Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Creating and Teaching a Course in Ecotherapy: We Went to the Woods

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Creating and Teaching a Course in Ecotherapy: We Went to the Woods

Article excerpt

The authors describe the creation and implementation of a graduate-level counseling course in ecotherapy. Specifically, the rationale for the course, the selection of students, and course content and activities are outlined.


   Imagine a place where people sing to the rising sun,
   Where one can taste a prism's arch
   In the sparkle of falling Waters ...

   Cross a bridge into yourself
   To be
   Nurtured in forest's cradle
   Watch light find her way--and align with the rhythm she brings

   Yield to the escort of a winged cloud of lavender
   Toward a high place of ancient song
   Where impossible life blooms
   Out of forgotten sorrows

   Want little
   Give, unsolicited
   Live in abundance, accepting
   Flows of affection as they spring forth
   Feast on foods prepared with joy
   And upon laughter, pain and silence-graced
   By a tended hearth's warm offerings

   Imagine a place where poems
   Hang from limbs of trees--lives twirling
   In a windy freedom above
   Colorful stones, bearing secrets

   Consider closeness to river's voice and the
   Majesty of tree around you
   Feel the gaze of deer
   Hear quartz call

   Accept Luna's sensual beckoning as
   Fire pops to the drum's eternal response
   Smell the old smoke, share the seeds
   Of tomorrow's bright blossom
   Carried upon flutesong

   Think of such a place
   A place where all is dance
   Where rocks are temples
   And leaves become serpents
   If one could touch such a place
   Even for a moment
   It might forever change the awareness
   Of what can be

   --Stuart Smith, 2001

Most modern counseling/psychotherapy is a human-to-human process, practiced in a square room, in artificial light, in a climate-controlled room for a 50-minute hour. Much of modern counseling practice is focused primarily on the individual and is still firmly rooted in the assumptions of the Western scientific method, which is based on mechanism, materialism, determinism, and an objectivist worldview that separates and distances human beings from the natural world (Clinebell, 1996; Hillman & Ventura, 1992). Yet, an increasing number of researchers, writers, and practitioners are exploring the interplay between humans and the nonhuman world, the relationship between human psychology and increasingly destructive environmental behavior, how one's overall wellness is related to environment, and the application of ecopsychology (i.e., the interface of ecology and psychology) to therapeutic practice.

In the spring of 2001, at the urging of several of our graduate counseling students, we decided to develop and offer a team-taught special topics course in ecotherapy in the university's graduate counseling program. For this course, ecotherapy was based on an organic rather than a mechanistic theory, with the living system of the earth as the focus. This article presents the story of our journey, as a community of learners, into concepts of ecotherapy, the lessons of other cultural worldviews, and most basically, the lessons of the natural world. We went to the woods.


A new literature is beginning to emerge around the concepts of green psychology, ecopsychology, ecotherapy, and ecocounseling. For example, ecopsychology, as the name implies, is an integration of the fields of ecology and psychology (Roszak, Gomes, & Kramer, 1995). Ecotherapy, or ecocounseling, is the application of ecopsychology to therapeutic practice (Clinebell, 1996). Ecopsychology is not a new subspecialty

but is instead a revisioning of psychology that questions the dominant worldview of Western science and therapy (Roszak, 1992). These approaches call for a questioning of the values of modern philosophies, religions, and social sciences and an openness to indigenous forms of knowledge, especially when they have preserved practices of environmental sustainability (Clinebell, 1996; Metzner, 1999; Roszak, 1992; Roszak et al. …

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