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Earth-based work

 Golden Tree

Earth-based work:

Celebrating and fostering nature and eco-creativity.  

Earth-based practice, a key aim being to nurture wellbeing, eco-creativity, Nature and our reciprocal caring relationship the rest of nature; underpinned by and committed to 'earth caring' values.

Tree Arc2

Key components of Earth-based practice can include: 

  - working with and for nature,
  - fostering eco-creativity and wellbeing,
  - co-creating a "therapeutic tetrad", - practitioner, client, art, nature. 
  - commitment to eARTh-caring values,
  - eARThing our practice, the curriculum and research,
  - fostering "environ-mentalization" (Kairos Consultancy, 2005),
  - infusing our practice with creative intelligence and "ecological intelligence" (McCallum, 2008).

Howard Clinebell (1996, p.1) in his seminal book Ecotherapy: Healing ourselves, Healing the Earth, argues that:

"The most serious, most dangerous health challenge all of us in the human family face is to reverse the planet's continuing ecological deterioration. It is the most profound health issue of all times, from a historical perspective. Why? For the first time in the long human story, our species faces a health challenge that if not resolved will foreclose opportunities to solve humankind's countless other problems, including a multiplicity of health problems. The human species now must be included on the endangered species list. This is the bottom-line health challenge we all face."

"Obviously, if all plant life is destroyed, the humanoid life will follow." (ST:TOS)

eARTh-based practice

"eARTh-based practice" is an important wider dimension and application of eco-practice in art therapy. 

"Natural environments can potentially have direct and indirect effects on emotional processes—directly by activating or reducing emotions, and indirectly by influencing other important processes related to emotions or emotion regulation. Executive functioning and certain aspects of self-regulation are fundamental for emotion regulation, and research indicates that exposure to nature may have a beneficial impact on these functions, for example, by making it easier to think about feelings." 
(Johnsen, 2011).


Perhaps this might relate to a process that has been termed "environ-mentalization" (Kairos Consultancy, 2003, 2005) - imaginative processes aiding understanding of the natural world, oneself and others. This links to the development of the 'ecological self' in a network of reciprocal relationships, also with the 'more than human' world. "Environ-mentalization" (Kairos Consultancy, 2003, 2005) is proposed as an ecological development of the concept of mentalization as proposed by Fonagy et al (Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist & Target, 2002). 

Ecological awareness

It has been suggested that "ecological intelligence" (McCallum, 2008) is vital in therapeutic and related professions and it involves being actively engaged in fostering eco-creativity. eARTh-based practice also involves commitment to respecting and promoting diversity and biodiversity. 

Carl Jung wrote:
"You must go in quest of yourself, and you will find yourself again only in the simple and forgotten things. Why not go into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in books." (Jung, 2008, p.6)
I am also reminded of a quotation by John Muir:
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir.

Berry (2002: 104) proposes that in:
"the emerging ecological age, the age of the growing intercommunion among all the living and nonliving systems of the planet, ... medicine in this context would envisage the earth as primary healer. It would also envisage integration with earth's functioning as the primary basis of health for the human being."

Berry (1992) argues that, in biological terms, the Earth is at the end of the Cenozoic era (industrial severe diminishment of the planet) and needs to transition into what he calls the Ecozoic era; he argues (p.46) that "The arts are beginning to experience this change." Writing of the role of artists in the Ecozoic era, Berry (1992: 46-48) argues that:
"we must understand that the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects... the best artists are those who carry us deepest into this experience of communion. ... the Earth is primary and the human derivative. ... The first concern in every field of human endeavour must be the integration with the Earth community. … we try to be healthy on a sick planet… If art becomes limited to human processes, or to human imagination, lacking in intimate relationship with the larger natural world, the art field will lose much of its vigor and purpose. We are becoming aware that the extinction of species, the destruction of the rain forests, the devastation of marine life, the isolation  of humanity in an Epcot planet is leading us toward a disaster of untold dimension, both as individual art is and as citizens of the universe. … Now we can perceive the universe as irreversible process and recognize that wanton species extinction is a permanent wound in the biological order. … The endowment that we have inherited becomes infinitely precious to the artist, as to every component of the universe community. The artist is integral to this larger process. … the intimacy of the artist with the entire range of earthly affairs must awaken forebodings about the future, and that these very forebodings will inevitably appear in the visual, literary, and performing arts."

  • "the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects." (Berry, 2006, p.17)
  • "We cannot have well people on a sick planet." (Berry, 2006, p.45)
  • "We cannot have well humans on a sick planet." (Berry, 2006, p.109)
  • "The planet Earth is a single community whose members are bound together with interdependent relationships.(Berry, 2006, p.111)
  • "there cannot be well humans on a sick planet." (Berry, 2006, p.122) 

Wilson proposes the concept of "biophilia" and he refers to biophilia  as an “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes“ (Wilson 1984, p.1) and an “innate emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms“ (Wilson 1993, p.31). Heinsch (2012, p.309) comments on Wilson's (1984, 1993) concept of "biophilia" and notes that "According to Wilson's biophilia hypothesis, people have an innate need to associate with the natural world, and this connection can enhance their physical and psychological well-being."  Wilson indicated within his biophilia hypothesis that most people living in Western society are likely to suffer from nature deprivation due to a lack of natural stimuli. He advocated contact with natural diversity and order to be essential to normal development.

Tree Pearl
Tree Pearl (c)CS

It is vital to view therapy within an eco-biopsychosocial model, as consistent with the "Health Environmental Integration model" (HEI) (Stineman, 1981) which conceptualises a "functional interaction between the person and the environment by four overlapping spheres: mind, body, physical world, and society. In the HEI model, the health and experiences of any person depend on the health of the environment and vice versa." (p.36).

In such a model, "the health of any person depends on the health of the environment along with other factors" (Lee & Siebens, 2007). This is also consistent with the need to "expand our paradigm of the self to include the natural habitat. ... It's time for an environmentally based definition of mental health." (Roszak, 1996, 2013). Schuster (1992, p.2) cites Conn's (1991, p.73) view that "... we need to broaden our concept of self to include other groups of people and other life forms."

Stineman and Streim (2010: 1035) advocate a "biopsycho-ecological model of health, illness, injury, and disability." Roszak comments that "a growing number of psychologists have begun to place their theory and practice in an ecological context. Already ecopsychology has yielded insights of great value."    
"In devastating the natural environment, we may be undermining a basic requirements of sanity: our sense of moral reciprocity with the nonhuman environment. Yet ecopsychology also offers hope. As ecocidal as our behavior may have become, our bond with the planet endures; something within us voices a warning. Ecopsychologists have begun to detect in people evidence of an unspoken grieving for the great environmental losses the world is suffering." (Roszak, 1996, 2013).

Nature joins as a mutual aspect of the therapeutic alliance - thus forming a Therapeutic Tetrad / Quadrad (Kairos Consultancy, 2002...). Appropriate use of ritual, rites of passage, and creative liminality, are important (Kairos Consultancy, 2005, 2006).

MacKinnon (2014) makes a call for "rewilding" - creating conditions that will support wildlife in all its diversity; "to bring wildness back into all spaces of the planet in whatever ways that we can. Rewilding, MacKinnon suggests, means to support nature’s potential — its capacity to sustain an abundance and variety of life" (Neilson, 2014). Schuster (1992) proposes a "paradigm of environmental ethic growth comprising interrelationships among stages of moral reasoning; the person in relation to nature; and valuation of material wealth as contrasted to valuation of a safe, clean environment" and this model is based on Glew and The Waterloo County Board of Education (1987) and Environmental Ethic (1988). Siddons Heginworth (2008) advocates environmental arts therapy and Jones (2012) writes about outdoor art therapy.

It is proposed that art therapy needs to work within an "Health Environmental Integration model" (HEI) 
(Stineman, 1981) and an environmental ethic (Schuster, 1992), committed to and demonstrating: ecological conscience, a deep ecological role in relation to nature that is underpinned by the values of caring, cooperation and non-violence, and fostering a safe, clean environment. 

Earth Ethics and Values

Green Man
Green Man (c)CS
As an extension of Dr Schuster's (1990, 1992, 1993) philosophy of nursing care, art therapists and other art and healthcare practitioners are challenged to "expand our definition of caring to include Mother Earth (Schuster, 1990). ... we have a moral obligation to honor earth caring values, not only for our own quality of life and survival but for the well-being of the planet." (Turkel, 2013: 425-426). Practitioners must be committed to "Earth ethics" (McCluney, 1989).

Schuster (1992, p.2) argues that Conn (1991)
"proposes a model of ecological responsibility in which the self derives its unique, differentiated identity from its relatedness (connectedness) as a part of the community of living beings on earth. The self in this model does not simply act on the world or get acted upon in a mechanistic paradigm, but rather interacts creatively and dynamically with the world in an ecological, systemic, self-organizing paradigm."

Greening the curriculum

Dr Schuster (1993) advocated "greening the curriculum" in nursing. This can be applied to the training of art therapists (and indeed all healthcare and arts practitioners and beyond). This can ensure it is consistent with an ecozoic model (Berry, 1992) and infusing learning and teaching with eco-creativity and nature and ensuring that all teaching is founded in an eco-biopsychosocial model and adheres to earth-caring values. This also means extending learning and teaching into creative and natural contexts, as appropriate.

Green care ethical principles

Values and ethical principles are synthesised from sources such as:
  • Dr Eleanor Ann Schuster - holistic nursing
  • Dr Ross McCluney - earth ethics

Treefire (c)CS
Fire journal. Artwork  (c)CS                                                                                  Honeycomb

Sibbett/Kairos Consultancy  (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2020)


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