The History of Ecopsychology

By Tania Dolley, Emma Palmer, Hilary Prentice and Mary-Jayne Rust

Ecopsychology explores the relationship between human and other-than and more-than-human life, synthesising and re-uniting ecology and psychology. This brief introduction provides an overview of the many and varied roots of ecopsychology through to its establishment in the UK. Ecopsychological approaches are cross-disciplinary; from systems thinking and transpersonal psychology to environmental philosophy and ethics, amongst others, with much early thinking emerging from the deep ecologymovement.

The work of the ecologist, environmentalist, and forester Aldo Leopold reflects the beginnings of ecopsychological thought and practice, for example, in A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, (Leopold, 1949). Leopold describes the land around his Wisconsin home, advocating a ‘land ethic’; a responsible relationship between humans and the land they inhabit. Not only was this book a landmark in the USconservation movement, it is also a fine example of nature writing, and in emphasising the importance of people’s relationship with place and nature, Leopold highlights themes which remain central to ecopsychology.

Conservationist Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (Carson, 1962) alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. This catalysed changes in the laws affecting air, land, and water, resulting in the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency. 1960s environmentalism grew as a popular grassroots movement, energised by Carson’s book. Conservationists and preservationists were joined by others, increasingly concerned about the detrimental environmental effects of modern industrial technology, for example: John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. In 1973 Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer, introduced the term deep ecology(Naess, 2016).

The various approaches which have emerged under the umbrella term of ‘ecopsychology’ – one of the terms most commonly in use – have been primarily a phenomenon of industrial, and now late-stage capitalist societies. In different schools of Western psychology and psychological healing there has been an increasingly urgent awareness and a desire to respond to our deepening interrelated crises and the unsustainable and earth-consuming economic, social, and political systems of these industrial growth societies.

American scholar Theodore Roszakis credited with using the term ‘ecopsychology’ in his 1992 bookThe Voice of the earth. In 1963 Robert Greenway coined the term ‘psychoecology’ (Greenway, 1999), beginning to teach courses in it as well as transpersonal ecology at Sonoma State University. Years later Elan Shapiro, one of Greenway’s students, formed a psychoecology discussion group. Early members of this group included Mary Gomes, Alan Kanner, Fran Segal, and others, with Greenway being invited to participate. The group eventually attracted the attention of Theodore Roszak in 1990 (Schroll, 2007: 29).

Roszak went on to edit the 1995 seminal anthology Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind(Roszak, 1995) bringing together not only voices from the psychoecology group, but many other perspectives in what was becoming a burgeoning area of interest. The following examples give a flavour of the approaches: indigenous American perspectives on dislocation, with the reminder from Jeanette Armstrong that we are ‘keepers of the earth because we are earth’; explorations of grief and despair work in response to wide scale environmental destruction and loss of species from Joanna Macy (this work evolved into Coming back to life: practices to reconnect our lives, our world (Macy, 1998); Stephen Aizentat’s writing about Jungian psychology and the collective unconscious; radical challenges to the rather white constituency of the related deep ecologymovement from Carl Antony (see also Antony and Soule, 1998); and the ecology of magic from David Abram (see Abram, 1997).

Whilst much ecopsychological thought and practise has arisen in North America, where the extremes of industrial growth have been most salient, practitioners can also be found in Australia, Europe, and South Africa, for example, John Seed, founder and director of theRainforest Information Centrein Australia. By the mid-1990s there was a growing body of practitioners wishing to redress the balance of the inclusion of human relationship to the so-called ‘natural’ world. It was also becoming increasingly clear that psychological and spiritual knowledge of how to live skilfully and harmoniously with the biosphere and her species is ancient, and distress about our shared predicament is widespread.Initiatives to respond to the situation are arising in every country and people of the world, from the many calls for change from indigenous and displaced native peoples (most visibly at Standing Rock at present), through to the occasional corporate think-tank.

Turning to the UK, the seeds of an ecopsychology movement and community began sprouting in the mid 1990s, with a number of individuals already involved with ecopsychology. What follows is a brief outline of the initiatives which have developed over the last couple of decades in the UK.

In 1995 a UK organisation calledPsychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility(PCSR)was founded by Professor Andrew Samuels and Judy Ryde. Many different working subgroups emerged from PCSR, one of them being the ecopsychology group, founded by psychotherapist Hilary Prentice and psychologist Tania Dolley. This became a very active group withtherapists meeting monthly in London. While diverse in their theoretical orientations, members of the group shared a commitment to weaving together psychology, ecology, politics, and spirituality. Having wrestled with the issues, reviewed the US literature, and looked at related-work going on in the UK, they began writing articles and papersfor publication, to run workshops and speak at conferences.

One of the group’s most significant contributions at that time was a keynote speech in the form of a performance at the PCSR AGM in 2000, ‘Therapists on the Titanic’. The group connected with the Institute of Deep Ecology (UK) which was inspired by the work ofJoanna MacyandJohn Seed.Chris Johnstone‘sGreat Turning Times websiteand, until recently, regular newsletter, were an invaluable point of coordination and sharing of information and events about deep ecology and ecopsychology in the UK (see also Macy and Johnstone, 2012).

Aware that exciting happenings in the ecopsychology world seemed to be largely US-based, the participating ecopsychologists became curious about who else in the UK might be interested in exploring this subject. They placed an advert inResurgence Magazine‘Calling all Ecopsychologists!’ eliciting enthusiastic responses.

The group recognised the need to make further connections in deepening their practice and continuing their education. Hilary Prentice and Tania Dolley founded and administered the UK Ecopsychology Network, which came into existence on the first networking dayin London in 1997. This began as apaper-based network list giving brief details of over 100 individuals throughout the UK (including some international members), ecopsychology resources, and, for a while, a newsletter.There were also several other local ecopsychology groups meeting in different regions of the UK, with a number of events and gatherings. This national network has now become web-based, known as the Ecopsychology UK ning website, which has almost 2000 members at the time of writing. In parallel, there have been many related initiatives and events developing around the country.

In 1999 Brendan Hill and theCentrefor Human Ecologyin Edinburgh joined with a group of organisers in hosting a major international interdisciplinary five-day conference ‘For the Love of Nature’ atFindhorninScotland. The conference explored the relationship between the personal and the planetary, attracting over 300 participants. Many of the speakers and facilitators were founding figures of the ecopsychology movement, including: Clare Cooper-Marcus, Sarah Conn, Jane GoodallWarwick Fox,Robert GreenwayJohn Seed,Vandana Shiva and many others, embracing the academic and experiential contributions.

Joanna Macyand John Seed have made several visits to the UK, withJohn Seed offering deep ecology workshops andJoanna Macy offering her intensives inThe Work that Reconnects(TWTR),including facilitator training, mostly organised by Alex Wildwood andChris Johnstone.These experiences have been invaluable for the community’s process and the development in thinking about ecopsychology, with many people now facilitating events across the UK as a result. A national ecopsychology gathering took place in 2004 at Laurieston Hall in Scotland, organised by Helene FletcherHilary PrenticeMary-Jayne Rust and Nick TottonAmbra Burlsof Anglia Ruskin University has organised conferences within academic and practical contexts in the South East.

In the past few years there has been increasing public awareness ofenvironmental issues and other crises e.g. climate, ecological, and the 6th extinction crisis. This has led to a growing popular realisation that our Western consumerist mindset may be a significant factor influencing our attitudes and behaviour towards the biosphere. People in interrelated fields are becoming interested in the psychological dimensions of environmental problems with interesting conferences enabling transdisciplinary conversations between therapists, counsellors, journalists, landscape architects, NGOs and the green movement.

The past decade or so has witnessed the emergence of significant movements in ecopsychological thinking. In 2005 Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown launchedCambridge Carbon Footprint (see Randall and Brown, 2015). The impetus came from Randall’s paper ‘A New Climate for Psychotherapy’ exploring the psychological dimensions of public attitudes to climate change.

In 2006 an ecopsychological contribution to the flourishingTransition Townsmovement in Totnes in Devon, arose in response to the reality of peak oil and climate change. At first these were known as ‘heart and soul’ groups started by Hilary Prentice and Sophy Banks. Now called ‘inner transition’, the explore the consciousness and process aspects of transition to a sustainable and non oil-dependent culture. The ecopsychological aspects of Transition have been successfully incorporated into theTransition training programme, devised by Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande.

In 2004Dave Key, an experienced outdoor educator, started workingwith Mary-Jayne Rust, arts therapist and Jungian analyst, exploring the meeting between outdoor experiences and psychotherapeutic processes in nature and offering courses in Scotland and atSchumacher College. This fruitful collaboration and exchange has led to many new initiatives, including the green NGO WWF’sNatural Change Projectdeveloped by Dave Key, Margaret Kerr and Jules Weston.

The late Martin Jordan initiated a movement which he named ‘Taking Psychotherapy Outdoors’; running many ecotherapy teaching groups in Sussex, often co-facilitating with Hayley Marshall. His book Nature and therapy (Jordan, 2015) provides a solid guide to ecotherapy theory and practice. Last year Martin and Joe Hinds published Ecotherapy: theory, research, and practice (Jordan & Hinds, 2016).

In the past decade the Climate Psychology Alliance was formed (2009) and Caroline Brazier of the Tariki Trust started the Ten Directions ecotherapy training programme. A number of projects have come to fruition, including: the ecopsychology UK website, a web-basedUK Ecopsychology network, aEuropean Journal of Ecopsychology, an ecopsychology anthology of mostly UK authors Vital signs: psycholgological responses to ecological crisis, edited by Mary-Jayne Rust and Nick Totton. In 2011 Nick Totton’s Wild Therapy: undomesticating inner and outer worlds (Totton, 2011) was published, usefully exploring wildness and tameness and the process of domestication which has spanned centuries and added to discussions about wildness and re-wilding. He also initiated a ‘Wild therapy’ training as an optional third year of the Embodied-Relational therapy course he originated.

Since 2012 an annual ecopsychology gathering has taken place at theGreen and Awaytented conference centre in Worcestershire which was initiated and sponsored by Judith AndersonKamalamaniMary-Jayne Rust and Nick Totton, and supported in its early years byPCSR(Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility) and UK ecopsychologists.

Speaking about ecopsychology in the US (2007: 34), Schroll points out how the movement has yet to come together as an established discipline or as a national or international organization. In the past few years this has started to happen in the UK, as the home-grown ecopsychology and ecotherapy movement (the names still vary…) has taken root, in conjunction with the sharing of training, practises, learning and ideas from further afield.


Abram, D. (1997) The spell of the sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world. Vintage Books.

Antony, C. and Soule, R. (1998) ‘A multicultural approach to ecopsychology’ in The Humanist Psychologist, Vol 26, Issues 1-3, pp155-161.

Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin, USA.

Greenway, R. (1994) ‘Ecopsychology: A personal history’. Gatherings 1, Winter edition.

Jordan, M. (2015) Nature and Therapy. Routledge.

Jordan, M. & Hinds, J. (2016) Ecotherapy: theory, research, and practice. Palgrave.

Leopold, A. (1949) A sand county almanac and sketches here and there. Oxford University Press, UK.

Macy, J. & Young Brown, M. (1998) Coming back to life: practices to reconnect our Lives, our World. New Society Publishers.

Macy, J. & Johnstone, C. (2012) Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. New World Library.

Naess, A. (2016) Ecology of wisdom. Penguin Classics.

Randall, R. & Brown, A. (2015) In time for tomorrow? The carbon conversations handbook. The Surefoot Effect CIC, UK.

Roszak, T. (1992) The voice of the earth: an exploration of ecopsychology. Phanes Press, US.

Roszak, T. (1995) Ecopsychology: restoring the earth/healing the mind. Sierra Club Books, California, US.

Schroll, M. (2007) ‘Wrestling with Arne Naess: A chronicle of ecopsychology’s origins’. The Trumpeter, Vol 23, No. 1, pp 28-57.

Totton, N. & Rust, M.J. (2012) Vital signs: psychological responses to ecological crisis. Karnac Books, UK.

Totton, N. (2011) Wild therapy: undomesticating inner and outer worlds. PCCS Books, UK.