Ecopsychology, Play and Possibility

by Robert Francis Johnson
Licensed Professional Counselor Specializing in Ecological Psychology

"I would like for you to design an industrial system for world culture that treats nature as its enemy to be evaded or controlled; that measures the prosperity by how much of your natural capital you can cut down, dig up, bury, burn or otherwise destroy; measures your productivity by how few people are working, progress by the number of smokestacks…destroys biological and cultural diversity at every turn with one size fits all solutions, requires thousands of complex regulations to keep you from killing each other too quickly' Can you do this for me? Welcome to this morning!"
             - William McDonough

Welcome to this morning indeed! We live in a time that challenges the most hopeful heart. At a recent book signing of his work Pain & Transcendence, author Dr. Erv Hinds responded to a question about what the most frequent pain was in his pain clinic, he replied "heartache"! The field of Ecopsychology asks us to look at the cultural madness as significant in our own mental health and to look at our dislocation from the Earth in our daily lives as also important in how we feel about our world and ourselves.

For many years I felt that there was something missing from traditional Psychology, I have always loved to work with other counselors when practicing psychotherapy, but through the years I found the mental health systems to be toxic. It was as if we had one set of values for clients, but the same humanitarian values did not apply to the staff. Part of the reason I've learned is that the Cosmology of Capitalism has become a Religion in America and those values when they are unrestrained are toxic and destructive. The managed [limiting] care industry, whose profits keep health care money from clients, and mental health centers have destroyed community mental health in America.

Traditional Psychology has forgotten its roots, and is as pathological as the culture at large. James Hillman, the noted Jungian Psychologist, speaks to this issue - "Sometimes I wonder less how to shift the paradigm than how Psychology got so off base. How did it cut itself off from reality? Where else in the world would a human soul be so divorced from the spirits of the surroundings. Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient truths; we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet." {from Ecopsychology, edited by Theodore Raszak}

We have forgotten that we are not the only sentient creatures on the planet. Eco-Psychology is helping us to see a profound paradigm shift is occurring in how we view the world. We are moving from an egocentric perspective [Humans are the center of the universe] to an ecocentric value that we are an important species that is part of a greater whole, and our success as a species is dependent on how we learn to share our space on the planet, as opposed to our current belief that we are to dominate creation. A beautiful poem by Simon Ortiz conceptualizes this idea"

"My son touches the root
Carefully, aware of it's ancient
Quality. He lays his soft,
Small fingers on it and looks
At me for information.
I tell him: wood, an old root,
And around it, the earth,

The archetype of the Greeenman is an important consideration [St.Francis of Assisi is often considered to be a greenman] in that the archetype often becomes more conscious when the feminine in a culture is in danger. He is a friend and consort to the Goddess, and reminds us of the sensuous nature of the world and of the importance of imagination and play. In William Anderson's book Greenman he concludes the book with" Our remote ancestors said to their Mother Earth we are yours. Modern humanity has said to nature you are mine. The Greenman has returned as the living face of the whole Earth so that through his mouth we may say to the universe, "We are one".

So how can the values of Ecopsychology be utilized in our daily lives? Contrary to the messages we receive from mass media, people are basically trustworthy and good, and the natural world is sane and beautiful [and beauty heals]. The title of Alice Walker's new book of poems says it all - "Absolute trust in the goodness of the Earth."

Make time to lie your body down on the Earth to realign your heartbeat with the great Mother's. We now know scientifically that when two people are in a room together their hearts synchronize to the calmer of the hearts, and we also can measure scientifically the electrical cycle in the Earth, which turns out to be almost identical to the heartbeat of a human mother. When you take the time to lie on the Earth you bring sanity and beauty into your body. One of my students sent me a book by Warren Grossman, "To Be Healed By The Earth," which is about a man who healed himself of a life threatening disease with the help of the Earth. In my own life as well as stories students have reported to me of miraculous healings it is clear to me, The Earth Heals!

Robert Francis Johnson is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in the values of Ecological Psychology and a teacher who weaves environmental education into all of his work. A published poet and writer and environmental artist, he brings people together to play, heal, and dance in the beauty of the Earth - constructing community as part of the process of creating "Earthprayers" [community collaborative Earth Monuments]. He also has stone and ceramic sculptures in major Western art galleries. Email him at and visit his webpage at

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