Kelvin Hall, from Stroud, Gloucestershire, offers psychotherapy that embraces the intervention of other-than-human life in both content and process; this includes equine-assisted work. He has twenty-six years in the business and is a student of ‘natural and classical’ horsemanship. He is immersed in the British countryside.
Emma Palmer, from Bristol, is an embodied-relational therapist, wild therapist, ecopsychologist, supervisor and facilitator. She offers ‘wild therapy’ talks and workshops as well as workshops interweaving embodiment and ecopsychology. She says that current influences upon her work lie at the interface between the experience of gardening her allotment and Zen practice.
Viola Sampson, from London, is a craniosacral therapist and ecopsychologist who offers craniosacral therapy for individuals, trees and horses. Her therapy combines with homeopathic remedies and essences.
Mathew Henson, from Kinsale, County Cork, is an existential psychotherapist and ecopsychologist, who says his psychotherapy practice is influenced by the principles of ecopsychology and his ecopsychology practice is influenced by the principles of existential-phenomenology.
Other than the obvious, what do the above have in common? Are they all closet Trotskyists? Are they all beneficiaries of secret funding provided by the Green Blob? Do they all play right-back for Manchester City?
No. What they have in common is that they think that it is the likes of you and I who are in desperate need of psychiatric treatment. Assuredly, it is the sceptics, turning a blind eye whilst Mother Earth weeps, who are mentally and emotionally sick – and they know just how to heal us. So, to advertise their services, their beaming, confident and welcoming smiles can be found adorning the practitioners list on the Ecopsychology UK website. But if you are thinking of visiting that website, take my advice – don’t! Instead, just drill three neat holes in your cranium. Take my word for it, it makes much more sense.
I am, of course, being cruel and sarcastic. I’m sure if you met Kelvin, Emma, Viola or Mathew, or indeed any of their colleagues, you would find them to be lovely and earnest people, passionate in what they think and do. After all, they are motivated by a desire to help others, even though they choose to do so from a self-proclaimed position of spiritual superiority. They may be knowingly fraudulent but I have no right to assume so. To demonize and mock them might seem justified based upon the pretentious and extreme nature of their beliefs but it is rare to find a doctrine that is entirely lacking sense. To give the ladies and gentlemen of Ecopsychology UK the benefit of the doubt one has to look beyond their apparently vacuous jargon and try to discern a legitimate ideological provenance. So what are the insights that Kelvin et al had embraced but then so expertly obscured? And at what point did those insights start to unravel?
A good place to start might be the work of Theodore Roszak, American academic and professor emeritus of history at California State University, who coined the term ‘Ecopsychology’ in his book ‘The Voice of the Earth’. In a 1996 letter to Psychology Today he wrote:
“Denying the relevance of nature to our deepest emotional needs is still the rule in mainstream therapy, as in the culture generally. It is apt to remain so until psychologists expand our paradigm of the self to include the natural habitat – as was always the case in indigenous cultures, whose methods of healing troubled souls included the trees and rivers, the sun and stars.”
In contrast to this concept of oneness with nature, says Roszak, we have the bleak proclamations of Sigmund Freud: “Nature is eternally remote. She destroys us – coldly, cruelly, relentlessly.”
Forlornly, Roszak observes:
“Whatever else has been revised and rejected in Freud’s theories, this tragic sense of estrangement from nature continues to haunt psychology, making the natural world seem remote and hostile.”
So here Roszak does two things. Firstly, he invokes the age-old paradigm of harmony and belonging as a spiritual basis for the welfare of the human race. But, moreover, he makes an explicit connection between psychology and ecology. Disharmony with nature has more than societal and cultural implications – it can actually lead to genuine mental illness within the individual. Estrangement does not just lead to separation anxiety in a metaphorical sense; it is separation anxiety in the literal, i.e. clinical sense.
At the root of this thinking appears to be a confusion between health and the much broader notion of welfare. On the one hand, Roszak exhorts psychologists to expand the ‘paradigm of the self’ for the purposes of clinical assessment, but then he talks of ‘healing troubled souls’, which seems to imply a decidedly non-clinical concept of self. It is this equivocation that enables ideas of simple well-being or discomfiture to take on a mental health dimension.
Of course, it isn’t just Roszak who has been peddling the importance of harmony with nature. In so doing he was able to call upon a rich heritage of received wisdom. You can find it in practices such as shamanism, in world religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and in the belief systems of the Australian aborigines and the American Indian. It is also arguable that an emphasis on the divine character of the natural world, and a reverence for it, lies behind the growing popularity of neo-paganism. All of these worldviews have one thing in common: spiritual, physical, mental and emotional well-being depend critically upon upholding a reverential harmony with nature. In this respect, ecopsychologists follow a well-established tradition.
Closely allied to the concept of nature worship is that of the Noble Savage;1 the belief that civilization is a corrupting influence and only those who remain close to the primitive condition truly enjoy the ennobling power of Mother Nature. The Noble Savage therefore symbolizes innate human goodness. It is a beguiling idea that remains popular to this day; you won’t find the kind and gentle folk of the Amazonian rainforest waging nuclear war. And it isn’t they who had the idea of chopping the forest down to make way for beef farms that exist only to satisfy the fat gringos’ appetite for a Big Mac with fries.
For the ecopsychologists, mankind’s fall from grace results in a mental and emotional malaise. But to some the reality bites deeper than that. By losing the nobility of the savage, we not only become mad – we become mad, bad and dangerous to know. Except, the facts just don’t back up such a claim. Evidence of violence mano a mano can be found in caveman art, and the casualty rate resulting from violent conflict amongst tribes one might label as primitive, far exceeds that for conflicts between the industrialized nations. Industrial war may seem more bloody and dehumanizing but it has, thus far, proven much less capable of wiping out a tribe’s men-folk than has your average rumble in the jungle.2
We don’t have noble savages in modern Western society, but we still romanticize the figure who works the land, ideally (as far as the connoisseur of mild erotica is concerned) stripped to the waist in the fashion of D. H. Lawrence’s gamekeeper Mellors. These folk are unsophisticated but wise; happy in their work and thankfully oblivious to the fact that the suicide rate for farmers exceeds all other professions. Contrast the office worker struggling into work each morning on the Northern Line. To the ecopsychologist these are lost souls, hopelessly out of touch with nature and badly in need of some craniosacral therapy, equine-assisted embodiment or equally spurious treatment. Which is as may be, but the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a distinct lack of scientific basis for any of the above. Where, for example, is the science that justifies belief in the therapeutic powers of conversing with nature? Well let me start by telling you where it isn’t.
Returning to the Ecopsychology UK web site, there is one figure you will not find listed as a practitioner but, nevertheless, has an overarching influence over those that are. His name is Dr Michael J. Cohen, and he is lauded as a ‘maverick genius’ amongst lesser men. Under the heading ‘Hard Science of the Senses’, Dr Cohen is quoted as declaring:
“Our leaders seldom teach us that, scientifically, Natural Attraction is the essence of the Unified Field of our Big Bang Universe as well as the essence of life, love and unity.”
Of course, the reason why ‘our leaders’ seldom teach this is because it is errant nonsense. Sadly, however, the website groans under the weight of such faux-scientific ramblings, many invoking Einstein, Higgs or any other icon of physics one might wish to name-drop in the company of the gullible. And if that doesn’t work, you might try:
“Nature has taught me that our abstract ‘5-leg’ thinking in conjunction with conscious sensory ‘4-leg’ contact with attractions in natural areas can be the ‘9-leg’ way we learn to put our natural senses into culturally reasonable words.”
Oh the irony! Do you want to break the news to Dr Cohen or shall I?
Having failed to find any reasonability, cultural or otherwise, in the many words encumbering the Ecopsychology UK website, it is tempting to conclude that there is simply no science available to back up its thesis. However, let us not be too hasty. Edward O. Wilson is thought by many to be the founding father of sociobiology, and he had a thing or two to say on the subject of genetic predisposition. In particular, he has referenced the findings of a number of scientific studies in which were measured the physiological reaction of subjects viewing images of nature. In them he discerned a distinct and seemingly ingrained attraction towards natural forms and habitats. He called this ‘biophilia’.
The idea that we are attracted to nature is well-supported by anecdotal evidence; the hypothesis that biophilia is rooted in human evolution is not. To fully appreciate the scientific basis for biophilia one has to be prepared to accept the central tenet of sociobiology – that we are social animals with customary instincts that are an artefact of our genetic make-up and our environmental niche. I find this quite an easy idea to accept, though for others it implies a determinism that offends their humanistic sensibilities. Rather than delve into this area of controversy, it is perhaps best that I leave it here. Besides which, there is still quite a jump to be made from scientifically explaining our instinctive love of nature and explaining how this can be used to deal with mental illness.
I’ve spent some time here challenging the ecopsychologists’ worldview, but the reality is that I have quite a begrudging respect for their hippy-trippy ideologies; even if they may be a tad too inspired by marijuana and magic mushrooms. At the heart of their beliefs there is precisely that – heart! They denigrate the climate change sceptics but only because they want to emphasize just how much they are in need of help. Contrast that with the mainstream psychologists, where respectable practitioners, and Lewandowsky, cynically and hypocritically prostitute their understanding of cognition, all in the cause of the political agenda that underpins the CAGW meme. In both cases there is motivated reasoning but, if you were to ask me to express a preference, I would favour the ecopsychologists’ motivation every time. And whilst neither the average ecopsychologist nor Daniel Kahneman knows squat about climatology, at least the former is prepared to make this obvious.
 Although this term is often associated with Rousseau, it was actually coined by poet John Dryden in his play, The Conquest of Granada (1672). In fact, Rousseau never used it.
 I am taking into account the genocides of World War 2. The numbers involved were huge but, as a percentage of population, the rates are eclipsed by the those typically resulting from tribal conflict amongst primitive societies.