Archive for the ‘series convergence of psychological and environmental health’ 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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Psychobiome; A Psychotherapy for the Future?

September 30, 2013

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The newly emergent research into the microbiome provides a useful metaphor for understanding that a cluster of interdependent factors may play a role in individual mental health.

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Limits Sustain People and the Environment

July 15, 2011

Part Five of the series on convergence of environmental and mental health (see part 1 here,  part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here ).

image from http://www.20somethingfinance.com

President Obama is correctly observing that budgetary health depends on incisive and strategic limit setting.The same is true for ecological and psychological health. Most people tend to over correct for problems assuming that only massive overhaul constitutes change. Yet we have evidence to the contrary. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg has created a sustainable urban ecology and economy by taking small yet systemically coherent steps, see here. Likewise, we can produce psychological and environmental balance by exercising limits without cutting off what is best about the expansive possibilities of our minds and our resources.

Is the United States a culture of excess? Some think so, including Jay Slosar.  My take? People have lost the practice of personal and environmental frugality because technological innovation has been exciting and stimulating, and mostly for the good. How amazing to be able to save lives, prevent disease, feed the hungary! How great to be able to enjoy fresh food in the winter, travel to see loved ones, and to know the world! In pursuit of the possibilities of our modern conveniences, we have all lost track of personal and environmental boundaries.  In the end, our landscapes and our minds do have end points. It may be important to tether the open horizon of expansionism and possibility to inherent psychological and environmental, not to mention budgetary, boundaries.  Working within sustainable boundaries doesn’t mean returning to the caves or preparing for life on another plant.  It means integrating a few old-fashioned rules back into the American lifestyle.

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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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