Ecopsychology, Ecopsychosis, Indigenization: Reciprocal Healing Between Humans and Nature

Creative engagement with nature is a good way to begin to address ecopsychosis

Contributor: David Fancy

 Reciprocal healing between humans and the earth involves the simultaneous and mutually informed pursuit of human as well as wider environmental health, wellness, and renewal. In other words, human health and wellness occurs in a broader ecological and environmental context, and, for better or for worse, given the current climate crisis, ecosystem health is in many cases dependent on human’s ability to foster beneficial relationships with ecosystems.  

Researchers have coined the term “ecopsychosis” to describe the pathological and deeply dysfunctional relationship between humans and ecosystems played out in many contemporary societies. This sickness-inducing relationship is predicated on the faulty notion that, as humans, we are somehow separate from one another and from the planet in ways that relieve us from responsibility towards one another, towards other beings, and towards the Earth. Addressing and healing pervasive ecopsychosis affecting many humans and many human cultures is central to the work of reciprocal healing, and to the continued sustainability of human life on the planet. 

From an ecopsychological perspective, it is important to emphasize that the human psyche has emerged and developed in deep entanglement with the natural world. Humans have spent 99.97% of their existence as a species as hunter gatherers, and much of the remaining 0.3% as tribal pastoralists. Only approximately 0.0002% of our time as a species has been spent during the modern industrial and post-industrial eras in which the current ecopsychosis and separation from “nature” has come to the fore, especially for those living in the Economic North. 

Many ecopsychologists advocate, with full recognition of the political complexities and nuance that this will entail, that humans living in the industrialized world who have benefitted the most from the exploitation of natural and human resources need to re-Indigenize their relationship with the natural world. Unlike relationships with nature in industrialized regions, Indigenous relationships with nature are often characterized by: 1) ongoing daily exposure to nature, 2) perpetual embodied relationships with nature through walking, moving, hunting and so forth, and 3) by the creation of cultural artefacts such as tools, housing, or artistic production patterned from the natural world around them.  

Of additional significance from an ecopsychologically informed perspective is the idea that for much of human history, nature was encountered subjectively. In other words, nature was personal, was a location for the interpretation of patterns and meanings that had significance for individuals and for groups. This allowed our collective ancestry the ability to retain flexibility and resilience in a natural world marked by continuous cyclical changes. The compartmentalization and professionalization of scientific knowledge about nature in contemporary societies has contributed to the alienation many people experience in the face of the natural world. 

How to achieve these complex connection, relation, and interrelation that are integral to the process of re-Indigenization that can help thwart the ecopsychosis fueling the climate crisis? Much research has begun to demonstrate what ancestral and Indigenous cultures already know: that time in nature reduces chronic stress, assists in emotional regulation, intensifies healthy attachment, nourishes the development of a coherent sense of self and increases respectful understanding of the natural world. Time in nature is a particularly good way to begin to address ecosychosis and the many problems it engenders in turn. 

Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog