“It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them.” Rose MacAulay

A little while ago someone said to me “Psychology doesn’t work.” I felt a bit defensive about this, since I am studying psychology (with Psychosynthesis and Ecopsychology) and find it a valuable and useful tool in my work. But it soon occurred to me that they were right! Psychology doesn’t work at all. It’s just a bunch of theories and methods for knowing and working with the human mind. Just tools.

People work, not psychology. People make psychology work.

If you are not willing to look within yourself and understand yourself using psychology then of course it doesn’t work! People go to therapy or counselling hoping that some “magic wand” (or pill) will help them get better, that somehow you just turn up and They; the therapists, psychiatrists and counsellors will do something. They don’t. They can only share their understanding and help facillitate your inner work. Maybe they can help start the process of inner healing with their knowledge and understanding but it’s not them that will have to follow through and accomplish the work (though sometimes these psychological facillitators may not always be competent, as I’ve found out, further undermining the value of psychology). Will power is a very important part of the process; the willingness to look at yourself and do the necessary work.

It’s a common delusion that someone else can work on your own psychological processes. That’s the delusion. There’s no one else in that mind except you and yourself. You will have to face Yourself someday, in the end. Know thyself (and what a journey that’s been, and will continue to be!).

To reflect on the quote above; of course talking doesn’t make “things” better. It’s not “things” that understand words but people. People understand words, they understand their significance, and words can help affect changes within. To give one example they can work like a release valve, releasing some of the pressure within (“A problem shared is a problem halved,” as they say).

And sometimes you don’t even need another person to hear them, sometimes it’s just worthwhile to put your inner thoughts and feelings into words that can help clarify and reflect on what’s going on (for years I’ve found this release mostly through poetry. In fact any art will do). But communication of inner thoughts and feelings also stops people from becoming isolated within themselves, proper communication, not just talking for the sake of talking. Talking for the sake of creating understanding.

Psychology doesn’t work, people do.

“In nature there are boundaries. One man spent the last 13 years of his life crossing them.” Caption of the film-documentary Grizzly Man

“I will die for these animals.” Timothy Treadwell

“One should always keep an open mind, but not so open that one’s brains fall out.” Bertrand Russell

This film (Grizzly Man) I think is important for the consideration of Ecopsychology. Where Ecopsychology talks about how the human mind has become disassociated with the ecology that it depends upon and how we should become reidentified (reunited) with it, this film shows the importance of respecting the natural boundaries and limits that are within nature.

For instance, in the forest surrounding my house there are wild boar and if we don’t fence off our vegetable patches, our hard work gets eaten. Also we have chicken that supply us eggs, if we don’t fence them, predators will kill them and eat them. Or in the case of the film, if you keep trying to mix the human world with the bear world, you can get yourself, others and even the bears killed.

Bertrand Russell´s quote mentions an open mind but perhaps a broad mind is more appropriate. Our minds’ identity should be broad enough to encompass our interdependence with Gaia, but it should never forget the boundaries that define it, especially the common sense boundary of what’s dangerous and what’s safe.

Our physical and psychological unity with Gaia doesn’t mean she’ll give us preferential treatment or won’t be hostile to us. Even our own bodies can be hostile places; at times they can be vicious war zones against alien forces, fighting malign bacteria and viruses. Even more benign aliens, like transplanted organs, run the risk of being identified as alien and being attacked. So it happened with the “Grizzly Man,” Timothy Treadwell, he approached the bears as though he were one of them defying an ancient evolutionary boundary that separates our two species and his “alien” presence in the bear’s territory became an invitation for his death.

His work to increase consciousness and compassion in protecting bears may be inspiring and his skill at surviving for thirteen years face-to-face with bears is no mean feat. But for all his compassion, enthusiasm and skill he had little common sense or fear for his life. I think part of the reason for his fight for bears was an escape from his personal “human” issues. He detached from his humanity and pursued bear issues to forget his own, going so far as being willing “to die for these animals” as a martyr to their cause.

I think the film shows the dangers of running away from humanity and using nature as a compensation for “human” issues. I had it when I was a child, I saw no hope in humanity and the only place I thought sanity existed was nowhere near human civilisation. Also I idealised nature, thinking that animals can understand and be understood like humans, that nature was “nice,” and not tough or dangerous. I remember thinking simplistically that killing was bad and asked my mum why filmmakers of nature documentaries didn’t stop predators from killing prey, to which she replied “It’s nature, and the predators have to eat or they’ll die.” From then on I started to idealise nature less and see the importance of the predator-prey relationship. I’ve also reconciled myself with my humanity, embracing it is as a healthy source of hope rather than hating, escaping from or being ashamed of it.

Students of Ecopsychology, or indeed any nature-based psychology, therapy or spirituality, would do well to watch Grizzly Man to know that nature is complex and capricious and that opening yourself to it and being “at one” with it, if we do not have within ourselves the right boundaries and terms to relate with it properly, can be as detrimental as it is beneficial.

The challenges from this film for Ecopsychology are, when is nature escapism and when is it really therapy? And how can we reunite our humanity (psychologically) with nature without losing our humanity?

Prades Mountains, Catalonia

“Aboriginal people learned from their stories that a society must not be human-centred but rather land centred, otherwise they forget their source and purpose…humans are prone to exploitative behaviour if not constantly reminded they are interconnected with the rest of creation, that they as individuals are only temporal in time, and past and future generations must be included in their perception of their purpose in life” C. Morris

“Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space, and begins to know her place in the universe.” James Lovelock

All of humanity needs Ecopsychology. I don’t mean that everyone needs to go to a therapist (there aren’t enough therapists anyway!). I mean that we all need to develop an Earth-based consciousness, an identity firmly rooted in the living processes of the Earth that some call Gaia.

Humanity’s psychological structure needs to be fully integrated into and informed by its place within Gaia, existing as a natural extension of our planet’s life, and all of the things that the human mind creates; societies, cities, cultures, technologies, sciences, religions and arts. All these need to become orientated towards evolving with Gaia, though certainly not to become enslaved to her in a way akin to Star Trek’s Borg or, less fictional, brainwashing cults or societies. I believe that individuality can be aligned with Gaia without being lost and that a person can have their individual thoughts and feelings without being in conflict with the world.

Ecopsychology, for me, is about training our humanity to serve not only ourselves but also the wider world on which our existence depends, where human consciousness is so much a part of Gaia, that it can be considered the conscious aspect of Gaia. All of our qualities are a part of the system within which we exist and evolve, something that should inform all of our attitudes and behaviours.

Evolution can no longer be considered an isolated action but a collective action, where all organisms, their qualities and the systems they inhabit, are part of a coevolving whole. The human mind’s evolution and of everything it creates is a part of, not apart from, this coevolving whole, our living planet, Gaia.