Category Archives: For Ecotherapists

Why Be an Ecotherapist?

If you’re a mental health care practitioner, you probably already have a pretty good toolkit for working with your clients. The good news is that no matter what your preferred modalities are, you can likely add ecotherapy to your practice. I’d like to offer a few reasons why you might like to become an ecotherapist.

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Unconditional Positive Regard and Ecopsychology

“The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided,” –Carl Rogers, on unconditional positive regard

The graduate-level counseling program that I got my Master’s degree through at Lewis & Clark College has a very humanistic foundation. Humanistic psychology was developed by Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and several other pioneering psychologists in the mid-20th century. After decades of being dominated by the Victorian biases of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Skinner’s cold behaviorism*, the field of psychology was in dire need of some warmth and humanity.

There are several key tenets to humanistic psychology, including the idea that people are inherently good, that we are whole, complex people and we should strive to develop our best selves, and that a therapist’s role is to be supportive in these efforts while offering constructive tools the client can use. Also important is the concept of unconditional positive regard, in which a therapist wholly accepts a person as they are, and does not judge them no matter their mistakes or flaws. By offering this place of complete support, the client has the opportunity to see that they always have the potential to become better regardless of their past or present circumstances.

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Ecotherapy and Accessibility

If you’ve spent much time studying ecopsychology, you’ll find that the majority of people involved in it tend to be white, middle class, college-educated and generally able-bodied. (Yes, I fit that pretty well myself.) And the people who most often seek out ecotherapy as clients frequently come from that demographic as well.

If ecopsychology is really going to succeed as a pathway to helping people be more in touch with nature, then ecopsychologists need to find ways to offer our knowledge and skills beyond the usual suspects, so to speak. There are a few factors in particular that I’d like to go over in brief; one article is far from sufficient to hold all the solutions, but I can at least get you, my dear readers, thinking more about the situation at hand.

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You Don’t Have to Be an Ecotherapist to Practice Ecotherapy

So what is an ecotherapist? Someone who practices ecotherapy, obviously.

Well, maybe. Let’s get a little more nuanced here. There’s the simple definition, but then there’s also the identity end of things. See, “ecotherapist” can denote being something of a specialist, in the same way someone can be an art therapist. Mental health practitioners often use these specialized terms to help potential clients understand what sort of therapeutic practices they offer. And, yes, it can be a valuable marketing tool, especially for private practitioners. Let’s face it–while ecotherapy can be good for a whole spectrum of people, it often tends to attract a particular nature-loving demographic. Preaching to the choir, as it were.

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How to Incorporate Ecopsychology into the Intake Process

The first session with a new client is often the most important; not only can it set the tone for how the practitioner-client relationship will develop, but many clients decide whether to continue working with a new professional by the end of that initial encounter. One of the ways you can help a client feel more comfortable and respected is by using the intake form to familiarize yourself with them. After all, few things make a client feel worse than when their therapist can’t even remember their name!

You don’t have to wait until you’ve developed a long-term relationship with your client to start bringing ecopsychology into the equation. The simplest way to do this is to include a question or three about the client’s relationship to nature in the intake form. Clients are often encouraged to talk about their relationships to other human beings, be they friends, family, coworkers, etc. But what about relationships to the non-human parts of their world?