A circle and line diagram representing complexity.

Global-mental eco-healing focuses on the emotional relationship between human beings and their experience of nature from a global perspective.

Some psychological studies have focused on human refusal to believe or be concerned about reports of environmental degradation due to human behavior. Why do humans refuse to respond to scientific data that suggests we may be endangering the health of the ecosystems upon which we depend? The primary results of the APA Task Force study found that three reasons for people’s reluctance are that they: (1) are not convinced by the evidence alone, (2) assume they need to give up their lifestyle and are not willing to do so, and (3) feel helpless in addressing changes, even if there is agreement that human behavior is endangering the environment (APA, 2009).

On the other hand, researchers have shown that developing an interconnected worldview through personal and societal encounters with nature leads to global action (Evitts, et al, 2010). For example, participating in therapeutic horticulture may lead naturally to worldwide efforts to plant trees, protect forests and natural habitat, save non-GMO seeds, and support eco-agriculture. Participating in animal-assisted therapy or interacting with pets may lead to the preservation of species and their habitat.

Photo of a bright green leaf with water droplets on it.

The California Tree Project

In 1970, 15 year-old Andrew Lipkis was told by a camp naturalist that smog was killing Los Angeles trees and could eliminate the forests. Distressed, Andrew began by organizing his fellow campers to plant trees.

In 1973, Andrew persuaded the California State Division of Forestry to save 8,000 seedlings and organized campers, scouts, and other volunteers to pot and plant these seedlings.   This was the beginning of the California Tree People project, which went on to help LA plant 1 million trees, and is still active 40 years later.

Tree planting became a worldwide activity, and in 2006 the United Nations Environmental Program launched Plant a Tree for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign (www.treepeople.org/)

Photo of a young woman sitting outside with her backpack and a notebook.

Interconnectedness Exercise. Take a piece of paper and pen with you and find some place in nature to sit down. Look around you and find something in nature that attracts your attention. Mark it with a dot on your paper. Do this six more times, finding objects or spots that attract you and representing them with dots. When you have your seven dots, begin to identify connections between and among the items, drawing lines to reflect them. See how many you can discover. Don’t forget to include you as part of the connections! You can also do the exercise using small pebbles for the dots and sticks for the lines connecting them. End the exercise by expressing gratitude for nature’s connections.
(Adapted from Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children)

What Do You Do? Research shows that most human beings feel good about themselves when they work on behalf of nature.

Make a list of the things you do large or small for the environment. Let yourself appreciate what you are doing.

Choose one thing you are doing and imagine the impact if every single person in the world was also doing it.

Psychological Component of Climate Change. An APA Task Force was created to address the multi-faceted phenomenon of (and challenges related to) psychology and climate change. The report, issued in 2009, included its findings, research recommendations and proposed policies for the APA to help psychologists engaged with climate change. 

Among other questions, the Task Force explored: (1) How do people understand the risks imposed by climate change? (2) What are the human behavioral contributions to climate change and the psychological and contextual drivers of these contributions? (3) What are the psychosocial impacts of climate change? (4) Which psychological barriers limit climate change action?

At the end of its study, the Task Force made many recommendations within the broad framework of encouraging psychologists to become involved in the psychological dimensions of global climate change, assessing the APA’s contribution to global climate change, and creating effective outreach programs to enhance the public’s understanding (APA, 2009).

Developing an Interconnected Worldview. Recognizing that many people are aware of climate change but don’t act on that knowledge, researchers of one study asked, “How could a learning experience be designed to develop an interconnected worldview?” They interviewed various experts and found: (1) the need to include subjective and objective ways of describing and experiencing an interconnected worldview, (2) the importance of integrating systems and ecological thinking, (3) the importance of promoting the learner to identify themselves as part of the Earth system (not just an observer), and (4) the need to expand the learner’s concept of self (Evitts, et al, 2010).

Connection to Environmental Health. Glenn Albrecht’s collaborative research on the relationship between human and ecosystem health in the coal mining regions of Australia and the ethics of feral buffalo control birthed the term solastalgia, which refers to people’s distress over their home environment changing through no control of their own. These changes occur through industrial pollution, governmental policies, and/or climate change. Albrecht is also interested in what creates resilient regions (TEDxTalks, 2010).

American Psychology Association (APA). (2009). Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change. Retrieved on February 6, 2013 from: http://www.apa.org/science/about/publications/climate-change.aspx.

Caduto, M. J.,  Bruchac, J. (1988). Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children. Golding, CO; Fulcrum Inc.

Evitts, S., Seale, B., Skybrook, D. (2010). Developing an Interconnected Worldview:  A Guiding Process for Learning (Master’s thesis). Retrieved February 6, 2013 from: http://www.bth.se/fou/cuppsats.nsf/all/8a4bcbd37e859a63c12577430067df97/$file/DevelopingInterconnectedWorldview-EvittsSealeSkybrook.pdf.

Jastrab, J. (1996). Coming Home. In Adams, C. (Editor), The Soul Unearthed: Celebrating Wilderness and Personal Renewal Through Nature. New York, New York: Tarcher/PutnamPublishing.

Perkins, H. (2010). Measuring love and care for nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology; 30, 455–463.

Sabini, M., (ed.). (2008). The Earth Has A Soul: C. G Jung on Nature, Technology and Modern Life. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Swim, J., Clayton, S., Doherty, T., Gifford, R., Howard, G., Reser, H., Stern, P., Weber, E. (2009). Psychology and Global Climate Change:  Addressing a Multi-Faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges. American Psychology Association

Task Force on Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change. Retrieved February 6, 2013 from:http://www.apa.org/science/about/publications/climate-change.pdf.

TEDxTalks. (2010, June 1). Glenn Albrecht - Environment Change, Distress & Human Emotion Solastalgia. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GUGW8rOpLY.

Tree People. http://www.treepeople.org/

United Nations Plant a Tree Program. http://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/