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Mental Health and Nature

In an era when concerns about the health of the natural world spur grand global events, like last year’s Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, some psychologists are helping bring ecological anxieties into perspective for average people.

Ecopsychology is a contemporary movement toward recognizing a connection between mental health and the natural environment. Ecopsychologists are discovering the benefits of connecting people to nature to treat depression, stress, and addictions.

Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling is one of only a handful of colleges and universities offering coursework in ecopsychology. Led by Thomas Doherty, an instructor in counseling psychology, Lewis & Clark’s ecopsychology studies area offers students the opportunity to focus on the relationship between mental health and environmental issues. A recent New York Times Sunday Magazine feature called Doherty “the most prominent American advocate” for ecopsychology and explores his leadership in the growing field.

In an interview in the December issue of Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Doherty talks about some of the ways ecopsychologists differ from other therapists and explains the need for ecopsychology in the contemporary world.

“Many people need help balancing their sustainability values with their need to support their families or to advance their careers,” he said. “That’s where I tend to work. Recently, I have also been interested in ways to help people manage apprehensions about climate change or their ecological footprint, or so-called ‘eco-anxiety.’ ”

In addition to teaching, Doherty runs his own private practice and last year launched the academic journal Ecopsychology. The journal seeks to place psychology and mental health disciplines in an ecological context and recognizes the links between human health, culture, and the health of the planet.

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