Ecopsychology Header Photo of Red Rock CanyonEcopsychology

Click one of the links below or scroll down the page to see:

Lecture/Discussion Topics

Reciprocity In Human-Earth Wellbeing

A fundamental concept for ecopsychology is that it is psychologically damaging for humans to live disconnected from their ecological context, as most of us do in contemporary urban industrial cultures. Since the early 1990s, ecopsychology has been primarily concerned with healing that disconnect through therapeutic techniques that encourage mindfulness, daily ritual, heightened awareness, wilderness experience, the development of a sense of place, and other practices that help people experience their ecological embeddedness– thereby relieving them of the depression, stress, anxiety, longing, and grief that are characteristic of the disconnected state. For overviews of ecopsychology, see Schroll (2003), Fisher (2002), Scull (1999), and Boston (1996). For an early discusion of ecologically based therapy, see Clinebell (1996). For a more recent collection of chapters on ecotherapy, see Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind, edited by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist (2009) and published by Sierra Club Books. Ecopsychology is relevant for sustainability because the reconnecting of humans and nonhuman nature is viewed by ecopsychologists not merely as an end in itself, but as a step toward healing the planet. In the words of Sylvie Shaw and Peter Cock,

The need for reciprocal relationship is intrinsic to ecopsychology, so nature is not some kind of backdrop to human wellbeing. [We must avoid replicating] the anthropocentric stance that corrals nature for human needs. Giving back to narture for the lessons/healing/wellbeing we receive from nature is a vital aspect of ecopsychological practice. (personal communication, 2005)

And, in the words of Chellis Glendinning, author of “My name is Chellis and I’m in recovery from Western civilization” (1994),

From both ends of this dynamic, our dysfunctional practices are calling out to us to awaken to the parallels between the numbing and abuse we express in our individual lives and that of our collective relationship to the life of our planet. But let us be alert as we explore such a perception: in the midst of this mass technological society we inhabit, making declarations about returning to the Earth to address our human pathologies can never succeed so long as they remain mere pleas to step outside and smell the grass. Our declarations must constitute radical acts with far-flung implications for the ways we live and how we perceive ourselves as human beings. (p. xii)

Biophilia Hypothesis

According to evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson (1984), humans have an innate affinity for nature he calls “biophilia.” In various writings on biophilia by Wilson and others (e.g., Kellert, 1997; Kellert & Wilson, 1993), this affinity is described as a love of nature, an attraction to nature, and a feeling of connection to nature. Wilson theorizes that this affinity stems directly from our ancestral past, a past in which humans evolved as part of the natural landscape, not separated from it. Many ecopsychologists find the concept of biophilia a useful one in support of the idea that lifestyles disconnected from nonhuman nature are psychologically unfulfilling and even harmful (e.g., Gullone, 2000; White & Heerwagen, 1998). Students find the topic of biophilia interesting and a lively discussion likely will ensue when the instructor asks students to generate anecdotal evidence that supports and refutes the biophilia hypothesis. Students are also intrigued by the converse concept of “biophobia.” Several common phobias likely stem from our evolutionary past (e.g., fear of spiders, snakes, falling), but could an extreme fear–or distaste– for the natural environment be built-in? Most students will know someone who professes an aversion to nonhuman nature and a preference for the built, technologically-enhanced environment (e.g., Woody Allen supposedly announced “I am at two with Nature” and Jean Paul Satre claimed he was “allergic to chlorophyll”). Ask students how they interpret these claims. Our students have pointed out that aversion to nonhuman nature is a privileged attitude (i.e., one couldn’t afford to feel this way without the life support afforded by industrial infrastructre), and a contradictory one (i.e., even when supported by industrial infrastructre, individuals are still clearly dependent on nature). Students who have had wilderness experience often suggest that a biophobic attitude is borne of ignorance, that biophobic individuals would feel differently if they had a nature-immersion experience. See Mayer and Frantz (2004) for an operationalization of nature-connectedness partly inspired by the concept of biophilia.

Sense of Place

One of the things that ecopsychologists suggest is lacking in the modern urban industrial lifestyle is a “sense of place.” Environmental psychologists, geographers, urban planners, artists, and others have addressed the concept of “sense of place,” but not always in the same way. A sense of place can mean a feeling of inclusion in community, a feeling of moral obligation to care for a specific tract of land, an identity that is tied to a particular region, or a consciousness of one’s embeddedness in an ecological context. Among ecopsychologists, sense of place has generally referred to a bond with one’s bioregion that provides an inner sense of belonging and motivates earth-friendly behavior. In recent years, researchers have attempted to clarify and operationally define the “sense of place” construct (e.g., Kyle, Graefe, & Manning, 2005; Stedman, 2002), so as to test the idea that sense of place is a positive predictor of environmental concern and environmentally responsible behavior (Carrus, Bonaiuto, & Bonnes, 2005; Kyle, Graefe, & Manning, 2004; Vaske & Kobrin, 2001).


Some Western psychotherapists are finding usefulness in the practice of mindfulness for treating a wide spectrum of psychological distress and disorder (Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2005). “Mindfulness” is a term used to describe an awareness of where one’s mind is in the moment. Meditative mindfulness, which is common in Buddhist tradition, contrasts sharply with the fast-paced, preoccupied state of mind that is rampant among people in Western industrial cultures. Nonmeditative mindfulness is also an atypical, but beneficial cognitive orientation in modern culture (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000). Ecopsychologists have identified mindfulness as an important part of feeling ecologically connected and behaving in ecologically friendly ways (e.g., Sewall, 1999; Rosenberg, 2003). John Davis (1998) put it simply, Mindful awareness is an important foundation for ecopsychology. The transpersonal disciplines have developed an extensive literature on meditation and other awareness practices…Mindfulness in itself develops awareness of nonduality. (p. 2) The topics of mindfulness and mindlessness can be introduced to students within a familiar context by using anecdotes from Ellen Langer’s (1989) book Mindfulness. Students will recognize themselves in Langer’s numerous stories of individuals’ perception and awareness being limited by habitual routines and automaton-like behavior. Instructors can then contrast Langer’s conceptualization of mindfulness with the Eastern philosophical perspective (that is more common in ecopsychological treatments of the topic). Students can consider how both nonmeditative and meditative mindfulness may have relevance for sustainability.

Ericson, Kjønstad, & Barstad (2014) reviewed the growing literature on the relationships between mindfulness practices, subjective well-being, and sustainable lifestyles. Instructors could lecture on the article, or assign it as a supplemental reading (recommended).

  • Being “here and now” enables greater intentional deliberation and evaluation of the consequences of one’s actions, including environmental impact (vs. unconscious, habitual and unsustainable behaviors);
  • Mindfulness can help avoid the “hedonic treadmill” of prioritizing materialistic consumption and financial wealth
  • Mindfully clarifying and acting in accordance with core values is intrinsically reinforcing, and can promote sustainable behavior;
  • Mindfulness can stimulate empathy and compassion, including for non-human nature.

Wilderness As Home

Ecopsychologists advocate wilderness experience as a means to an ecologically connected end (e.g., Greenway, 1995; Harper, 1995). Much of the research on the psychological effects of wilderness experience has been published in journals on leisure studies, outdoor recreation, and experiential and environmental education, rather than in psychology journals (e.g., Borrie & Roggenbuck, 2001). Within the psychological literature, most research in this area has been conducted by environmental psychologists (e.g.,Kaplan, 1984; Kaplan & Talbot, 1983; Talbot & Kaplan, 1986) or by practitioners focused on clinical populations such as at-risk adolescents (e.g.,Romi & Kohan, 2004; Wilson & Lipsey, 2000). Most of these studies have focused on outcomes related to personal well-being such as stress relief, increased self-efficacy, and social skills (e.g., Angell, 1994) rather than environmental attitudes and behaviors. Although few studies have addressed the question of how wilderness experience may affect environmental concern, ecopsychologists suggest that wilderness experiences can foster at least a temporary heightened sense of ecological awareness and environmental concern. Importantly, the “wilderness experiences” that have been studied vary substantially and the duration of the “wilderness effect” on self-concept, environmental attitudes, and behavior is unclear. In many cases, wilderness experience is confounded with an adventure challenge model so, for example, boosts to self-esteem may stem from the sense of connection with the natural setting, the sense of accomplishment associated with overcoming fears and physical challenges, or both. Wilderness experiences also vary in terms of how mediated they are by modern conveniences. Researchers have not systematically investigated the potential differences between wilderness excursions supported by Gore-Tex® and camp stoves and those that rely on basic survival skills. Theoretically, the more immersed one becomes in a wilderness setting (i.e., the farther the departure from daily existence in the high-tech, modern, urban world), the greater the potential for the dissolution of boundaries between the self and nonhuman nature– but to what extent is the wilderness overly romanticized for individuals who ultimately (in a few days or in a few weeks) will return to their urban lifestyles? A common finding in studies on people’s reactions to wilderness experiences is that they experience culture shock and depressed mood upon their return. More systematic psychological research is needed in this area, not only in terms of basic research on how humans are impacted by wilderness experience, but also for the purpose of application in the realm of environmental policy formation (Mace, Bell, & Loomis, 2004). One type of wilderness experience that students may find especially interesting is the emergency survival situation. Journalist Laurence Gonzales’s (2003) riveting and accessible book Deep survival: Who lives, who dies, and why includes a wealth of psychological content presented in a non-academic manner. For example, Gonzales describes how the fatal mistake of many individuals who perish when they became stranded in the wilderness is not staying put. He attributes the compulsion to keep wandering to a mental set in which the person thinks of him or herself as “lost” versus “here.” According to Gonzales, those individuals who are able to reframe their circumstances and evaluate where they are, instead of focusing on how to get out of where they are, are more successful at recognizing necessary steps for survival and identifying elements in their immediate environment that will assist them in taking those steps. To the extent that we feel alienated from wilderness, we are more likely to feel panicked and lost instead of accepting the wilderness setting as a temporary home and adapting to it accordingly.

Conspicuous Consumption vs. Sustainable Living

Ours is a consumer culture. Psychologists who have studied consumerism and materialism have generally found that a materialistic values orientation is negatively correlated with subjective well-being (Kasser, 2002; Kasser & Kanner, 2003). Individuals who focus on image, status, money, and possessions tend to report lower self esteem, poorer quality relationships, and less life satisfaction overall. One explanation for the negative correlation may be that materialism and consumerism are associated with an individual orientation that is antithetical to collectivist values (e.g., family and religious values; Burroughs & Rindfleisch, 2002). As Kasser (2002) suggests, a materialistic values orientation may motivate individuals to pursue experiences and engage in behaviors that do not fulfill the basic needs associated with happiness: security, competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Students are intrigued to learn about intenational communities that aim to create a social and physical context that facilitates meeting these needs in an ecologically sustainable fashion. For example, the goal of the ecovillage at Ithaca, New York, is to create a “socially harmonious, economically viable and ecologically sustainable settlement that will demonstrate that human beings can live cooperatively with each other and with the natural environment” (Kirby, 2003). A directory of ecovillages all over the world can be found on the Global Ecovillage Network at Many ecovillages are founded on the “permaculture” principles first introduced by Australian ecologist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren, authors of several books on the subject (e.g., Holmgren, 2002; Mollison, 1990). In general, the permaculture (meaning “permanent culture”) approach emphasizes care of the earth, care of the people, limits on human consumption and reproduction, conncetedness of living systems, and ecologically sustainable building design, food production, and land use. Importantly, ecovillages– whether or not they claim to be following permaculture principles– recognize that sustainable living requires revision to social relationships as well as relationships between humans and nonhuman nature. Click on the links below to see pictures from Britain Scott’s 2005 visit to Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina. Students’ ideas about material needs are challenged when they see alernatives to modern conveniences (such as the bike-powered washing machine and the composting outhouse) and alternative housing (such as passive solar design in structures made of biodegradable materials). In these photos, they will also see evidence of the fanciful artistic creativity that is unleashed when people surround themselves with a community of their own invention, rather than a mass-produced one.

Earthaven Art 1
Earthaven Art 2
Earthaven Bridge
Earthaven Straw Building 1
Earthaven Straw Building 2
Earthaven Railing
Earthaven House
Earthaven Hydroelectric Plant 1
Earthaven Hydroelectric Plant 2
Earthaven Washing Machine
Earthaven Stuff Swap
Earthaven Signs

Phenomenology And Empiricism In Ecopsychology

Ecopsychologists respect experience. Much ecopsychological practice is experiential. Without entirealy rejecting scientific empiricism, ecopsychologists elevate phenomenology as a useful philosophical foundation for thinking about the connection or disconnect between humans and their ecological context. In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram (1997) describes Edmund Husserl’s “genius” in realizing that the sciences, in pursuit of “objectivity,” had become estranged from direct human experience. Abram offers the example of how we may know the scientific truth that the earth rotates around the sun, yet we still talk about the sun rising and setting– because this is what we perceptually experience. Phenomenology, according to Abram,

…[turns] toward the world as it is experienced in its felt immediacy…[seeking] not to explain the world, but to describe as closely as possible the way the world makes itself evident to awareness, the way things first arise in our direct, sensorial experience. (p. 35)

Abram goes on to discuss French existential philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s claim that the subjective self isn’t an ethereal something, but is the physical body itself in that without our physicality, we could not sense and perceive, and,

… The breathing, sensing body draws its sustenance and its very substance from the soils, plants, and elements that surround it; it continually contributes itself, in turn, to the air, to the composting earth, to the nourishment of insects and oak trees and squirrels, ceaselessly spreading out of itself as well as breathing the world into itself, so that it is very difficult to discern at any moment precisely where this living body ends and where it begins. (p. 46)

Abram suggests that phenomenology helps those of us with a scientific Western mindset better understand the experienced worlds of our ancestors and indigenous cultures today who live a more earth-connected existence. In Radical Ecopsychology, Andy Fisher (2002) also invokes Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology as a philosophical source for ecopsychology,

We have access to nature, said Merleau-Ponty, through that ‘vital relation’ we have ‘with a privileged part of nature: namely, our body.’ Our divorce from nature, whatever else it may involve, has surely been a progressive cutting off of this vital relation. Any hermeneutical effort to overcome our alienation must therefore also be a retrieval of our embodiment. (p. 58-59)

Students in a traditional psychology class may have some difficulty wrapping their minds around phenomenology, but the instructor can assure them that it is not a flat rejection of scientific postivism, but is, instead, a perspective that posits a different relationship between objectivity and subjectivity than the one to which they have grown accustomed. Students will have been trained to think of subjectivity as a layer of distortion over objective reality. Phenomenologists argue that because sensation and perception are humans’ only access to whatever reality is “out there,” subjectivity is primary and objectivity is a state we strive for within our subjectivity. Ask students to consider what the elevation of subjectivity does for understanding people’s gut feelings that life in contemporary urban industrial contexts is out of balance with nature.


Increasing Perceptual Awareness

In her book Sight and Sensibility: The Ecopsychology of Perception, Laura Sewall (1999) argues that,

…because we have turned our focus of attention toward material things, toward static objects and unrelated possessions, the world of relations has slipped from our view. As a consequence, we do not truly see either where we literally are or the truth of “where we’re at”…Cultivating our perceptual capacity is fundamentally related to both the quality of our personal lives and restoring the quality of life on the planet.

After we read Laura Sewell’s (1995; 1999) work on visual perception, we practise meditative awareness in a wilderness setting for several hours. Then we come back to the classroom and discuss how awareness shifts our thinking about environmental problems, and whether the claim that solutions to environmental problems requires this shift is viable. (contributed by Deborah DuNann Winter).

In addition to meditative awareness, instructors can borrow other perceptual awareness exercises from expert trackers who approach the problem of perceptual blindness from a less academic perspective. Tracker Paul Rezendes expresses a sentiment similar to Sewell’s in his book The Wild Within,

Thoreau called us sleepwalkers. Have you ever found yourself walking along a path in the woods and then suddenly realizing that the whole forest around you has changed? You start out among conifers but now you find yourself surrounded by deciduous trees. Or you realize that the birds are active and noisy, and you don’t know when the change took place. You have awakened. You let the smell of a fern leaf wash through you. You realize why you were asleep. You were talking to yourself, caught up in a familiar endless dialogue…”I have never met a man who was truly awake,” Thoreau said nearly 150 years ago…How much more applicable is this comment to people today. How much farther have we strayed from the wild within.
— Paul Rezendes (1999)

Fun and enlightening awareness activities described by tracker Tom Brown, Jr. (1988) include the following:

    Stand staring straight ahead and stretch your arms out to the sides at shoulder level. Wiggle your fingers. While staring straight ahead, notice the movement of your fingers in your peripheral vision. Work to maintain this simultaneous central and peripheral vision. Notice how much wider your perceptual field becomes, how any movement within this wider visual field is now in your awareness. Practice shifting focus from the center to the periphery as you walk through a natural setting (e.g., a wooded area).
    Using sticks or string, demarcate an area of ground about a foot square. First stare at it from a standing position, noting every detail you perceive. Then move to a kneeling position and notice new things that you perceive. Finally, lie on your belly and imagine yourself as an explorer about 2 inches tall. Students will see a Lilliputian jungle with animal signs (e.g., insect-chewed blades of grass, tracks of mice) and a buzz of activity. This experience should last a minimum of 15 minutes.
    Close your eyes and focus on what you can hear without distraction of visual input. Try to identify the location of individual sounds in the background. Notice the variety, texture, and complexity of sounds. Then, cup your hands around your ears and use them to localize sounds (just as animals with large ears alter the shape and direction of their ears to locate sounds). Try cupping both hands around one ear and using your hands to focus the sounds. Next, move around in your environment and use solid objects as sound conductors (e.g., when you pass a big tree, put your head down next to it and notice what you can hear).
  • BLINDFOLD WALKFor this exercise, the instructor must create an intricate string path through a natural area (densely wooded areas are good), winding the string around trees and rocks, crossing it back over itself. Some portions of the string path should be at waist level, others higher or lower. Students should be blindfolded (and preferably barefoot) as they are started on the path with about 45 seconds between each person. Students use one hand to lightly follow the string. The goal of the activity is not to complete the path quickly, but to experience as much as possible along the way. Students will report novel sensory experiences (e.g., that they could “feel” trees before they reached them, or that they found themselves orienting according to the warmth and light of the sun). Note: Students will walk so gingerly and deliberately that injury is highly unlikely. This activity may be adjusted to accomodate students with mobility limitations– the main point is to restrict visual input so the person must rely on other senses.

Other recommended activities include the following:

    This exercise is done in pairs. One student is the camera and the other is the photographer. The camera closes his or her eyes and is led around by the photographer. Every so often, the photographer should stop, point the camera at a scene, and then open the shutter (the camera’s eyes) by tapping the camera on the shoulder. The photographer should keep the shutter open only briefly (a few seconds) and then tap again to close it. The camera should try to take in as much detail of the visual scene as possible in those few seconds. The photographer should take 5 or 6 photographs and then ask the camera to verbally describe what was in the pictures– keeping the eyes closed the whole time. After the camera has recalled as much detail as possible, the photographer should lead the camera back to each spot and let the camera take a longer look. What does the camera notice/realize about his or her perceptual capacity?
    This activity is similar to Tom Brown’s Blindfold Walk, but instead of navigating with to a string path, students will find their way (blindfolded and barefoot) through a natural area toward a regular repetitive stationary sound (e.g., a drumbeat every 10 seconds). Students will experience similar novel sensations as they do during the string walk. With both activities, students should remove their blindfolds at the end and look at what they walked through. (When Britain Scott did this in a dense woods with her class, one student looked at where she had walked and exclaimed, “I wouldn’t even have walked through that with my shoes on!” She kept her shoes off– and stayed off the path– for the entire walk back to the classroom building.)
    This activity is a favorite with Girl Scout camp counselors. Ahead of time, the instructor takes a cut raw onion and rubs it across surfaces (e.g., tree bark, rocks) along a predetermined path. Students must figure out the path by following their noses. The point of this activity is to make students more aware of their sense of smell. Encourage students to try smelling with a single inhalation vs. with a serious of short sniffs (like other animals do); they will find that sniffing is more effective than the single inhalation. In the process of trying to find the onion scent markings, students will be sniffing tree bark, rocks, etc. As they become aware of a variety of scents that they otherwise would not have noticed, the world around them will likely become more perceptually vivid.

It is important to have students reflect upon their experiences and, as Deborah Winter suggests, consider how elevated awareness might contribute to heightened ecological consciousness and more sustainable behavioral choices. Short papers or journal entries are a good format for these reflections. Students should connect their subjective experience of the activities to course readings and topics.

The Council Of All Beings

The Council of All Beings was designed by John Seed and Joanna Macy in the 1980s as a “ re-earthing” workshop to help participants experience their connection to the natural world— emotionally and spiritually, instead of just intellectually. The two-day workshop, inspired by deep ecology philosophy, consists of a series of exercises and rituals that help participants to recognize and reveal their grief about the environmental crisis, and feel an interconnectedness to, and empathy for, other people and nonhuman nature. The centerpiece of the workshop involves participants identifying a non-human ” ally” in nature, making a mask that represents that ally, and wearing the mask when they attend the Council as that ally. Although this activity may seem more mystical and spiritual than rational and academic, it is an effective and challenging experiential exercise. One of the times that Britain Scott used this with her class, a student in the group was a novice in natural settings. The student had just been on her first camping trip in the Minnesota northwoods and had developed a strong aversion to ticks. It came as a poignant surprise, therefore, when she showed up at the Council as Tick. After they have participated, ask students to think about whether rituals like the Council of All Beings have therapeutic value. See Seed, Macy, Fleming, & Naess (1988) for a description of, and rationale for, the Council of All Beings. A Council faciliator’s guide can be found John Seed’s website at htm.

Practicing Earth-Living Skills

Our contemporary lives have become so removed from hand-to-mouth survival that we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking our items of survival come from the store, rather than from nature. We think of ourselves as being somehow separate from nature. We think we can draw lines on the map and separate “wilderness” from “non-wilderness,” but really there is only one wilderness and one ecosystem and we are part of it….We are participants in the ecosystem and therefore we have no choice but to take from it, and we will inevitably alter it, but we must also maintain it….[Primitive living] reminds us that no matter what technologies we have, we are still an integral component of the ecosystem– Thomas J. Elpel (2004, p. 4-5


One hands-on method for decreasing the distance between people and nonhuman nature is the practice of skills variously labeled “aboriginal,” “indigenous,” “ancestral,” “primitive,” and “stone-age.” Regardless of how they are labeled, these earth-living skills all involve meeting basic human needs without the assistance of modern technology. (Sometimes the line between old ways and “modern” ones is blurry. For example, does firemaking with flint and steel fit into the former category or the latter? It is certainly a more basic technique than using matches, but it is less basic than using a bow drill fashioned from local materials.) There are ample resources available for the instructor who would like to provide students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the skills that are in all of our ancestral pasts and in many indigenous communities’ present. Web searches using the labels above will lead instructors to a plethora of organizations, books, and videos devoted to educating people about skills such as brain-tanning animal hides, gathering wild edibles, knapping rock, basket weaving, pit-firing clay, making plant fiber cordage, animal tracking and trapping. To get started, see the website for the Society for Primitive Technology at After students have successfully accomplished something basic, such as starting a fire without the aid of matches, ask them to reflect on the following questions:

  • (How) does learning earth-living skills alter your feelings about yourself?
  • (How) does learning earth-living skills alter your feelings about wilderness?
  • (How) does learning earth-living skills alter your feelings about your needs and your lifestyle?
  • Do you think that if more people living in contemporary urban environments had the opportunity to practice these skills that they would feel more connected to nonhuman nature?

Adopting An Empirical Approach To Ecopsychology

Several of the earliest voices in ecopsychology were not psychologists (e.g., Rozsak, 1992; Shepard, 1982) and to the extent that their writing draws from psychology, it tends to focus on transpersonal psychology, humanistic psychology, and psychoanalytic concepts (e.g., Jung’s collective unconscious is the inspiration for Rozsak’s ecological unconscious). Much ecopsychological writing does not sound like psychology-the-science as we currently know it, because it is not empirically grounded. The general consensus among these early voices is that ecopsychology should not be a subdicipline alongside the traditional subdisciplines, but should be a reframing of psychology in general, taking into account humans’ ecological embeddedness (Metzner, 1999). Still, some concepts in ecopsychology could potentially be explored empirically. Assign students to write a paper as follows:

For this 6-8 page paper, you will select a theoretical ecopsychology concept, describe your understanding of it, describe specifically how you would operationally define it, and explain how you would employ this operational definition to empirically test its hypothesized role in psychological well-being and its impact on environmental behavior. Address the limits you see in your operational definition, if any (e.g., consider aspects of human diversity such as culture, age, socioeconomic status, educational level, and gender). Comment on your reaction to the empirical approach to ecopsychology: do you think it is worthwhile, or not? necessary, or not? practical, or not? Support your opinions.


Film: Earth Seasoned (2017, 75 min.)

Touching, inspiring, and sobering, Earth Seasoned beautifully illuminates what happens to our sense of self, our connection to non-human nature, and our relationship to other humans when we slow down, unplug, and use our brains and bodies in the ways we are built to do. Viewers witness how spending a “gap year” living semi-primitively in the Oregon Cascade Mountains transforms Tori from an academically struggling social outcast to a competent, self-assured, insightful, and peaceful human.  The skills and wisdom shared by Tori, her peers, and her instructors hold lessons for all of us whose well-being and priorities are compromised by frenzied, technology-laden, materialistic lifestyles.

Film: Consumed: Identity and Anxiety in an Age of Plenty (2011, 52 min.)

This documentary, available online and in DVD format, takes a close look at the effect of consumerism on our health and on the planet. Experts in marketing, psychology, and sustainable design give insight into the many problems of Western society’s obsession with material goods, and suggest several changes society can make to help ourselves and to benefit the environment. See more details on the Journeyman Picutures website at

Film: Coming Home (2003, 53 Min.)

In this film from the Sacred Balance series, David Suzuki spends time with the Inuit on Baffin Island on their spring hunt. His adventure serves as the backdrop for a dicussion of biophilia. E.O. Wilson, Sarah Conn, and Wade Davis appear in the film. See details on the Bullfrog Films website at

Film: Ecopsychology: Restoring The Earth, Healing The Mind (1995, 30 Min.)

This half-hour 1995 VHS film features Theodore Rozsak, Sarah Conn, and Carl Anthony. It provides a nice overview and introduction to ecopsychology for students. Although this film is difficult to locate for purchase, according to WorldCat, it is owned by more than forty college and university libraries in the U.S..

Film: A Sense Of Place (1994, 30 Min.)

This half-hour VHS film was created by bioregionalist Kirkpatrick Sale and others. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, it asks questions about the connection between humans and the natural world. It is available from the Foundation for Global Community at



Website: International Community For Ecopsychology

For a rich collection of links to ecopsychologists, ecopsychological academic programs, and other ecopsychology resources, visit

Websites: Ecovilliages

Three very good ecovillage websites are the following:

Information about ecovillages all over the world can be found on the Global Ecovillage Network at

Online Publication: Gatherings

Gatherings is the online journal for the international ecopsychology community. It can be accessed at

Popular Films With Ecopsychological Themes

Several popular films highlight the psychological and ecological contrast between humans living connected vs. disconnected from nonhuman nature. Some suggestions include the following:

Walkabout (1971)
This visually beautiful film tells the story of two British children, abandoned in the Australian outback by a suicidal father. The children’s survival is unlikely until they meet a young Aboriginal man on a walkabout, a period of wandering away from the tribe that ritualizes the transition into manhood. With his assistance, the children adapt to the environment. Ultimately, the Aboriginal man is unable to join “civilized” society and the girl from the pair of children grows into a woman who spends the rest of her life in Syndey longing for the life she knew in the wild outback.

Dersu Uzula (1977)
This film was directed by Akira Kurosawa and won the 1976 Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film.” Based on the memoir of a Russian explorer, the story takes place in Siberia in the first years of the twentieth century. A Russian officer leading a mapping expedition meets a woodsman (Dersu Uzala) who lives an ecologically imbedded existence, displays amazing tracking and survival skills, and possesses deep empathy and respect for other people and nonhuman animals. When the Russian officer ultimately brings Dersu to the city, Dersu suffers and fades–physically and emotionally– without his natural life-support.

Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Based on an autobiographical account from Farley Mowat, this film portrays a biologist sent by the government to the Canadian Arctic to document the killing of caribou by wolves. The beginning of the film vividly and humorously highlights the disconnect between the industrial world and wilderness (e.g., via the stark mismatch between the government-issued supplies and the biologist’s survival needs). As the film progresses, the biologist develops a profound understanding and appreciation for the wolves, while at the same time facing the harsh reality that some Inuit people in the region hunt the wolves for their lucrative pelts so as to acquire money for modern conveniences (e.g., dentures, cameras). One particularly powerful scene involves the biologist roused from his sleepy sunbathing by a herd of caribou; as the caribou thunderously stampede around him, pursued by wolves, he runs among them wearing nothing but his hiking boots.

Koyaanisqatsi- Life Out of Balance (1983) and Baraka (1992)
These nonverbal films are very similar in some respects. They consist of stunning visual images of nonhuman nature, the intersection between humans and nature, and human civilization devoid of nonhuman nature. Time lapse photography, camera position and movement, and atmospheric music are used to wonderful effect. Unlike Koyaanisqatsi, Baraka has an international scope and is shot in 70mm film, which makes it more of a sweeping treatment of their common themes. Koyaanisqatsi focuses more on the impact of technology on humans and nonhuman nature while Baraka also addresses topics such as spirituality and genocide. These are profound films that defy description in words and will inspire ecopsychological thinking in students.

The Last of His Tribe (1992)
This film is based on the true story of Ishi, the sole surviving member of a group of Yahi Indians living in northern California, and reputed to be the last “wild” Native American to make contact with the modern world. In 1911, Ishi wandered out of the hills and into the lives of Alfred Kroeber and Thomas Waterman, anthropologists at the University of California. For four and half years, Ishi educated the anthropopligists about his culture while they studied him at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology. Today’s aboriginal skills enthusiasts credit Ishi with opening the door to our stone age past. The film stars Graham Greene as Ishi and Jon Voigt as Kroeber. (For more information on Ishi, see the Hearst Museum’s Ishi page at

The Snow Walker (2003)
Directed by Charles Martin Smith (who starred in Never Cry Wolf), and based on a short story by Farley Mowat, The Snow Walker is about a pilot stranded in the Canadian arctic whose survival is assisted by an Inuit woman with indigenous knowledge of the natural environment. Some of the most powerful scenes involve his reluctance– and even inability– to abandon nonfunctioning modern technology in favor of ecologically-embedded solutions.

Grizzly Man (2005)
This documentary by Werner Herzog profiles Timothy Treadwell, an aspiring actor with an alcohol problem who found relief from the stresses of contemporary life during thirteen summers spent living among grizzlies in Alaska. This film is fascinating in that Treadwell is far more integrated into a wild setting than most Americans ever could be while at the same time, he seems completely disconnected from the setting. Most of the film consists of Treadwell’s own footage of himself and the bears in which he narrates and talks to them in a voice reminiscent of a children’s t.v. show host, “Hello, Mr. Chocolate Bear. How are you today?…” Treadwell expresses deep concern about the bears’ well-being at the same time that he seems not to understand the ecological systems and food chain around him. Treadwell met his end when he and his woman traveling companion were consumed by a grizzly. The film is thought-provoking and challenges a romanticized view of “getting back to nature.”

Suggested Readings For Students

Abram, D. (1997). Spell of the sensuous: Perception and language in a more than human world. New York: Pantheon.

Fisher, A. (2002). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life. New York: State University of New York Press.

Roszak, T., Gomes, M. E., & Kanner, A. D. (Eds.) (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Schiffman, R. (2018, Jan. 11). A greener, more healthful place to work. The New York Times

Scott, B. A., Amel, E. L. Koger, S. M., & Manning, C. M. (2016). Healing the split between planet and self: Why we all need to walk on the wild side. In Psychology for sustainability (4th ed, pp. 263-293). New York: Routledge.

References Cited In This Section

Abram, D. (1997). Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and language in a more than human world. New York: Pantheon.

Angell, J. (1994). The wilderness solo: An empowering growth experience for women. Women and Therapy, 15, 85-99.

Borrie, W., & Roggenbuck, J. (2001). The dynamic, emergent, and multiphasic nature of on-site wilderness experiences. Journal of Leisure Research, 33, 202-228.

Boston, T. (1996). Ecopsychology: An earth-psyche bond. Trumpeter. Retrieved February 7, 2008 at

Brown, T. (1988). Tom Brown’s field guide to nature observation and tracking. New York: Berkley Publishing Group.

Burroughs, J. E., & Rindfleisch, A. (2002). Materialism and well-being: A conflicting values perspective. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 348-370.

Buzzel, L. & Chalquist, C. (Eds., 2009). Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Carrus, G., Bonaiuto, M., & Bonnes, M. (2005). Environmental concern, regional identity, and support for protected areas in Italy. Environment and Behavior, 37, 237-257.

Clinebell, H. (1996). Ecotherapy: Healing ourselves, healing the earth. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.

Davis, J. (1998). The transpersonal dimensions of ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual practice. Humanistic Psychologist, 26, 51-67.

Elpel, T. J. (2004). Primitive living, self-sufficiency, and survival skills . Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press.

Ericson, T., Kjønstad, B. G., & Barstad, A. (2014). Mindfulness and sustainability. Ecological Economics, 104, 73-79.

Fisher, A. (2002). Radical ecopsychology: Psychology in the service of life. New York: State University of New York Press.

Germer, C. K., Siegel, R. D., & Fulton, P. R. (Eds.) (2005). Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Glendinning, C. (1994). “ My name is Chellis & I’ m in recovery from Western civilization. ” Boston: Shambhala.

Gonzales, L. (2003). Deep survival: Who lives, who dies, and why. New York: Norton.

Greenway, R. (1995). The wilderness effect and ecopsychology. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, & A. D.

Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 122-135). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Gullone, E. (2000). The biophilia hypothesis and life in the 21st century: Increasing mental health or
increasing pathology? Journal of Happiness Studies, ., 293-321.

Harper, S. (1995). The way of wilderness. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 183-200). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Holmgren, D. (2002). Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond sustainability. Hepburn, Victoria, AU: Holmgren Design Services.

Kaplan, R. (1984). Wilderness perception and psychological benefits: An analysis of a continuing program. Leisure Sciences , ., 271-290.

Kaplan, S., & Talbot, J. F. (1983). Psychological benefits of a wilderness experience. In I. Altman & J. F. Wohlwill (Eds.), Human behavior and the environment: Vol. 6. Advances in theory and research (pp. 163-203). New York: Plenum.

Kasser, T. (2002). The high price of materialism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kasser, T. & Kanner, A. D. (Eds.) (2003). Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Kellert, S. R. (1997). Kinship to mastery: Biophilia in human evolution and development. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Kellert, S. R., & Wilson, E. O. (Eds.) (1993). The biophilia hypothesis. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Kirby, A. (2003). Redefining social and environmental relations at the ecovillage at Ithaca: A case study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 323-332.

Kyle, G. T., Graefe, A. R., & Manning, R. E. (2004). Effects of place attachment on users’ perceptions of social and environmental conditions in a natural setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 213-225.

Kyle, G. T., Graefe, A. R., & Manning, R. E. (2005). Testing the dimensionality of place attachment in recreational settings. Environment and Behavior, 37, 153-177.

Langer, E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman.

Langer, E. J., & Moldoveanu, M. (2000). The construct of mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 1-9.

Mace, B. L., Bell, P. A., & Loomis, R. J. (2004). Visibility and natural quiet in national parks and wilderness areas: Psychological considerations. Environment and Behavior, 36, 5-31.

Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

Metzner, R.(1999). Green psychology: Transforming our relationship to the earth. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Mollison, B. (1990). Permaculture. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Rezendes, P. (1999). Tracking and the art of seeing. New York: Harper Collins.

Romi, S., & Kohan, E. (2004). Wilderness programs: Principles, possiblities and opportunities for intervention with dropout adolescents. Child and Youth Care Forum, 33, 115-136.

Rosenberg, E. L. (2003). Mindfulness and consumerism. In T. Kasser & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Roszak, T. (1992). The voice of the earth: An exploration of ecopsychology. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Roszak, T., Gomes, M. E., & Kanner, A. D. (Eds.) (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Schroll, M. A. (2003). Remembering ecopsychology’s origins: A chronicle of meetings, conversations, and significant publications. Gatherings: Journal of the International Community for Ecopsychology [online]. Retrieved March 15, 2006 at

Scott, B. A., Amel, E. L. Koger, S. M., & Manning, C. M. (2016). Healing the split between planet and self: Why we all need to walk on the wild side. In Psychology for sustainability (4th ed, pp. 263-293). New York: Routledge.

Scull, J. (1999, March 26). Ecopsychology: Where does it fit in psychology? Paper presented at the annual psychology conference, Malaspina University College [Electronic version]. Retrieved March 15, 2006 at

Seed, J., Macy, J., Fleming, P., & Naess, A. (1988). Thinking like a mountain: Toward a council of all beings. Philadelphia: New Society.

Sewall, L. (1995). The skill of ecological perception. In T. Roszak, M. E. Gomes, & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 201-215). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Sewall, L. (1999). Sight and sensibility: The ecopsychology of perception. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Shepard, P. (1982). Nature and madness, San Francisco, Sierra Club Books.

Stedman, R. (2002). Toward a social psychology of place: Predicting behavior from place-based cognitions, attitude, and identity. Environment and Behavior, 34, 561-581.

Talbot, J. F., & Kaplan, S. (1986). Perspectives on wilderness: Re-examining the value of extended wilderness experiences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 177-188.

Vaske, J. J., & Kobrin, K. C. (2001). Place attachment and environmentally responsible behavior. Journal of Environmental Education, 32(4) , 16-21.

White, R., & Heerwagen, J. (1998). Nature and mental health: Biophilia and biophobia. In A. Lundberg (Ed.), The environment and mental health: A guide for clinicians (pp. 175-192). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, S., & Lipsey, M. (2000). Wilderness challenge programs for delinquent youth: A meta-analysis of outcome evaluations. Evaluation and Program Planning, 23, 1-12.