Ecopsychology: Another Legal Tool? Essay by Valerie Harms

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Ecopsychology is about how our actions toward the earth affect our mental health, e.g. pollution, endangered species, nuclear war fears, degradation of the land, fight over water, and more.
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  Ecopsychology: Another Legal Tool?essay by Valerie HarmsEcopsychology, the field that unifies nature and psyche in the GrandEcology, addresses the ways the Earth suffers as a result of people’sbehavior, and people in turn suffer from a degraded Earth. Enoughdocumentation on this phenomenon from doctors, therapists, and otherprofessionals now exists to potentially allow its use in court as a cause fordamages and/or injunctive relief. Activists may find ecopsychologicalstudies an important tool in their educational and political campaigns.Social historian and novelist Ted Roszak coined the phrase“ecopsychology” in  A Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology  .He was one of the founders of the Ecopsychology Institute and website:www.csuhayward.edu/ALSS/ECO.Some ecopscyhological studies delve into the human causes behindour environmental problems. For instance, much of the demand to extractand use our naturual resources comes from people’s consumption patterns.But, the compulsion to buy new things, even when not needed, is anaddiction that when multiplied by our growing population, burdens ourenvironment, as we well know. Businesses that deliberately plan for quickobsolesence and product turnover are equally addicted to consumption.Allen Ginsberg observed, “The addiction to all sorts of poisonous products,services and habits is so great that we need something like an international  Hazelden. But the United States is nowhere near bottoming out.” Denial isrampant.Another psychological factor is people’s fear of nature and theconsequent need to dominate it. It can be cut down, moved around, andpaved at will. Exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the habit of seeingnature solely in economic terms have been evident since the domesticationof animals and the rise of industrialization. Ecopsychology teaches that it ismore productive to focus on our common needs for the life support systemsthat the Earth provides, as well as species other than ourselves.Still as people carve up the landscape and endanger other species, wehave already deprived ourselves (not to mention the holocaust of otherspecies) of resources critical for our survival as well as nature’s beauty andrecreational value. Many of us feel guilty about the state of the world,anxious about not knowing whether or not or just how badly our health isthreatened, and even despairing about the prospects for future generations.Ecopsychology has gained momentum especially because morepatients are bringing to therapists their deep grief about the loss of wilderness and the deterioration of the planet. Some therapists believe thata person’s emotional ties to the Earth are as important as their personalrelationships, that, as a clinical psychologist said, “It’s time we redefined ournotion of self to include what is going on around us.” She believes thatbonding with nature can empower people to cope with the problems, andthat in doing so the environment and the self are healed. 2  Environmentalists have long known that the health of people andhabitats are threatened by pollution of air, water, and soil. We have knownthat people who live in poor neighborhoods - often black and Hispanic - bearthe brunt of extreme degradation. But the mental disturbances areincreasingly being written about and responded to by professionals in suchorganizations as the Association of Humanistic Psychology and Academy of American Psychiatrists. Treatments may include Outward Bound trips,wilderness sojourns, gardening, and planting trees.For instance, a Florida social worker, who works with orphanedteenage boys, took a group of angry, mentally scattered, alienated youthson a week’s trip in the Rockies. He said, “I was convinced these boys couldnot unleash themselves from their pasts until they escaped the city anddiscovered their own ties to the Earth...I believe that many social andpsychological problems in our urban areas stem from a disassociation fromthe land. Remarkably, no one got sick. The boys did not complain, argue,or worry about life back home. Each day, I could see the pace slow, thefacial muscles relax. I watched problems slide away.” Gary Ferguson in hisnew book, Shouting at the Sky  , vividly documents the effect of being inwilderness on troubled teenagers.Environmental educational curriculums influenced by ecopsycologyare springing up on campuses around the nation. Dr.Sarah Conn teaches acourse called “The Self-World Connection: Toward an EcologicallyResponsible Psychotherapy” at the Center for Psychology and Social 3  Change, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School at The Cambridge Hospital.Anthony D. Cortese outlined such a program at The President’s Symposiumat Yale University in 1994 on “Environmental Literacy and Beyond.” TedRoszak would like to see professionals trained half in the hard sciences andhalf in psychology, regretting that “there are no such people in the worldtoday.”Ecologists need psychologists, and vice versa, in order to pin down thedysfunctional behavior that leads to environmental problems as well as todiagnose the impacts of destruction and loss of wildlife and habitat. Roszaksays, “Sanity is a hard legal term. Ecopsychologists should be able to arguepersuasively that any institution, practice, or policy that diminishesbiodiversity is a direct assault upon the mental health of a neighborhood,community, bioregion, or the human species as a whole and must bestopped.”**********************Valerie Harms is the author of 8 books in various genres: nature,psychology, biography, and juveniles. Among them are the National Audubon Society Almanac of the Environment / The Ecology of Everyday Life; The Inner Lover  (a C.G. Jung book published by Shambhala) Unmasking: Ten Women in Metamorphosis; Celebration with Anais Nin . Sheis a veteran instructor of the Intensive Journal program and was honored bythe United Nations for her work in depth psychologoy and journals. Agraduate of Smith College, she has taught workshops for 2 decades on the 4
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