Photo credit: Gabriella Walsh

History

Many threads weave the ecopsychology tapestry. A few strands are outlined here, and a paper expanding on its origins by Mark Schroll is available here. This is quite a detailed page, and you might want to jump to the following sections:

 

Background to the UK Ecopsychology MovementUK Ecopsychology networkConferences and GatheringsAcademiaEcotherapyMore recent developments – ecopsychology in wider contexts.

In one sense, ecopsychology has been primarily a phenomenon of contemporary industrial cultures. Since the 1960s and 1970s, there has been a growing interest in bringing together the various schools of Western psychology and psychological healing, with an increasingly urgent awareness of our deepening environmental crisis.  The unsustainable and earth-consuming economic and social systems of these ‘industrial growth societies’ have led many to attempt to change this destructive form, and some to enquire into its psychological and spiritual roots. Much of modern ecopsychology therefore, has arisen in North America where the extremes of industrial growth are most salient, but we are also aware of roots in Australia, South Africa and Europe, as well as our own UK movement, for example (also find out more here).

On the other hand, psychological and spiritual understanding of how to live sustainably, wisely, and happily on the Earth is very ancient, and distress about our shared predicament is widespread. Initiatives to respond to the situation are arising in every country and people of the world, from the many calls for change from indigenous and displaced native peoples, through to the occasional corporate think-tank. At a conference at Esalen in San Francisco in the early 1990s a dialogue began between environmentalists and psychologists – particularly therapists. They reasoned that despite increasing acceptance of environmentalism’s message with 70% of Americans apparently claiming to be ‘environmentalists’ (Kempton et al 1995: 'Environmental Values in American Culture') the need for action evidently didn’t match up to that purported acceptance. This group explored why this might be, suggesting that perhaps the environmental message was hitting resistance or blockages in the psyche.

The term ecopsychology was coined by cultural historian Theodore Roszak in his 1992 book 'The Voice of the Earth', where he addresses industrial culture’s “longstanding, historical gulf between the psychological and the ecological”. Long before this, however, Robert Greenway was teaching ‘psychoecology’ in the early 1960s, exploring the wilderness experience and how ‘mind’ and ‘nature’ interact. Roszak et al’s 1995 seminal anthology 'Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind' (see also the books page) brought together different writers and perspectives in what was already a burgeoning field of exploration and inspiration. Writers ranged from Native American perspectives on our current dislocation, to grief and despair work about environmental destruction and loss of species, to Jungians writing about the collective unconscious, to radical challenges to the rather white constituency of the related Deep Ecology movement. Many different courses have emerged in the USA (see Overseas Training page).

In the UK there are many who are inspired to initiate some work or project of a broadly ecopsychological nature, whatever name they may give to it. Perhaps these are ideas whose time has come, and so there is a growing momentum and a certain unstoppability to this movement (listen to Paul Hawken’s superb and moving speech on the arising of the vast movement of which ecopsychology is one part).

Background to the UK Ecopsychology Movement

The seeds of an ecopsychology movement in the UK began sprouting in the mid 1990s, although prior to this a number of individuals were already involved with ecopsychology. It has since grown and expressed itself in many interconnected forms throughout the UK. What follows is a brief and inevitably incomplete outline of some of this exciting rush of initiatives developed over the last decade or so – with apologies for any omissions!  It would take much more space to trace a fully coherent line of development here, but we hope that the website will help make sense of connections between different ideas and practices.

In 1995, a political organisation called Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility (PCSR) was founded.  Many different working subgroups emerged out of PCSR and one of them was PCSR's ecopsychology group, founded by Hilary Prentice and Tania Dolley. Over time this became a very active group of 10 therapists who met monthly in one other’s homes in London. While diverse in our theoretical orientations, members of the PCSR ecopsychology group shared a commitment to weaving together psychology, ecology, politics and spirituality. Having wrestled with the issues, reviewed the US literature, and wondered what else was going on in the UK, we began to write articles and papers for publication, to run workshops and to speak at conferences.  One of our most significant contributions at that time was a keynote speech in the form of a performance at the PCSR AGM in 2000, ‘Therapists on the Titanic’. We also connected to the Institute of Deep Ecology (UK) which was inspired by the work of Joanna Macy and John Seed.  Since that time, Chris Johnstone ‘s Great Turning Times website and regular newsletter has been an invaluable point of coordination and sharing of information and events about deep ecology and ecopsychology in the UK.

 

UK Ecopsychology network

Aware that exciting things happening in the ecopsychology world seemed to be largely based in the USA, we wondered who else there might be in the UK interested in exploring this subject.  We placed an advert in Resurgence Magazine ‘Calling all Ecopsychologists!’ which elicited an enthusiastic response – the common reaction on discovering others interested in ecopsychology was “I thought I was the only one here thinking along these lines” or “I didn’t realise that what I was doing was called ‘ecopsychology’!“

 

As more and more people contacted us, relieved to find others thinking similarly and excited about what we were doing, we realised there was a need to put people in touch with each other. Hilary Prentice and Tania Dolley thus founded and administered the UK Ecopsychology Network which has existed in loose form since our first networking day in London in 1997. This began as a paper-based Network list giving brief details of over 100 individuals throughout the UK (and some international), information on ecopsychology resources, and a newsletter was produced for a while. There have been several other local ecopsychology groups meeting in different regions of the UK, and we have organised a number of events and gatherings.

This national Network has now become web-based, known as the Ecopsychology UK ning website. You can join here. In parallel, there have been many related initiatives and events developing around the country.

Conferences and Gatherings

Brendan Hill and the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh joined with a group of organisers to hold a major international interdisciplinary five-day conference 'For the Love of Nature' in 1999 at Findhorn in Scotland, exploring the relationship between the personal and the planetary.  Many of the speakers and workshop leaders were founding figures of the ecopsychology movement, including: Robert Greenway, Sarah Conn, John Seed, Jane Goodall, Warwick Fox, Vandana Shiva, Clare Cooper-Marcus and many other key figures, embracing both academic and experiential contributions. Over 300 people attended.

 

Following this successful conference, Joanna Macy and John Seed have made several visits to the UK. John Seed, an Australian Rainforest Activist, has offered deep ecology workshops; Joanna Macy  has offered intensives in The Work that Reconnects (TWTR), including facilitator training, mostly organised by Alex Wildwood and Chris Johnstone. These experiences have been invaluable for our own process and development of thinking about ecopsychology. Many people are now facilitating events in the UK as a result; Chris Johnstone, Kirsti Norris and Jenny Mackewn now run a one year facilitator training in TWTR. A national ecopsychology gathering took place in 2004 at Laurieston Hall, Scotland, organised by Nick Totton, Helene Fletcher, Mary-Jayne Rust and Hilary Prentice, with a similar gathering in 2005 in Bristol organised by Sandra White and Ronnie Aaronson. Ambra Burls of Anglia Ruskin University has organised conferences within academic and practical contexts in the South East. (For current gatherings see ‘events’ on our Ning Events page).

Academia

Centre for Human Ecology: In 2000 Brendan Hill and Tania Dolley wrote and taught the first UK ecopsychology module as part of the M.Sc. in Human Ecology, at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh. This popular module includes both academic and experiential exploration of our relationship with nature, as part of bridging the split between ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘hands’ that often occurs in our culture.  Thanks to Jed Swift, Laura Sewall and Will Keepin for their course ‘Ecopsychology for Educators’ in Colorado in 1997 which helped inspire this module! Thanks also to David Devalle for his invaluable contribution. Tania, Brendan and Hilary taught this course until 2005, while Dave Key and Mary-Jayne Rust taught it for the following 7 years. Sadly the CHE Human Ecology Masters no longer exists, but CHE still runs CPD courses, and the ecopsychology module has re-emerged in Brighton taught by Martin Jordan and Jane Glenzinski.

Liverpool Hope University: There was also an undergraduate module in ecopsychology for a while around 2002-3 at Liverpool Hope University with collaboration between the departments of Environmental Studies and Psychology, taught by Jo Woodhouse and also Carl Williams and Dianne Dutton.

 

Schumacher College organised a 3 week ecopsychology course taught by John Seed, Ruth Rosenhek and Mary-Jayne Rust in Spring, 2001, and another one in March 2011.

Brighton University: Martin Jordan, Sue Sully and Chris Wilton all teach on the Post Graduate Diplomas in Counselling at Brighton University. They all bring ecopsychological thinking into this training.

 

Surrey University: Martin Milton When he was Senior Lecturer in Psychotherapeutic and Counselling Psychology at Surrey University, and he is now developing some ecopsychology thinking within this counselling psychology training.

 

Bournemouth University: Paul Stevens is now Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bournemouth University; he is developing ecopsychology within this setting.

 

There are many other short courses which range from the experiential to conceptual, or some integration of head, heart and hands. Please see the Training tab and the Events page of the Ecopsychology Ning website, where both short and longer trainings are listed.

Ecotherapy

In the world of therapy and healing, ecotherapy has been emerging as people explore the healing benefits of reconnection with nature. Below are a few examples we are aware of within UK and Europe. (Since this history was written there are many more forms of ecotherapy emerging).

 
More recent developments – ecopsychology in wider contexts

In the last few years environmental issues have been reported more frequently in the UK media and awareness of our environmental crisis has been considerably increased as a result.  This has led to a growing realisation that our Western cultural mindset may be a significant factor influencing our attitudes and behaviour towards the planet, so that people in a number of different fields are becoming interested in the psychological dimensions of environmental problems. Some interesting conferences have emerged enabling ‘transdisciplinary conversations’ between therapists, counsellors, journalists, landscape architects, NGOs and the green movement.

 

Mary-Jayne Rust has made a significant contribution to developing this thinking, introducing ecopsychological ideas to different fields. Some psychotherapy and psychology trainings are beginning to explore how ecopsychology might be integrated into training programmes.  See the Training tab. 

Cambridge Carbon Footprint and Carbon Conversations: In 2005 Rosemary Randall and Andy Browne launched Cambridge Carbon Footprint. The impetus came from a paper Ro wrote “A New Climate for Psychotherapy” exploring the psychological dimensions of public attitudes to climate change which she gave at the ‘Trajectories’ Conference at the Centre for Alternative Technology in May 2005. They say: “It is easy to feel powerless and confused when faced with the scale of climate change and its consequences. At CCF we start from an understanding of the psychological as well as the practical barriers to action. They facilitate many events as well as training for trainers.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Transition Towns Movement: An exciting recent initiative, perhaps made possible by some of this earlier work, has been an ecopsychological contribution to the flourishing Transition Towns movement.  This began in 2006 in Totnes, Devon, and arose in response to the reality of Peak Oil and Climate Change. The Transition Movement is fast spreading around the world. A group looking at the consciousness and process aspects of transition to a sustainable and non oil-dependent culture was active within Transition Town Totnes (‘TTT’) from the beginning.  Started by Hilary Prentice and Sophy Banks, it was termed the ‘Heart and Soul’ group, and such groups have now become part of several transition initiatives. It is now called ‘Inner Transition’.  These ecopsychological aspects of Transition have been centrally incorporated into the successful Transition training programme, the early training being devised by Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande,  that is offered around several continents. 

Professional & Organisational Development: Dave Key, an experienced outdoor educator, started working with Mary-Jayne Rust in 2004 to explore the meeting between outdoor experiences and psychotherapeutic processes in nature; they have offered courses at Schumacher College. This fruitful collaboration and exchange between these two fields has led to many new and exciting initiatives including the green NGO WWF’s Natural Change Project developed by Dave Key, Margaret Kerr and Jules Weston.

Tom Crompton from WWF  has been exploring the psychological dimensions of environmental campaigning.  Tom has set up a website with others interested in identity campaigning, as well as The Common Cause.

Dave Key has also been one of the first people to apply ecopsychology consulting to organisational development, including projects with Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland’s largest nature-based visitor attraction), National Trust, Forestry Commission, Greenbelt Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage and several National Parks.

In May 2008, Mary-Jayne called a meeting of people involved in the UK ecopsychology movement. Since then a number of projects have been emerging.  These include: this long-awaited website, a web-based UK Ecopsychology network, a European Journal of Ecopsychology, an ecopsychology anthology of mostly UK authors: Vital Signs: Psycholgological Responses to Ecological Crisis. Eds Mary-Jayne Rust & Nick Totton. 2011(find out more). Karnac, London, and, since 2012 a yearly ecopsychology gathering at the Green and Away tented conference centre in Worcestershire which was initiated by Mary-Jayne Rust, Nick Totton, Emma Palmer (known known as Kamalamani) and supported in its early years by PCSR (Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility).

This page was written by Hilary Prentice, Tania Dolley and Mary-Jayne Rust. From 2017 it is being maintained and updated by Emma Palmer. Please contact us with any suggested changes and additions.

Go to homepage