. This alienation is "at the heart of the rampant ecological destruction inflicted by man upon the natural world" (38). Ecopsychology is a way of "greening" existing psychological structures, "whereas ecotherapy focuses on the total mind-body-spirit-relationship organism." I think of Ecopsychology as one academic underpinning for the work that is conducted in ecotherapeutic sessions. 

Ecotherapy focuses more on developing reciprocity with the earth--the natural world heals us and we in turn, heal our environment. Ecotherapy can happen in many different situations, and does not necessarily require a clinical psychotherapist at the helm. Forms of it that I teach are as varied as EcoArt Therapy, Shinrin-yoku (Japanese forest bathing), green exercise, and micro-questing(TM). Others do wilderness therapy, eco-dreamwork, animal-assisted therapy, and gardening therapy, among other things. The most important aspects of all these therapies are how they bring the individual into contact with the more-than-human world, and how that contact is made relevant to the client's healing. Auspicious situations often arise in real time and place contexts that assist the therapist and the client to more easily see core issues as they emerge. Allowing unpredictable non-human elements into a therapeutic dyad can provide opportunities that the controlled atmosphere of an office cannot.  It requires flexibility and in-the-moment skills, and a willingness to follow and trust. While sometimes a controlled environment is preferred and necessary for reasons of safety, it is important not to rule out the value such unexpected interactions can create in therapeutic work.