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Ecotherapy Book Reviews

By Catherine Rountree


Book Review |  This edition features a recommendation of several books from Catherine Rountree, guest editor of the EEAI’s Spring 2020 newsletter. Catherine discusses the influence which some seminal works in ecotherapy have had on her personal development as a practitioner. Catherine is an EEAI member and a much valued volunteer (short bio available at end of piece)


 

I came to psychotherapy by a circuitous garden path. As a horticultural student over 20 years ago I looked up from the undergrowth and started to ask why we garden? Why do we spend public monies on creating public parks and displays? This was an unusual question for a soon to be graduated horticulturist and I was greeted with some quite eye-opening responses (and dropped phones) from our parks and wildlife staff at the time. Yet I have sought answers to these questions ever since and it has led me to further development and training in psychology, social and therapeutic horticulture and psychotherapy. One thing I did learn was that people using parks see desirability and attractiveness in quite different things to that which park designers see, and that has led me ever since to ask what is the customers perspective on my work and offerings.

My reasoning at the time was that if horticulture could demonstrate that it fulfils more than an aesthetic function then it could open up other areas of funding and demonstrate the essential nature of having greenspaces readily available to all citizens, especially in urban areas. I had a gut instinct, drawing on evolutionary psychology that it was logical that we benefit from contact with nature, but I could not at the time find any evidence to back my gut instincts.

Since reading Bateson’s wonderful writings in ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ I have been excited about finding ways to include our sense of place in our habitat into my therapeutic work. We are actors upon, and we are acted upon by our surroundings as much as we are by our social interactions. I see our engagement in this world as being wider than human to human interaction, but these other layers are not always brought to the fore in our therapeutic engagements. I have been seeking ways to make this usefully explicit and available for dialogue for over 20 years. (Yes! I am a slow learner!!)

I have read the important 2009 book ‘Ecotherapy, Healing with nature in mind’ edited by Buzzell and Chalmquist. This offered tantalising glimpses and ideas without offering enough grounding theory to satisfy me. I am converted but I will not be swept along by blind enthusiasm. Perrins-Margalais et al (2000) have demonstrated that horticulture is deemed to have a positive impact on self-esteem, wellbeing and quality of life of people engaged in gardening activities. In my melding of different learnings and thinking, McCarthy’s (2004) idea of therapy creating a ‘fifth province1 place shares Kaplan’s idea (1995) of ‘being away’2 from the everyday. This being away from the everyday allows space for fresh thoughts and new ways of being and of engaging. Winterbottom (1998) quoted by Sempik et al (2003:18) suggests that gardens offer ‘an aesthetic, social and spiritual oasis’ which ‘create a social force, fostering memories and building meaningful memories. I suggest that combining green spaces with psychotherapy can build on this and create powerful vehicles for change and development in clients. The challenge for me has been how to combine these ideas with my own experiences as a person and practice as a therapist.

Jordans 2015 book ‘Nature and Therapy; understanding counselling and psychotherapy in outdoor spaces’ is a good read, but again it did not join the dots for me as it painted pictures but did not tell me what my canvas was.

The 2016 book from the late Martin Jordan in collaboration with Joe Hind ‘Eco Therapy, Theory, Research and Practice’ went a long way to rectify these blind spots. It laid out the ‘hows’ of ecotherapy, why it works, what it looks like, and importantly what happens next for the client in a clear and logical fashion. Finally a road map to think about drawing in ecological awareness and sensitivities to therapeutic work in practical and tangible ways.

I highly recommend this book to any garden designer or land owner who wishes to extend their business to include an ecological and therapeutically beneficial perspective. How we design public spaces has a significant impact on the social interactions that can occur. I extend this to suggest that we can contribute to societal development and change and to improvements in mental and physical health.

A recent publication ‘Nature is Nurture; Counselling and the Natural World’ (2020) edited by Megan E. Delaney is a clearly laid out ‘how to’ for different approaches of ecotherapy. I would recommend it as an instructive book for any psychotherapist who is thinking of incorporating ecotherapy into their practice. Some of the chapters were a little skimpy on detail, especially those looking at group interventions. Vital information such as ideal group size was not included. This is an American book, and I would like to read more of international and cultural differences in approach. This book failed to explore nor mention the impact of degradation of natural landscapes and the impact on the mental health of communities who live there, the impact that segregation and discrimination has had on native communities and the power that land based interventions can have to address these impacts. In Ireland I think that we could adapt the chapter on using nature based interventions to work with veterans and PTSD to work with our own indigenous Irish Traveller community who carry a lot of PTSD. I hope you do read both of these books and find them as practical as I have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mitten (2009) Measurement of benefits of nature engagement

 

1 Fifth Province; Mc Carthy (2004) refers to this as a metaphorical safe place co-created in therapy allowing space for ‘ reflection, for openness, acceptance and for emergent solutions’

2 Being Away. Kaplan (1995) The conceptual idea of escaping from everyday thoughts by engaging in flow activities that change thought patterns and preoccupations.

 


Suggested reading in Ecopsychology.

Buzzell, L. and Chalquist, C. (2009) (eds) Ecotherapy; Healing with Nature in Mind Sierra Club Books

Cornell, J. (1989) Sharing Nature with Children II. Dawn Publications. Accessed July 07 2015

Delaney, M.E. (2020) Nature is Nurture; Counselling in the Natural World. Oxford University Press.

Jordan M. (2015) Nature and Therapy; Understanding counselling and psychotherapy in outdoor spaces. Routledge Press.

Jordan M. & Hinds J.(eds) (2016) Ecotherapy; Theory, Research & Practice’. Palgrave Macmillan Press

Linden S. & Grut, J. (2002) The Healing Fields; working with psychotherapy and nature to rebuild shattered lives. In association with The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. Frances Lincoln Press.

Mitten, D. (2009) The Healing Power of Nature: The need for nature for human health, development and wellbeing. Ferris state University.

Ogle, D. & Kyle, P. (2014) Investigation of Horticultural Therapy as a complimentary Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Accessed 12.06.15

Radmore, D. (2010) Examination of the Biophilia Hypotheis and its Implications for Mental Health. University of Brighton

Sempik, J Aldrige, J & Becker S. (2003) Social and therapeutic horticulture: Evidence and messages from research. Thrive in association with the Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University.


Catherine Rountree is a systemic psychotherapist living and working in the Midlands. She is a social farmer and uses horticultural therapy with groups in her A.R.K., a glorious mixed tapestry of broadleaf trees, vegetables and naturalising meadow where nature lives mostly as it pleases. www.midlandsfamilytherapy.com

 

Calming the Storm

By Laura Allen, Courtney Crim, Jonathan King, Ellen Barnett & Benjamin Sosnaud from Trinity University in San Antonio of Texas


Research |  This edition’s research piece was contributed by some esteemed colleagues at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Their exciting work explores the use of natural environments to help university students with college-related stress and anxiety. The results will be included in our next newsletter or when available


 

Concerns about college students’ mental health have grown in the last decade. Reports from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health and the Healthy Minds Study indicate significant increases in percentages of college students treated for psychological problems, with anxiety (61%), depression (49%), and stress (43%) topping the list. Mental health disorders can put students at greater risk of dropping out, contribute to lower grade-point averages, actuate co-occurring substance abuse, and increase suicidality.

The current COVID-19 crisis adds to the challenge. College students are grappling with sudden moves home, shifts to online learning, financial instability, social isolation, and even illness and death. Given that emerging adulthood (ages 18-25) is prime for the onset of mental health disorders, identifying avenues for supporting this population is more critical now than ever.

An interdisciplinary research team at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, has been using the benefits of natural environments to promote student well-being for the past two years. When the university closed campus and moved to online learning March 23, the team realized an opportunity to support students and created a four-week project called “Get Outside With Us.” Faculty agreed to incorporate it into three classes as a mandatory assignment. Students were asked to spend a minimum of 90 minutes outside each week sitting, walking, hiking, running, or biking around as much in nature as possible. They kept an outdoor reflection journal and completed the Reflection Rumination Questionnaire (RRQ) and Profile of Mood States (POMS) measures before, during, and after the experience. Students also completed an intake questionnaire to identify variables such as the level of change experienced since the closure, typical time normally spent outside, and access permitted to the outdoors given government shelter-in-place orders.

At the time of this writing, students are two weeks into the project. Here is what we have seen so far.

  • Initial RRQ and POMS data indicate students’ levels of rumination and negative mood states are higher than in past semesters.
  • Students have widely varying access to the outdoors, from not being able to leave their houses to abundant rural space. Most have access to their own yards and neighborhoods.
  • Some find the assignment helpful and are realizing the benefits of being outside, while others view it as time better used toward heavy homework loads. An excerpt from the Week One Journal of a student living on a beach in Oregon, USA follows:

 

‘I love looking around at the glassy sand, but I am also loving listening to the waves crash gently on the shore and spreading the water out… My thoughts changed a lot over the course of this walk. At first I was thinking a lot about school and all of the assignments I have to get done and my GPA and just everything. But after a bit those started to melt away, and I was just looking around and wandering. My thoughts drifted to unimportant things which was really nice… I think after this walk it was a very obvious mood change for me. The breath of fresh air really cleared my mind and I felt a lot more productive. Before I was feeling really overwhelmed with all the stuff I had to do this week, but now I am feeling like I can take it one thing at a time and be okay.’

 

The future is more uncertain than ever; however, the power of nature to calm and center us can support the mental health of our students as well as ourselves.

 

 

 


We, at the EEAI, are very much looking forward to learning the results of this research and will publish it in the next newsletter or when available.

 

 

Personal Reflections on a World Pandemic, Nature as a Positive Source, the Solution

By Helena Gleeson


Reflections |  This edition’s reflective think piece was contributed by Helena Gleeson. Helena is a IACAT-accredited Eco-Art Therapist and a valued EEAI member. 


As an Eco-Art Therapist:

I believe most of our individual and collective ailments stem from our long-time dis-connection from the natural world. (Cohen 2018). Our roots are in nature.

 

Humanity in distress

We are consciously, feeling ‘uncertainty’ in these times, with Covid-19 virus sweeping across the Earth. We know that consciousness, as a sort of alarm system, adaptively determines which uncertainties must be prioritized in any given context and now, in 2020, it is the uncertainty facing humanity due to Covid-19 that has taken the stage.

 

Planet Earth in distress

Climate change, posing an even larger threat to our survival, at first was largely ignored and latterly became too overwhelming to contemplate. Earth as a self-organizing organism is out of equilibrium as large tracts of her eco-systems are destroyed and eroded, (most likely the cause of recent deadly viruses) also, large populations of people are struggling to survive. However, A ‘cry from Mother Earth’, in the guise of Covid-19 could by default, be the decisive catalyst, bringing about exactly the kind of thinking that needs to happen to avoid further desecration and destruction of our beautiful home, Planet Earth.

What can we do?

We must come home to ourselves, and this means coming to our senses, because at our roots, we are sensual, feeling beings. Earth and nature are resilient, and resourceful and ever responsive.

When, and if we decide to return home to our natural selves, our innate sensory roots, and instinctual selves, Mother Earth will welcome us lovingly, blossoming again and singing sweet melodies like the blackbirds in Springtime.

 

We can come home to ourselves by raising consciousness…………..

Raising consciousness

I believe a collective shift in the consciousness of humanity is possible, and necessary, and with raised consciousness, amazing things can occur, even resolving the problem of climate change and world hunger, if we act now.

 

We have a window of clock time!

We are deeply part of nature interdependent on her fragile, yet resilient web of life. It is necessary and possible for us to act now. The body and mind must work together, always. In like manner, we must work collaboratively with Earth. Humanity, Planet Earth and all of life and consciousness is an intertwined manifestation of one process. ‘We are all in it together’, the catch phrase of society since the arrival of Covid-19.

 

 

Inner monitoring and evolving consciousness.

 

In loving consort, connection, and collaboration with nature, and each other, further evolution is within reach, in our deeper consciousness. Consciousness experiences itself through us when we are in present moment awareness. The more deeply we practise this the more joyful the experience for us, and for everyone, and this state of joy and love is contagious, like a positive virus, if you will!

We access this realm of experience through the inner energy field of our bodies. In natural surroundings, this happens spontaneously, however, when we enter this sacred realm consciously, and anchor the experience, we connect our old and new brains, effecting what is termed a ‘raising of consciousness’ from which place rational, wise and insightful living occurs, for the benefit of the cosmos.

 

Coming to our senses

Consciously connecting to our ancient instinctual sensory roots regulates the nervous system, restores mental and physical health/balance, enhances cognition and rational thought, promotes interconnectedness at a community and global level, leading to collective collaboration to heal eco-systems and raise global consciousness.

P.S. Is this a photograph of your circularity system’s origin?

www.ClimateTherapy.org 

Art and Nature

Both nature and art, are like mirrors (Sweeney, 2013) ‘The same wordless intelligence that permeates outer nature innately reside within us. The natural world mirrors yourself back to you’ (Sweeney, p 15, 2013) and creating art in nature utilizes and connects all the senses, and, we have far more than five! This action creates a reflexive feedback loop. Being, creating and journaling in the presence of nature’s artistry anchors and consolidates our re-connections, whilst nature imparts its wisdom to us.

Consciousness informs itself through our creations, ‘reflecting the non-literate voice of nature within’ (Sweeney, 2013)

 

As the name implies, Eco-Art Therapy is a psychological discipline that combines Eco-Therapy with Art Therapy. Both Art Therapy and applied ecopsychology (thinking, feeling, and relating with Earth’s wisdom in mind are expressive modalities….’ (Sweeney, 2013).

 


Eco-Art Activities for all.

To illustrate the idea of consciously connecting with nature’s wisdom I have devised some Eco-art exercises which I would like to share, and which you may find useful.

The following activities are a combination of art and eco and when experienced in nature are therapeutic.

Eco Art Therapy takes place in the presence of a trained therapist and can be profoundly transformative. These activities are not ‘therapy’ in the professional sense, however they are hugely beneficial.

I believe insights begin at a sensory level and manifest in our consciousness. The only way to know for yourself, is to feel and experience it. Nature and the body don’t lie.

All that you require is a journal and some coloured pencils and a willingness to attune to nature and remain open to what insights may come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author:

Helena Gleeson, MA Art-Therapy. IACAT-accredited Eco-Art Therapist & Member of The EEAI.

 


Sources and further reading.

Bohm, D. and Nichol, L., 2003. The Essential David Bohm. London: Routledge.

Cohen, M., 2003. The Web Of Life Imperative. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford.

Cohen, M., 2018. A Nature Lover’s Path To Peace Creating Moments That Let Earth Teach. Washington.

Meade, M., 2020. Green And Eco-Friendly Trends: Reflecting On 2019. [online] Green America. Available at: <https://www.greenamerica.org/blog/green-and-eco-friendly-trends-reflecting-2019> [Accessed 6 April 2020].

Sih, A., Ferrari, M. and Harris, D., 2011. Evolution and behavioural responses to human-induced rapid environmental change. Evolutionary Applications, 4(2), pp.367-387.

Solms, M., 2019. The Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Free Energy Principle. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.

Sweeney, T., 2013. Eco-Art Therapy. San Bernardino, Calif.: Theresa Sweeney.

Please check out this link.

www.ClimateTherapy.org

 

 

Reflections on a world pandemic: nature as a positive source

By Rosie Burrows


Reflections |  This edition’s reflective think piece was contributed by Rosie Burrows, PhD, a highly accomplished therapist, activist and story-teller whose bio can be found at the end of this piece 


I am blessed, not cursed, as sometimes I once felt on frontlines of suicide prevention and aftermath, to be part of trauma healing and regenerative (Raworth, 2017) culture in Belfast, since childhood, though that’s a story for another day: fado, fado. To be able to absorb each evening into the cells of my being, biodiverse colours of sunset kissing the Belfast hills from north, front of home-as-practice. Scots pine, rowan, oak, and holly to back of home, along an ancient protected boundary of Holy Shephard parish, with grey castle, An Caisleán Riabhach, Castlereagh hills, behind, south. A front garden with granite and multi-coloured, gem pebbles, forming celtic spirals from Mourne mountains and Tir na Sligo, Inishowen. Here, shaking windchimes hanging off a twenty five year, pink blossoming magnolia from fellow therapist friend, Monica in Dublin, making whoop session sounds, as neighbours clap and bang not binlids but saucepans at 8pm each Thursday evening, for all frontline staff, including health and social care staff. We collectively celebrate now visible baselines of care from front doors and gardens. Nearby, on a street without gardens, children’s pictures of rainbows, handwritten Thank You, We Love You decorates windows, a neighbours yarn bomb caressing a birch tree on the path with children’s and adults handmade life (Estes, 2007) pictures and words. Tiny laminated pictures of beloved animals, rainbows, trees, flowers, and wise calming words in the storm, include poems of praise, of kindness, love and care towards self, other, and nature. Wonder-full spirit of animal, nature, music and human in best selling book by Mackesy (2019).

We are individually and collectively deeper breathing as few planes or cars bring a depth of silence that Rumi like invites our individual rivers to join the sea as waves of applause in gratitude for all the invisible and visible forces, and a step closer to sources, ground that keep us alive. Can you hear a whisper of eco-gospel, Just a Closer Walk With Thee? A solo trumpet player breaks a bar of music and I turn to my piano, responding with two bars of trad, Contentment is wealth. Most mornings rising to walk in the local forest, homestead place, Baile Uí Mhaghair, Belvoir. Sit tucked in a ledge at the foot, lean back into possibly the tallest tree in the north listening to louder than before birdsong in cleanest air since the 1950’s, and inquire in a participative prayer, with what I experience as more than human, grand eldering presence, tree intelligence (Wohbellen, 2016). Overlayers of intergenerational, cultural, personality conditioning and ego survival strategies, fall away into simplicity, felt sense soul as ecoSelf. I call this, everyday camino, an experiential, holistic integrating self with other, in a wider gestalt, in service to and with nature, my offer.

Each moment for those of us not on frontlines and with sufficient support there is the possibility to regain our foothold in nature as sacred ground and to rest, taking deeper exhales out of all that no longer serves us as a species. Stale and stagnant energy in our own lungs, inhaling in cleaner air as a blessing to the potent possibilities in fresh rhythm. Less people may be dying from air pollution than from covid-19 (McMahon, 2020), while those dying are linked in part to air pollution (The Guardian, 2020). Tragic as this virus is, and the threat it poses for many of us globally, especially those in vulnerable age, other eco-psychobiological situations, including compromised auto-immune systems (Eisenstein, 2020), there is at work if we choose an open hearted, open minded, open will (Scharmer, 2019) embodied inquiry, natural intelligence at work, offering us direct and indirect feedback on the dynamics and structure of the situation. The ancient Taoist and indigenous, including Celtic (Whelan, 2006) underlying principle of ‘nature heals’, in both creative, corrective, and unpredictably destructive ways, is the heart and soul of trauma healing and spiritually informed resilience and activism at different levels of system (Burrows, 2019). These are the days my friend, that those of us in positions of relative agency, need to sense our ethical and life sustaining choice to attune to embodied wisdom from and with the earth, to rest and continue to renegotiate with as much influence as we can collectively muster through grief for what has been lost, and in celebration of what can be and is being rewilded and refound within ourselves, each other, and Pachamama, earth.

 


Rosie Burrows, PhD is a senior accredited therapist, supervisor, trainer, and researcher using ‘everyday camino’ practices in personal and professional life. She has also been an award winning research practitioner, whose work includes contributing to shifting systems at all levels in recognising and transforming transgenerational trauma. She is an eco-innovating CEO of Relational Resilience, CIC, Community Interest Company, an eco-visual storyteller, and an activist with Extinction Rebellion, on Regeneration and Wellbeing. Her deepest hearts desire / intention is to love, work and play collaboratively with nature and with others across this island and internationally to support into being ‘the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’ (Eisenstein, 2013 ) Contact: drrosieb@gmail.com www.rosieburrows.com

This piece is dedicated to the earth, and to humans, animals, plants, life forms, in very vulnerable situations, including my mum, Mabel, who may reach 100 years in August, and her sister, Joyce, almost 90 years, in care homes due to natural decline and eventual, after many years, human limits of my cousin and I, and the current systems that surround.

 


References

Burrows, R. (2019). Therapeutic and Leadership Lessons from Belfast: A Framework for Ethical Practice in Supporting Human Dignity in a Collapsing Field: Gestalt approaches in the social and political contexts, Kato, J. Klaren, G. and N. Levi (eds)

Eisenstein, C. (2020) The Coronation. March 2020 https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/ 

Estes, C.P. (2007) The Red Shoes: On Torment and the Recovery of Soul Life.

Mackesy, C. (2019) The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse.

McMahon, J. (2020) Study: Coronavirus Lockdown Likely Saved 77,000 Lives In China Just By Reducing Pollution. March 16, Forbes.

Raworth, K. 2017. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways To Think Like A Twenty-First Century Economist

Scharmer, O (2019) The Essentials of Theory U.

The Guardian, 7 April, 2020 Air pollution linked to far higher Covid-19 death rates, study finds. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/07/air-pollution-linked-to-far-higher-covid-19-death-rates-study-finds 


Whelan, D (2006) Ever Ancient, Ever New: Celtic Spirituality in the Twenty First Century

Wohlleben, P. (2016) The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Discoveries From a Secret World.

Questions from Ground Elder on the arrival of COVID-19

By Therese O’Driscoll

 


Editorial |  This edition’s guest editorial piece was written by Therese O’Driscoll. Therese is our guest newsletter co-ordinator and a much valued eeai volunteer.


Ground elder is the scourge of many gardeners. It spreads easily and is very difficult to eradicate. This past week I have spent considerable time with it, time with the soil that has become it’s home and the vegetable patch it has invaded. I have wondered as I worked what lessons this invasive weed may have for all of us living with Covid19?

I have learnt the following with this plant. To do the best I can to root it out yet not become so fearful of it, or indeed obsessed by it’s presence that I fail to recognize the fertility in the soil still present and the potential for growth in the vegetables that can nonetheless thrive alongside it.

It is as if the plant asks how I might learn to live with that which is “ bad” as well as the “ good” and not let one take from the other?. How do I seek not to dominate the garden, imposing my will in careful planning and designing but allow life itself to co create the garden with me, bringing and allowing it’s own wild flowers ( wild primroses abound) and also these wild weeds?. How do I not become so fearful of this plant that I try to isolate it – not an option as I have discovered over the years, or indeed to eradicate it. That can only be done using chemicals that will destroy all the other life around this plant or rooting it out in such a time consuming way that there will be no time for anything else!

Might this pandemic be showing us something similar? .”Humanity is a single organism and that human existance is only in relation to other living beings” Arvo Part. Is corona virus like the ground elder? It is now part of the single organism of this ecology of life we all share and therefore we must learn to live alongside it? Is it an invitation to develop an awareness of it’s dangers but not become so fearful of it’s impact that we lose sight of all the beauty and nourishment that also can grow in it’s midst.

As all of us who work with and in nature know, it is a wonderful teacher. This viris may well be a teacher that asks us all the more to be true to the principles of this work, “ we are human only in contact and conviviality with what is not human” David Abram. For the moment this includes the Covid 19.

 


Therese O’ Driscoll is a psychotherapist, supervisor, movement practitioner and gardener working from her garden/cabin studio in Sligo, An Talamh. . Further details of her work can be found here.