The origins of ecopsychotherapy

Although the contact with nature is the source of millenary therapeutic practices, it is only over the past three decades that scientific studies have helped us understand its benefits on physical and mental health.

One of the first studies is by Roger Ulrich, , which showed, in 1984, how patients, whose rooms had a view overlooking a natural landscape, healed faster after surgery. Since then, hundreds of studies have investigated further into the therapeutic properties of contact with natural elements, hence quantifying the decrease of stress, the improvement of sleep or immunity…

But beyond these beneficial effects on our body and our psyche, ecotherapies, among which are ecopsychotherapies, result from the development of ecopsychology. . All these words can seem similar; one may feel a little confused. However, they define the following specific and explicit practices:

– Ecopsychology

was born from the dialogue between psychologists and ecologists, and also with NGOs, anthropologists and sociologists, particularly in the 1990s on the West Coast of the United States. Together, these specialists sought to research the causes of the loss of connection between people in industrial civilizations and the living world. Having shown the damage caused by this loss of connection (stress, physical and mental suffering, destruction of the natural ecosystems), they sought to create methods to encourage a reconnection. The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess and the American philosopher Theodore Roszak played a pioneering role in this research. The American psychologist Joanna Macy also made an important contribution through her publication: “Work which reconnects”. The objectives of ecopsychology are: to understand the psychological causes of the contemporary ecological crisis, to learn how to reconnect healthily with nature and to initiate ecotherapeutic practices focusing on healing through contact with nature.

– Ecotherapies

are concrete applications of ecopsychology. Each one benefits from a particular practice (gardening, horseriding, walks in the forest…) as a means for working towards the patient’s healing process. Here, it is about caring for the person who asked for therapy,, athrough contact with natural elements within a specific framework. For example, gardening can re-stimulate the body, to create an enjoyable life, connecting with both humans and nature. Each ecotherapy has its name: for gardening it is horticultural therapy, with the horse it is therapeutic riding, forest walks are Shinrin Yoku’s forest bathing…

– Finally, ecopsychotherapy

fis a part of the family of ecotherapies: it focuses on the patients’ mental care if they have expressed a need for therapeutic assistance. In its first stages it is based on the specific human relation which is the psychotherapeutic relationship: the ecopsychotherapy practitionner is a mental care professional who has followed extensive training in psychotherapy. This approach is then based on the contact with natural spaces as a method to fully reconnect to one’s body, to discover one’s inner world, to reconnect with others and live in serenity with the world. Natural landscapes can act as screens on which the patients project their inner worlds, as well as being partners for stimulating interactions. Ecopsychotherapy sessions can be held alternately in the practice and in natural spaces.