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Exploring Ecopsychology: Ecopsychology in practice

Updated: Jan 11

Ecopsychology in practice


Ecopsychology at its core, is about the connection between humankind and nature. It is the bridge between both ecology and psychology.


In this post, we are going to take a look at ecopsychology in practice. That means what the work actually looks like.


At SEELEDU we recognize the significant bond between human health and nature. For us, spirituality means the everyday loving connection with everything, with nature, with what you really are & consciously expressing this individual being in the world.


If nature therapy is about helping us feel more connected, then it is at its core, a spiritual practice about the connection between humankind and nature.


Ecopsychology in practice

Much like roots of a tree, ecopsychological practices overlap and intertwine into other fields. You will see ecopsychology using mindfulness and contemplative practices such as meditation and introspection; sensory awareness; animal human connections; environmental action; environmental education; restoration; cultural and native practices; sustainability; de-commercialization and relocalization (emphasis on local practices and decreasing global consumerism); gardening and horticultural work; wilderness therapy; shamanism; wilderness rights of passage; ecotherapy; and ecoart (seasonal celebrations, festivals, use of natural materials etc.) Let’s take a look at 3 of most common practices (but not the only) you will see with SEELEDU


Animal assisted work

Environmental education


 

Ecotherapy


…but first, what exactly is ecopsychology?


Ecopsychology is the branch between both ecology and psychology. It is used to improve the human condition; offering benefits to all of the four categories of Health as outlined by the World Health Organization: physical, mental, social, and spiritual (we will highlight these in another post). Ecopsychology as a whole goes beyond individual healing to encompass a broad cultural scope. It also looks to redefine and re-imagine society’s current relationship with nature, asking participants to critically think about their interactions with nature, implications of consumerism, materialism, and environmental exploitation. Ecopsychology understands that the needs of the planet are the needs of the person, and the rights of the person are the rights of the planet (Roszak, 1992).


Ecotherapy is one of the main avenues of ecopsychology in practice and focuses on the total mind-body-spirit relationship. Connection with nature has been considered beneficial for psychological well-being since times of evolution. Direct contact with the natural world fosters mental health through reducing stress, healing emotional trauma, helping with addiction recovery, strengthening self-confidence and even cultivating spiritual growth.


Using the principles of positive and client-centered psychology, ecotherapy-related techniques have been shown to be effective in medical disorders like hypertension, obesity, post-surgical recovery and psychosocial conditions like depression, stress reduction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder (ADHD) and adjustment disorders (Chaudhury, Banerjee 2020) .


How does this look in practice?

Exploring Ecopsychology: Green Mindfulness

Since there is no one definition of ecotherapy it can look a lot of ways (check out our Instagram account for pictures and updates of eco therapy in practice). It can look like a conservation project, gardening or farming, practicing mindful moments in nature, cultivating sensory input, spending time with others in nature and processing your experiences, relaxation, somatic practices in a natural setting, adventure therapy including white water rafting, caving, or climbing, wilderness therapy such as overnight camping and expeditions, and much more. Sessions can follow a set structure and others can be more informal; it all depends on the type of work you are doing, who you are doing it with and their experiences in the field.




How does Ecotherapy look at SEELEDU?

Exploring Ecopsychology: Wilderness therapy

Check out our Instagram account for pictures and updates of eco therapy in practice. We have 15+ years leading various ecotherapeutic interventions! We love learning and adding to our toolbox. From wilderness work such as leading overnight explorations in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, winter hiking and care, green mindfulness, creating school and community gardens, working the farm and caring for animals, managing the land, specific interventions with canines and more, we love what we do and you are in good hands!


 

Animal assisted work



There are two main categories to animal assisted work:

  • Animal-assisted interventions: being present in spaces, such as farms or other locations, where you come into contact with animals and spend relaxed time feeding, petting, and/or working with them. This can look like emotional support animals and service animals.


  • Animal-assisted therapy: can be classified by the type of animal, the targeted population, and how the animal is incorporated into the therapeutic plan (Ohaire, 2015). The most commonly used types of animal-assisted therapy are canine-assisted and equine-assisted therapy. The goal of animal-assisted therapy is to improve a clients social, emotional, or cognitive functioning.


Did you know visits from dogs help reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety and stress levels, reduce perceptions of pain and stimulate the release of endorphins(Schuck, 2020), which makes people feel good? This is especially important for those who are feeling lonely, isolated or depressed. Canine companions also trigger similar neural pathways to the parent-baby bond.


When mothers view their own children or dogs, many areas of the brain involved in emotion and reward processing — such as the amygdala, the medial frontal cortex, and dorsal putamen — are activated (Stoeckel, 2014). This highlights the potential strength of these relationships as these pathways also reduce loneliness and depression. In short, dogs help to make us feel better.


In a first-of-its-kind randomized trial, Schuck and her colleagues discovered that therapy dogs are effective in reducing some of the symptoms of ADHD in children. At least 5 percent of U.S. children are diagnosed with ADHD. Children in the study who interacted with the dogs experienced a reduction in inattention and improvements in social skills and self-esteem. There was no effect, however, on hyperactivity and impulsivity. These findings are important because hyperactivity and impulsivity tend to decline with age, while problems with attention tend to persist throughout life and are the most challenging to treat. What does this mean? This research shows that dogs could be one solution to our overstimulated attention zapped lives.


What makes a good working dog?

Dogs need to be:

  • Well-socialized

  • Obedience-trained

  • Great against distractions, loud noises and strange smells

  • Enjoy interacting with people of all kinds


Handlers are also just as important in making a good working dog. They must have a close bond with their dog and be experienced at working with them in any type of situation. Handler’s are also the dog’s advocate, reading the animal’s cues to monitor and manage any emotions, distractions, or issues. The relationship between handler and dog is deep, and crucial to the success of the team.


Justine Ferland, founder of SEELEDU, has spent her entire life working dogs- really! She was born into a working dog family and married into another working dog family! She has accumulated mountains of knowledge from world experts, trained alongside police, military, search & rescue, hunting and therapy dogs; as well as written about the applied use of canines in her undergraduate dissertation. She loves everything about the connection and relationship with the dogs and loves seeing the physical and emotional reaction from her clients when they work together.


Hoes does animal assisted work look at SEELEDU?

First of all, it is important to note, that no animal assisted work is done if you are uncomfortable with it…that goes for all work, we work with you to find the right solution for you.

Exploring Ecopsychology: Animal assisted work

If you are working with us in one of our in-person meetings or workshops, you might have the pleasure of working with the worlds only therapy dinosaur- Utahraptor. Ok, he is a black lab dog, but he is named Utahraptor (that's a story for another blog post)! Utahraptor is used traditional senses of building a therapeutic relationship offering comfort and companionship, and also in targeted interventions such as being built into behavior plans, executive function skill work, empathy development, care and awareness, psychosocial skills-based training, coaching on how to care for and be safe around a dog, behavioral training, relaxation work and more.


 

Environmental education


In Erich Fromm's words “I believe that man is the product of natural evolution that is born from the conflict of being a prisoner and separated from nature, and from the need to find unity and harmony with it” (Schwachhofer, 1965); ecopsychology bridges the separation of man from nature, fostering their mutual relationship. Through environmental education initiatives, eco psychologists look to assist others in developing knowledge on specific topics (ex: plant care, beekeeping, healthy ecosystems etc.) as well as redefine and re-imagine society’s current relationship with nature. We ask participants to think critically about their interactions with nature, implications of consumerism, materialism, and environmental exploitation.

How does this look at SEELEDU?

Justine is known to offer eco-education tips on the whim as well as built into specific planning. In SEELEDU workshops and coaching, you will be exposed to a variety of topics, seasonal experiences, and experiential activities.


Justine Ferland, the founder of SEELEDU, lives in accordance with ecopsychological beliefs. She encourages a local slow food movement, leading and assisting in community gardens and agricultural practices. Justine celebrates the local cultural and native histories seeking out knowledge from native practice experts, local forest managers, horticultural experts, conservationists, scientists, topic experts and more. Justine’s family in America and Germany also live in accordance with these beliefs as homesteaders and business leaders using design to help solve problems that can lower our environmental impact (check out eqpd for the best selling LastBag you will ever need). Justine has over 5000+ hours of direct ecopsychological practice.


What is SEELEDU and what can SEELEDU do for you?

SEELEDU explores the journey of being human and nurtures nature connections for health and well-being. SEELEDU is based in science and grounded in nature. Practicing in ecopsychology and recognizing the mutual compassion and nurturing ability between nature and humans, SEELEDU offers live and online programming, development and learning for holistic, whole-body well-being.


References

Chaudhury, P., Banerjee, D. (2020). Recovering With Nature”: A Review of Ecotherapy and Implications for the COVID-19

Pandemic. Public Health, 10 December 2020

O'Haire M.E., Guérin N.A., Kirkham A.C., Daigle C.L. (2015). Animal-Assisted Intervention for Trauma, Including Post-Traumatic

Stress Disorder. HABRI Central Briefs.

Roszak T. The Voice of the Earth. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster (1992).

Schuck, S.E.B., Johnson, H.L., Abdullah, M. M., Stehli, A., Fine, A. H. & Lakes, K. D. (2018). The Role of Canine Assisted Intervention

on Improving Self-Esteem in Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 08,

November 2018

Stoeckel, L. E., Palley, L. S., Gollub, R. L., Niemi, S. M., & Evins, A. E. (2014). Patterns of brain activation when mothers view their own

child and dog: an fMRI study. PloS one, 9(10), e107205. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107205

Schwachhofer R. Credo 1965: Gedichte. [Kreis der Freunde]. Relief-Verlag-Eilers (1965).

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