Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Our psychology, like our physiology, has evolved for a lifestyle embedded in nature, a nature with which the average hostage of the western world has only very indirect contact.
Author/psychotherapist Chellis Glendinning claims that we are all suffering from the multifarious effects of post-traumatic stress generated by the large disconnect between our genetic preparation and the requirements of life in industrial society. In recent decades, some psychologists have begun to call themselves ecopsychologists and incorporate the natural world into their treatment of mental disorders, an approach to psychotherapy known as ecotherapy.   Ecotherapy is based on the idea that many if not most of our modern mental health problems result at least in part from a detachment (estrangement, alienation) from the natural world. The only route to a permanent cure is to somehow reintegrate ourselves with nature. 

There is a problem with this, of course.  The natural world no longer exists in anything resembling the natural world our DNA expects: the land, the waterways, the air, the food we eat, the animals we have contact with, the way we partition our days and years have all been irrevocably altered.  So we are doomed to live with the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, symptoms that are bound to intensify with each generation as the natural world continues to recede from our awareness.

Even now, I sit with my face bathed in the artificial glow of a computer screen, in an office where the only natural creatures are a couple of tropical plants in pots on the windowsill and a spider hidden in the recess between the bookcase and the wall.

Wait.  There is something else.  So ubiquitous as to be unnoticed: birds singing their hearts out in the courtyard beyond my small windows.  Birdsong may be one of the very last vestiges of wild nature to which city-dwellers have daily exposure.


If ecopsychology has any validity then it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the potential importance of these feathery survivors of the late cretaceous.  And I am starting to wonder at the subliminal sustenance they may be providing for my sanity at this very moment.

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