Why Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land whose water content–rain, condensation, groundwater, etc.–flows into a particular stream or river. A single raindrop may fall on the peak of a mountain and over time work its way down through forests, fields and wetlands. Along the way it might join up with a small stream, and from there take the fast track to the primary river that courses to the ocean.

As water flows through the watershed, it picks up elements of the land it shapes and changes through erosion. It carries sediments and minerals and nutrients, depositing them and picking up more. Unfortunately in some areas the water may also come into contact with pollutants that affect both the beings living in the water and those where the water makes its deposits.

We’re like the water. We start in a place not of our choosing, and we do our best to wend our way through the ecosystems we’re in throughout our lives. We are in a constant conversation with our environments and the people and other beings who share¬†them with us; this conversation also includes our inner landscapes. And just like the streams and rivulets in a watershed, our environments change us as bits of them become part of who we are.

Not everything we come into contact with is good for us. Ecotherapy is one way to address the pollutants that alter our mental and emotional health, and to make the most of the nutrients and other good things we’ve picked up, too. This serves to both improve our lives, and the communities that we’re a part of–our own multi-layered watersheds.


Another reason for the imagery of the watershed is the concept of a watershed moment. At the top of the mountain range, there’s a dividing line between two watersheds; depending on what side of the mountains a raindrop falls, it may flow into one or the other, but never both. A watershed moment is one in which there is a momentous decision or other change.

While watershed moments are often discussed in terms of events of historical caliber, we as individuals also experience these life-changing shifts. Look back at your life, and you can likely pinpoint moments where everything changed forever, whether for good or bad.

Ecopsychology asks us to discover our ecological self, the understanding of the self in relationship to the rest of the community, human and otherwise. One way in which we can do this is through thinking of our lives as ever-unfolding stories. By identifying watershed moments–those points where we cross a particularly important dividing line–we may be able to identify some of our most formative experiences. And by placing ourselves in the context not only of our life-stories, but also the ecological settings they occur in, we may be able to have a better sense of who we are, why we are, and where we’re going.