Category Archives: For Everyone

Eco-Poetry: Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

There are a number of poems that I’ve read over the years that I feel encapsulate some of the spirit of ecotherapy. It’s not just the nature-based imagery, though that is certainly an important element. I also look for poems that speak to healing and solace, and perhaps a bit of unconditional positive regard. After all, ecopsychology in action is meant to improve someone’s overall mental health, with nature as a crucial guide along the way.

When I was thinking of poetry to share on Watershed Ecotherapy, Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” was the very first one I thought of.

Read the rest here.

Guest Post: Wilderness As Healing

Our first guest post here at Watershed Ecotherapy certainly sets the bar high! Michael Gallo, PsyD, MSc has graciously offered his doctoral dissertation, Wilderness as Healing: A Comprehensive Survey of the Literature and Critical Analysis, for public view. The abstract is as follows:

This comprehensive survey of literature with critical thematic analyses was conducted by Michael Gallo to form a contemporary perspective of Wilderness as Healing. Understanding existing perspectives of therapies integrating wilderness experiences was a pertinent foundation for this review. The dearth of prior literature and limited population-specific research necessitated focusing on underlying theoretical constructs as well as the author’s personal experiences as a foundation for new perspectives regarding the potentials for treatment applications incorporating wilderness experiences within clinical psychotherapies. This study facilitated answering three guiding research questions, generating a comprehensive perspective of wilderness as healing benefitting clients by using (a) wilderness therapy, (b) experiences in nature, and (c) relational psychology combined with the philosophies of both transpersonal ecology and ecotherapy practice. This work stands as a foundation for furthering understanding. The potential implications for use within treatment for at-risk youth, women, and families are vast. Additional research is required to develop specific recommendations for practice with these and other populations. Definition of the field through further research is the most critical recommendation for future study.

Read the entire dissertation here in PDF format.

If you would like to contribute a guest post to Watershed Ecotherapy, please read the guidelines here.

Ecopsychology and Self-Care

Next Monday, July 24, is International Self-Care Day. Self-care is the act of attending to your health needs, mental as well as physical, and particularly those practices that do more than just address the most rudimentary, survival-oriented parts of our health. When you take time out to rest and relax, or give yourself nourishing food instead of junk food, or make sure you get plenty of sleep, you are engaging in self-care.

According to the International Self-Care Foundation, there are seven pillars of self-care. I’d like to take a bit of an ecopsychological approach to each of them. In ecopsychology we tend to focus on the mind quite a bit because that’s the general bailiwick of psychology, but the supposed divide between the mind and body grows narrower with each study that shows that the two are closely linked. This is especially pertinent to ecopsychology because it posits that we are intimately linked to the ecosystems we live in both through our experiences (mind) and ingestions (body).

Moreover, our bodies are the most immediate part of our ecosystem that we experience every single moment of our lives. By caring for our most personal piece of nature, we create habits of responsibility and awareness that we can then also turn to the rest of nature and our relationships with it. If you tend a vegetable garden every day, not only are you making yourself feel better with outdoor time and exercise and good food, you’re also tending to a cultivated bit of nature that supports soil fungi, tiny animals and a host of plants.

Read more here.

How to Be Hopeful in the Time of Climate Change

My last few articles have dealt with the distress that climate change and other environmental disasters often cause, and how ecopsychology is at a good place to address those feelings of fear, despair, anger and more. Today I want to offer you some ways in which you can promote feelings of hope and optimism in yourself and others, not just to assuage your fears, but to make you better prepared to act in ways that can reverse the damage we’ve done to the planet and ourselves.

Read more here.

Ecopsychology in Defiance of Fear

Fear, like any emotion, has its uses. It tells us when something is a danger to us so that we avoid it and hopefully save ourselves. It’s our internal warning system, and it is likely one of the very oldest functions of the animal brain. But like anything, it can be overused and overstimulated to the point where it becomes maladaptive–no longer the best way to respond to a situation.

A few days ago saw the publication of a scare piece from New York Magazine about all the horrible ways we’re going to die due to climate change. Now, I am fully on board with the fact that climate change is happening, and that it’s caused by us. And yes, I have my pessimistic moments where I look at how many forces are perpetuating the causes of climate change out of greed and ignorance. It can be tempting, in the light of this worst-of-the-worst case scenario, to just roll over and give up.

That’s why I appreciated this retort from Grist (complete with links to fact-checking) that, while it acknowledges that climate change’s worst outlook is pretty bad, shows that the NYMag piece is way over the top.

Read more here.

Resilience in the Face of Climate Change

In my last article, I talked about how we need to create space to grieve for environmental losses. No loss is greater than that of the entire planet, and while we’re not likely to have the Earth obliterated by the Death Star any time soon, several times throughout its history it has experienced mass extinctions and devastating climate shifts. Our species has existed for the past couple hundred thousand years in a relatively stable period, save for a few ice ages. But as adaptable as we are, it remains to be seen whether we’d survive the sort of extreme climate shift that preceded something as great as the Permian Extinction, which killed off over half of all species.

No one knows for certain how bad our current anthropogenic climate change will be, and whether we’ll be able to reverse our trajectory in enough time to avoid the worst. But as the only known species that can be aware of our future, we have the burden of knowing in just how many ways something can go very, very wrong. And then we get to thinking about it, and worrying over it, and anxiety sets in, and that will do a number on just about anyone’s mental and emotional health.

In fact, climate change is possibly one of the most urgent and critical topics for ecopsychology to address. Yes, it is good for us to work toward reconnecting people with the rest of nature. But we also need to address our feelings toward nature, to include those less pleasant ones like the worry and fear.

Everyone’s method for doing so is different. But one of the key factors that everyone can draw from is resilience.

Read more here.

Grieving for Nature Lost

One of the prevailing themes of growing up and growing older is loss. We lose family members, we lose friends, we lose partners. These losses often lead to grief, and grief is an emotion that we still don’t have even an adequate, let alone superb, support structure for in this society. Look at how we portray funerals in movies, TV and other media: people standing around solemnly at a gravesite while the priest reads off Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”.) In real life, we maybe get a day or two off of work to go to said funeral, and then we’re expected to suck it up and get back to our duties. Everything in our modern cultural script about loss says that we have to be stoic and let any emotional expression be strictly private.

And that’s just for grieving the loss of our fellow human beings. It’s only been in the past few years that it’s become more acceptable to openly mourn for the loss of a pet (and that, no doubt, is partly heralded by greeting card companies capitalizing on an occasion to make more money.) Maybe a few hippies and crunchy-granola types are expected to hold memorials for venerable urban trees that are cut down to make way for development.

But nowhere is there a widespread space where we can openly grieve for the loss of nature. I learned this acutely when I was in my early teens, and the open lot of trees and fields behind my home was bulldozed to make way for yet more houses on 1/2 acre parcels of fescue. I was completely devastated; as a badly bullied child I had found my safety and solace in nature, and this loss was legitimately traumatic. I spent the next few years being increasingly isolated and skirting the edges of depression, and no one, not even myself, seemed to know what the problem really was. I had been, figuratively and literally, uprooted.

Read more here.

How is Nature Good For You? Let Me Count the Ways

One thing you’ll see a lot on this site–in fact, its raison d’être–is the idea that nature is good for you. And indeed many people will report that they feel better after a weekend camping, or at least a few hours spent wandering a lovely green park. But what’s actually going on in your mind and body when you get outside? Here are just a few of the beneficial effects you may be experiencing:

  • A decrease in blood flow to parts of the brain that fuel rumination. Rumination is what happens when you can’t get your mind to stop chewing on something negative or worrisome, and is particularly common in people experiencing depression. (Source.)
  • A 20% increase in memory performance, attention, and other improvements in cognitive function. It’s also connected to a lowered rate of ADHD in children, and lowered symptoms in people with ADHD. (Source, source, source, source.)

Read more here.

The Restorative Powers of Quiet

When we think about the restorative properties of nature, we usually think of presences: the presence of greenery, the presence of birdsongs, the presence of physical exertion, etc. What may be surprising is the absences within nature. One of the most notable is the absence of noise. Constant loud noise is rare in non-human nature; there may be short periods of a few days or weeks where large breeding colonies of birds make a ton of noise for much of the day and/or night, but these are the exception rather than the rule. And even in these mass gatherings, the animals are generally able to get away from the commotion to hunt for food for their young.

What many people experience, particularly in crowded urban areas, is an unnatural level of constant noise during most or all of a typical twenty-four hour period. Our brains are only wired to filter out so much noise for so long before fatigue sets in; we may think that we’re dealing with it alright because we don’t often notice it consciously. This is a case of self-defense.

Read more here.


Five Minute Ecotherapy

I’ll admit that I personally love immersing myself in wilderness areas for days at a time. However, not everyone has the time, finances, ability or desire to do such a thing, and even I only get to do multi-day escapes into the woods once or twice a year at best. Dealing with stressors and other factors detrimental to my mental health and well-being is a daily effort, and so I can’t wait until these precious escapes into deep nature.

So what to do in the meantime? If all I have to spare is five minutes, I can still indulge in a micro-break, which is often enough time to let myself rest a bit and allow some of the stress I’m feeling to drain out of me. Research has supported time and again that taking breaks at work actually boosts productivity (take that, every micromanaging manager I ever had!) And the benefits of even brief periods of exposure to nature can be remarkable.

These are meant to be brief de-stressors in the moment. They’re not a substitute for longer therapy sessions, medications or other mental health care, but they can certainly help if you’re having a bad moment, or just need a chance to breathe.

Read more here.