reply to Time magazine article

- Craig Chalquist, PhD

Bryan Walsh's article "Eco-Therapy for Environmental Depression" (Time Magazine, 7/28/09) followed a pleasant phone interview he conducted with me and Linda Buzzell, and we both thank him for taking the time to speak to us and write up the results.

Although I appreciate Walsh's article, I noticed a few things I would like to address, starting with his image of hugging a tree to cure a depression. "Depressed people often need someone to hug," he wrote.

Depression is not about needing hugs. It is a devastating psychiatric syndrome that causes suffering to millions of people. In some cases psychotropic medication offers the optimal intervention; in others a blend of medication and psychotherapy proves effective; in yet others, however, a growing stack of research shows that nature-based methods like gardening, "green exercise," and interacting with animals in controlled settings--in other words, ecotherapy--can alleviate depression without the need for medication, as the article accurately notes. Nature as healer, without copays or doctor bills.

I was particularly surprised to read this: "It may be that eco-therapy is less a practical psychological treatment than a timely philosophy...."

Our book Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind (Sierra Club Books, 2009) was written expressly to show the reader how ecotherapists do practical, transformative work. The many techniques, approaches, and methods covered in the book point well beyond "common sense" tactics like simply walking outside on a nice day. They challenge us instead to change our relationship to nature, from the somatic and emotional nature we carry in our bodies to the land, sea, and sky and their languishing inhabitants. They represent a call to push past psychic numbing and distraction into deep reengagement with our surroundings.

Nature is not just another resource to mine for human mental health. Born into it, supported by it, and ultimately destined to return to it, we share an inescapable but collectively ailing connection with the natural world, a connection that stands in dire need of maturing and enriching for the world's sake and for our own. At its heart, ecotherapy (like ecopsychology) tends the practical possibility of outgrowing our objectification of and alienation from the world, thereby healing dualistically rooted dysfunction and unhappiness, conflict and continual misery, in order to come home to our place of origin as responsible psychological adults.

This in turn plants the seeds for healthier, earth-friendly communities of the kind in which people can actually flourish: experiments in personal, social, and ecological progress that meld new findings with the best of what ancient wisdom can offer.

p.s. John F. Kennedy University is in Pleasant Hill, not San Francisco as was stated in the Time article. I teach in the School of Holistic Studies.



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