Archive for the ‘ecopsychcology’ Category

Psychology and Trees: The Missing Role of Place

November 12, 2013

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In California, a young tree looked on as a group of people engineered bark and wood into what would become the first boat. Four thousand years later the same tree, Methuselah, now overlooks a town that hosts a wild, wild west marathon.  Trees have witnessed the worst of human nature – lynching, war, and treason – and the best of human nature – sanctuary, glory, and liberty.

Hangman’s elm in NYC’s Washington Square park has attained over 300 years of age.  While it seems not to have witnessed any actual executions, in its earliest years this English elm observed the decline of the Lenape Indians, the city’s reduction of slave ownership, the control by British soldiers and the state’s eventual annexation to the newly emergent United States.

The oldest tree in central park is the great London plane near the reservoir. That tree grew up amid rocks and swamps.  She lived to see the creation of a park and witnessed the invention of the automobile, the airplane and jogging.

Trees talk to one another.   They work together to create forests and parks, forging ecosystems from the available amounts of earth, air and rain.

Psychologists pay a great deal of attention to relationships between people and less so to those between people and the environment. Yet every relationship occurs in a physical space. Remembrances of loved ones often include the spaces and places where they were known.Every human action that imbues consciousness with meaning takes place in a material environment .  Psychological knowledge usually excludes those landscapes that inhabit almost every memory and importantly shape the neuro-cognitive and relational bases of personality. (more…)

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The Arts, Sustainability and Mental Health

July 8, 2011

Part four of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here,  part 2 here and part 3 here ).

When a person is troubled by symptoms and problems that cause pain to self and others psychotherapy is an invaluable curative process.  Yet, the process of exploration should not be confined only to the therapist’s office. Exposure to and involvement with the arts is also an important strategy for alleviating psychological symptoms.  Further, artistic expression is for the most part a green activity, see here, here, here. The practice of engaging with the creative arts supports psychological well-being as well as sustainability  See more after the jump. (more…)

Going Outside as a Mental Health Strategy

June 27, 2011

Part three of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here and part 2 here).

Mental health experts (and parents) argue that people of all ages need to spend time outside. Richard Louv has gathered some of the latest research in his two books: Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. It is also true that being outside promotes better environmental stewardship.  Yet most people assume that going outside can only mean wilderness.  A woman once explained, “I can’t figure out how to get outside because I live in the city so I just give in and stop trying.” That is a mistake. The possibilities for outdoor experience are endless no matter where a person lives. So are the psychological benefits as well as the opportunities for sustainable practices. My top three choices for going outside can be found after the jump. (more…)

Eat Food, With Others

June 24, 2011

(The second in a series about the convergence of psychological and environmental health)

photo from AP

One strategy that any person or family can adopt to promote psychological and environmental health is to pay a good deal of attention to what is happening at the kitchen table. Almost five years ago Michael Pollan advised “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” While Pollan emphasized that rule as good for our bodies, and our planet, he didn’t explicitly link it to psychological health. Yet, eating food, not too much, mostly plants is good for our planet, our bodies and our psychological health especially if we recognize the role of relationships in the maintenance and organization of food resources.

In taking a broader view of food that is “at once more cultural and ecological” he suggests thinking “about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship.” Pollan clearly states that, “our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.”

While he emphasizes health in the bodily sense of the word, it is important to remember that health also means our psychological well being. In addition to the fact that physical well-being enhances mental health, food  can importantly impact mood states.  And it isn’t only the chemical breakdown of foods that can affect our personalities.  The way in which food is distributed also shapes and forms personality. Home cooked soup may contain chemical compounds, forge connections to important people (the forager for ingredients, the cook, and those who share the meal), and symbolically enact care and attachment.

Pollan notes, “Of course when it comes to food, culture is really just a fancy word for Mom, the figure who typically passes on the food ways of the group — food ways that, although they were never “designed” to optimize health (we have many reasons to eat the way we do), would not have endured if they did not keep eaters alive and well.”

His point is that there needs to be a producer of food who understands both the individual needs of eaters, the range of available foods, and the relational complexity in which food is situated.  Yes, it has often been mom, but it can also be dad, or anyone else in a family or a group of eaters. That person is not only taking into account the person’s body. That person also uses food to alter the so-called “chemical” mood of the family or group by providing foods that heal, celebrate, get someone through a hard bout of work, or nurture someone through a loss.

What follows is my psychological elaboration of Pollan’s nine food rules.

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What Are We Doing?

June 22, 2011

(The first in a series about the convergence of psychological and environmental health)

News from the natural world continues to haunt and this report from ISPO (international program on the state of the ocean) warns of a mass extinction in our lifetime. And Al Gore is assailing the Obama administration for its failure to take stronger leadership on climate change. If you add the almost daily onslaught of devastating environmental news to the list of plastics, fuel and energy that the average family in a developed country can’t help but use, it is tempting to call out in anguish, “What are we doing?”  In the face of such compelling doom, most people disconnect, dissociate and deny. It is hard to change behavior in the midst of despair. Yet, while the government continues to jockey and pander in the race to win an upcoming election, a good deal of positive work is being done by psychologists, business leaders and educational institutions in the area of climate growth: changing behavior to more expansively support our ecosystems. So, “What are we doing?” is actually a good question. And the answer is plenty.  No matter who you are or what you do, there is a growing movement of others to whom you can attach yourself and start figuring out your own personal, familial and professional green strategy.

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A Response to Richard Louv

June 1, 2011

photo by Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Richard Louv’s new book, “The Nature Principle’ has just been published.  Following on “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”, a book that links many childhood disorders to a disconnection to the natural environment, Louv’s latest book (see this article in Outside) calls for an increased connection to the natural world to compensate for our increasingly technological lifestyles. He writes that the future belongs to those individuals and businesses that can balance the virtual with the real. As a psychologist who works with many adults and children, I would like to attest to the veracity of  Louv’s journalistic discoveries with examples from people’s lives. (more…)

The Changing Climate Changes Me

May 26, 2011

     Do human beings continue to adapt  to their environments? Are some of those changes psychological? Are humans experiencing subtle alterations in their emotional and cognitive organization in response to climate change? While we ponder these questions with regard to humans, we are noticing suh chnages in other mammals. Antarctic Penguins are being driven from their homes, according to the New York Times.  While those on the peninsula have suffered a catastrophic drop in population, those on Ross Island are making use of other environmental changes in order to adapt. The scientific study and tracking of climate change is based on a belief that all species develop specific adaptations to their environment. Are people, therefore, also already changing in small ways?  My tentative answer, based on case studies and field research conducted during 2009 and 2010, is that the human psyche is shifting in subtle ways to adapt to transforming ecosystems whether they be urban, suburban or rural. The same consumerist processes that are causing careless damage to the earth’s ecosystems have also become a part of people’s personalities.I have a chapter coming out in a forthcoming book edited by Nick Totton and Mary-Jayne Rust.  See a preview of some of my findings after the jump.

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Bees

January 4, 2011

from insectidentification.org

The problem of bee colony collapse may be due to inbreeding and disease, and world populations are still in a free fall according to The Guardian.  While wild bees might be contracting viruses and spreading them to each other, according to research reported by treehugger, the reality of colony collapse disorder threatens the pollination and production of our food sources.  I’m wondering if bees are feeling stressed and therefore more vulnerable to disease, in the same way that humans can find themselves more susceptible to illness when under various types of psychic pressure.  I’m not attributing human-like consciousness to bees. I am however assuming bees have immunological systems that can be impacted by increased production of cortisol or other glutocorticoid hormones, or their equivalents in insects. Can environmental change cause the type of stress in bees that can weaken their immunological defenses?  Understanding what is happening to the bees is important to us for three reasons.  (more…)

Summer 2010: Paralyzed

August 19, 2010

Picture: Getty Images / Julian Finney

This blog has gone dark since the end of June.  Why?  Every morning the heat rose trapping me in a vapor of thick intoxication. When the sun burned high in the sky the humidity coated my skin in a waxy sweat.  The news was no lighter. The every hour on the hour triviality emerging from the 24 hour news cycle bludgeoned my mind like high fever hallucinations. The summer that has seen the first effects of climate change has also been a summer of paralysis. (more…)

Psychology and Environment: Summary

June 29, 2010

photo from http//brammerfamily.com

For the past month I have been participating in an on-line seminar about psychology and the environment. The seminar ended (see previous posts here, here, and here) with many questions.  Do psychologists have any special contributions that can help with our environmental crisis?  How can psychology contribute to the discussions on climate change? See my final thoughts after the jump.

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