What Ecopsychology Is
Ecopsychology’s central goals are to heal the alienation of Western people from the natural environment and to examine and transform their modes of thinking and behaving that have led to the imperilment of ecosystems around the world. In contradistinction to Westernized societies, many Indigenous communities have maintained and rely on an integral connection to the natural world, even in the face of cultural and genocidal assaults. Their culturally embedded values and epistemologies must serve as models for the development of Western ecopsychological paradigms to restore our relations with nature. At the same time, however, it is critically important that any embrace of these paradigms include both full acknowledgment of the particular Indigenous sources to mitigate against cultural appropriation, and sustained confrontation with the violence many of these communities continue to suffer through colonialism and neo-colonialism. As a discipline based on the practices of communities whose systems of knowledge have historically been subjugated and disregarded by the mainstream, ecopsychology has a responsibility to learn from Indigenous communities, stand in solidarity with, and advocate for the environmental and social justice that has been denied them.
We understand ecopsychology as a corrective to Western psychology’s neglect of the impact of built and natural environments on the human psyche and on communities, and of the human impacts on the environment. Since the well-being of humans and the natural world are inextricably connected, ecopsychologists are critically needed to heal human/nature divides, creating pathways for human/nature/animal relations, as well as working to create the increased awareness that is a necessary step to the restoration of habitats and the creation of built and natural environments that are sustainable.
Our specialization’s focus on indigenous psychologies, critical community psychology, and liberation psychology contributes the important dimension of environmental and social justice when engaging ecopsychology. Climate change, environmental pollution, toxic waste disposal in communities of color, disparities in health, and the extraction of natural resources disproportionately affect marginalized communities and regions. We engage approaches that acknowledge this injustice and work toward transformations that benefit all human and other-than human animal communities and ecosystems that live in interrelationship with one another. At this moment in history psychologists are called to not only accompany and witness other humans, but other species, ecosystems, earth, and water, working with communities to claim their interdependency and to cultivate their care to foster sustainability.
Yearly coursework in ecopsychology is offered in all three years with distinctively different approaches and topics in each course. These courses are supported by classes in indigenous psychologies and liberation psychology. Students learn skills to work with communities, including asset mapping, resource mobilization, program and organizational evaluation, community dialogue and visioning, and the facilitation of public conversation around divisive issues. These courses prepare students for ecological fieldwork and research, an immersion experience in the particular area of ecopsychology that each student chooses to pursue. This is mentored by a fieldwork advisor, and can be linked to emerging certificate opportunities. Our students are invited to join monthly in the Ecodreamers group to share their work and host speakers and conversation.