Ecopsychology and Students By Ilana Price

The Need For Nature

In an essay by Valerie Harms, she defines ecopsychology as an emerging field that attempts to integrate psychology and environmentalism, especially focusing on the relationship that the Earth has with the behavior of its inhabitants (Harms, 1997). Ecopsychology, a term made popular by Theodore Roszak's The Voice of Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology, addresses both the suffering of the Earth by the misbehavior of people and the subsequent suffering of the people due to the suffering of the Earth (Harms, 1997). She writes, "Ecopsychology...seeks to understand and heal our relationship with the Earth. It examines the psychological processes that bond us to the natural world or that alienate us from it." Ecologists need psychologists and psychologists need ecologists in order investigate dysfunctional behavior that leads to environmental problems (Harms, 1997).

Ecopsychologists claim that a physical separation from the natural world leads to a psychological dysfunction. This disconnection, alienation or overall dysfunction may lead to ecologically destructive behavior; individual human suffering such as anxiety, depression, and anger; or various forms of social and collective suffering such as racism, sexism, violence, and alienation from society (Scull, 2003). Ultimately, because we are separating ourselves from nature, we are not only threatening the well-being of nature, but are threatening our own well-being as well.
Theodore Roszak has defined eight general principles of ecopsychology (1992):

  1. The core of the mind is the ecological unconscious. For ecopsychology, repression of the ecological unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society. Open access to the ecological unconscious is the path to sanity.
  2. The contents of the ecological unconscious represent, in some degree, at some level of mentality, the living record of cosmic evolution, tracing back to distant initial conditions in the history of time. Contemporary studies in the ordered complexity of nature tell us that life and mind emerge from this evolutionary tale as culminating natural systems within the unfolding sequence of physical, biological, mental, and cultural systems we know as "the universe." Ecopsychology draws upon these findings of the new cosmology, striving to make them real to experience.
  3. Just as it has been the goal of previous therapies to recover the repressed contents of the unconscious, so the goal of ecopsychology is to awaken the inherent sense of environmental reciprocity that lies within the ecological unconscious. Other therapies seek to heal the alienation between person and person, person and family, person and society. Ecopsychology seeks to heal the more fundamental alienation between the recently created urban psyche and the age-old natural environment.
  4. For ecopsychology as for other therapies, the crucial stage of development is the life of the child. The ecological unconscious is regenerated, as if it were a gift, in the newborn's enchanted sense of the world. Ecopsychology seeks to recover the child's innately animistic quality of experience in functionally "sane" adults.
  5. The ecological ego matures toward a sense of ethical responsibility to the planet that is as vividly experienced as our ethical responsibility to other people. It seeks to weave that responsibility into the fabric of social relations and political decisions.
  6. Among the therapeutic projects most important to ecopsychology is the re-evaluation of certain compulsively "masculine" character traits that permeate our structures of political power and which drive us to dominate nature as if it were an alien and rightless realm. In this regard, ecopsychology draws significantly on the insights of ecofeminism with a view to demystifying the sexual stereotypes.
  7. Whatever contributes to small scale social forms and personal empowerment nourishes the ecological ego. Whatever strives for large-scale domination and the suppression of personhood undermines the ecological ego. Ecopsychology therefore deeply questions the essential sanity of our gargantuan urban-industrial culture, whether capitalistic or collectivistic in its organization. But it does so without necessarily rejecting the technological genius of our species or some life-enhancing measure of the industrial power we have assembled. Ecopsychology is postindustrial not anti-industrial in its social orientation.
  8. Ecopsychology holds that there is a synergistic interplay between planetary and personal well-being. The term "synergy" is chosen deliberately for its traditional theological connotation, which once taught that the human and divine are cooperatively linked in the quest for salvation. The contemporary ecological translation of the term might be: the needs of the planet are the needs of the person, the rights of the person are the rights of the planet.

This synergistic relationship between oneself and nature is of the utmost importance in justifying the existence of the natural areas on this campus. Ecopsychologists would claim that, just as alienation from friends, family and society are detrimental to one's psychological well being, so is alienation from nature. We must discard our urban biases in accept our ecological unconsciousness if we want to lead a normal and healthy life.

We are college students. We are put under an inordinate amount of pressure every day by our parents, our professors, our peers and ourselves. Not only are we expected to perform to the highest standards, but we are also expected to be socially functional, be involved in school activities, plan for our future, and make the transition into the real world smoothly. We are the leaders of the future -- the doctors, the lawyers, the stockbrokers, the teachers – and the pressure to succeed both socially and academically may be crippling.

Sadly, suicide is the leading killer of college students. Over 1,000 students take their own lives each year, according to the Jed Foundation. The American Association of Suicidology reports on its Web site that the suicide rate for 15-to-25-year-olds is 300 percent higher than it was in the 1950s. Expectations and pressures, combined with the normal predictors such as depression and drug abuse, contributes to the ever increasing suicidal tendencies in college students today (Giegerich, 2003).

It is not surprising that ecopsychologists stress the importance of connecting with nature. In 1964, after the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) was created by the Wilderness Act, psychological benefits of visiting a natural area, measured by an improvement in the visitor's condition, began to be examined (Duncan, 1998). Discarding our urban biases and retreating to a quiet, tranquil place is deeply restorative, both for the body and the mind. Deep breaths of fresh air, listening to the water flow in streams, watching the birds fly overhead – we find an instant stress reliever.

Our souls are connected to nature, this much is true, but we need the natural areas themselves in order to reveal what has been hidden by the hustle and bustle of the modern technological world we live in (Grimm-Greenblatt). Grimm-Greenblatt, in an environmental studies honor theses done at Binghamton University, points out that if we can understand how important nature is to ourselves and to society, we can better appreciate all forms of life. However, without this understanding, we are ultimately only destroying our natural resources, and, because we are part of nature, destroying ourselves as well. The "self" that is so often analyzed in psychology incorporates not just the person but the entire environment as well (Grimm-Greenblatt).

We, as students, must, for the good of ourselves and society, learn to appreciate the role of nature in our lives. The Nature Preserve and natural areas are invaluable to this, as it provides an outlet for the students to connect to their ecological unconscious. They are able to go into the nature preserve to escape the chains of urban academia and just relax. Many students, myself included, need only to walk through the nature preserve to regain a balance thrown off by pressures of being college students.

The Preserve and natural areas are a unique asset for BU students to enjoy and learn from the natural world. Many students opted to come to Binghamton University for the nature preserve, knowing that in the middle of this social, urban setting, there could be a place for them to retreat when they need to be by themselves, to think, to meditate. Students use the preserve for many relaxation techniques, such as hiking, writing and art. Jennifer Ivan, a student a Binghamton University, wrote a book called "Love Notes: Experiencing the Natural Areas of Binghamton University" in which she, and other Binghamton students, explored their connections to nature through poetry and art. She writes, in a poem written at the Bridge and down the Vernal Pond Trail, "Our eyes alone are useless." (Ivan, 2000). I feel this is especially fitting for the subject of ecopsychology, as our connection to nature must be experienced with all five of our senses to feel fulfilled as individuals. In order to ensure a successful relationship with nature, we, as students, must identify will the sights, smells and sounds of nature.

"Come and see!" she writes in Creek Song. "Abide with me! I promise you will not be disappointed." (Ivan, 2000).


  • Duncan, Theodore. The Psychological Benefits Of Wilderness. Ecopsychology On-Line.
  • Geigerich, Steve. "Colleges reach out to prevent student suicides." Houston Chronicle. Nov. 28, 2003.
  • Grimm-Greenblatt, Kerry. What Every Child Needs to Know: The Importance of Fostering an Environmental Connection in Children. Binghamton, NY: State University of New York.
  • Harms, Valerie. Our Planet, Our Selves. Ecopsychology On-Line.
  • Ivan, Jennifer. Love Notes: Experienceing the Natural Areas of Binghamton University. Binghamton, NY: State University of New York at Binghamton, 2000.
  • Roszak, Theodore. Ecopsychology: Eight Princicples. Ecopsychology On-Line.