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Ecopsychology and Eco-Art Therapy: Transforming the Self

Spring 2015

I sit with my art supplies and papers under the shade of an elder oak tree. He seems to be as tall as a New York building. I sit and wait for the wind to blow and approve my presence. I feel the cool wind blowing on my back, playfully waving my curly hair up. I connect with my inner self. I wake up my senses and breathe deeply several times before beginning the eco-art activity. I sense I am ready and read the activity thoroughly. Drawing my silhouette, I recognize that I do know my body well. My outer self is delineated by valleys and hills. My curves reflect my Hispanic heritage. My curly hair waves in the wind my cultural background. I draw and listen. I listen to the repeated messages in my head. I listen to the stories I have been told by others. I listen to years of hammering repetition of these wranglers. I listen. Words echo in my head repeatedly. I record these phrases to delineate the shape of my body. “You are weak. You are overweight. You are not strong. You are not pretty. Your hair is a mess. You are inconsistent.” I think about them for a while. I notice how each phrase makes me feel and where does the feeling reflects in my body. The picture of my body seems ashamed as my head is facing down. My posture reflects sadness as it stands curved. I listen to my body’s pain.


Then, I turned the page and trace my silhouette. I breathe allowing my mind to find silence. I feel. The heat of the sun warms the front of my body while the wind blowing behind me provokes chills in my spine. I look up and see the whitest clouds floating weightlessly in the sky. I fill my lungs with the cool air. I hear singing birds in the distance. I sense the wisdom of the elder oak tree above. I feel the gentle crawl of ants and ladybugs on my skin. I am attracted by the strong branches of the oak tree. I sit and I feel. New words fill my quiet mind: wisdom, grounded, bountiful, loved, accepted, special, and inspired. I record each word around the drawing of my body. I pay close attention, once again, to where on my body each word resonates.


I color, draw and fill each space of this image. A new me emerges from these natural surroundings. I listen to nature’s non-verbal, non-judgmental language. I sense the acceptance Nature has towards me. A new language fills my head. I am bountiful. I am beautiful. I am inspired.


This transformation reflects on every aspect of my life. Learning to think like nature helps solve problems, gives perspective, and provides a space to rejuvenate. Ecopsychology activities reinstate a sense of truth in our lives. We learn to trust our senses and the information received. We learn to reconnect with our source and establish healthy relationships based on the genuine example nature offers. Cohen says “We can choose to learn how to mindfully reconnect with a global process that brings the good feeling of cooperation and wisdom of nature into our thinking.” Thinking like nature has made me aware of my eating habits, my habits as a consumer, as a parent and wife. I am aware of my place on this earth and the impact my life has on it.


I think about what I learned from this experience and the many others that I have done during the course. I evaluate how I feel after completing the activity. I am at peace and I accept myself. Each eco-art activity helped me discover important and hidden aspects of myself. Furthermore, it has helped me move beyond things that had me physically, spiritually, and emotionally tied. I look at my drawing and feel how my spirit fills with joy to recognize I can have the same characteristics as Nature.


Ecopsychology and Art Therapy are therapeutic disciplines that seek to improve our mental, spiritual and physical state. Both therapies rely on our non-verbal therapeutic interactions with nature and art materials to help us explore and give a perspective of our current situation. Each therapy allows us to deepen our self-awareness and reach memories buried in our subconscious to heal trauma. Ecopsychology, as well as art therapy, allows us to validate our emotions based on their sensorial perceptions. Phelps states “Trauma is often kept in one’s memory as sensations, symbols, and mental images that can be difficult to access in traditional talk therapy or informal conversation. These memories are situated in the primitive sections of the brain and may not be part of a person’s conscious awareness.” For example, many of my traumas were hiding under my cultural background. As a Puerto Rican woman, I grew up with much-unfounded prejudice of the texture of my hair, the shape of my body, the constant need for acceptance, and my place and role in society. Through the eco-art therapy activities, I was able to uncover those hiding zones of my unconscious mind and bring memories into the conscious mind in order to validate them and heal.


The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.” As an art teacher, it is important to express to parents and other adults that the most important aspect of making art is the process the individual undergoes to create a piece of art and not the ending product. Humans based their art creations on their reality and experiences. During this creative process, we connect with the deepest aspects of our self. Art-making increases concentration improves hand-eye coordination, reduces stress levels, and improves verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Brown (2012) states “While talk therapy offers an avenue for verbal communication; Art therapy is capable of simultaneously looking at verbal and nonverbal spectrums on of life.”


Art, a communication instrument from early humans, was used to tell stories, pass down bits of wisdom, or record experiences. The Lascaux Caves paintings demonstrate the non-verbal fascination humans have for communicating their attractions to nature. Attractions that were made have been the need for survival, the need for hunting or gathering. From the beginning of time, our old brain has to lead us to communicate through images. Fort-Martin says “art therapy is based on the premise that visual symbols and images are the most accessible and natural form of communication to the human experience.” Using art simultaneously with the eco therapy activity allows us to record the experience in our most genuine form.


On the other hand, Ecopsychology helps us reconnect with our environment and return to our natural state. Farrel (2012) says “Ecopsychology seeks to explore this interrelatedness between nature and our inner worlds, not just as an intellectual exercise, but to bring conscious awareness to the experience. In so doing, we come home again.” When we reconnect with our natural state we feel reenergized, relaxed, and at peace. It is through this interrelatedness that we find purpose in our lives. We and Earth are one. We hurt our environment we are hurting ourselves. We abuse our environment, we are abusing ourselves. We neglect and mistreat our environment and by believing we are not part of it, we are destroying ourselves.


We, as members of this large organism called Earth, are able to connect with nature in a non-verbal manner. Many of us find it difficult to relate to others. It is even harder to express and share our feelings with our close ones. Holding on to experiences and emotions can lead to unhealthy relationships and harmful mental states. Sweeney (2001) explains “Many folks find that words are often inadequate to express their innermost thoughts and feelings so they are turning to alternative forms of self-understanding and analysis.”


Merging both psychologies not only is logical and beneficial but also reinforces something humans have done naturally; find inspiration, connectedness, and balance in nature. Cohen declares “Nature’s multisensory intelligence knows how to heal and regenerate, how to keep us in balance.” It is logical to merge these disciplines because they both complement each other. It is beneficial because art therapy provides a visual, non-verbal image of the ecotherapy experience. Merging both disciplines allows us to learn, understand and connect with nature. Nature becomes our inspiration, leading us to be creative and allowing us to express what words cannot express.



References


AATA (2012). Definition of art therapy. http://www.arttherapy.org/ Retrieved 1/12/2015


Brown, Asa. (Unknown). Psychological benefits of art therapy. Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association. Retrieved from http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=1846 on 12/31/2014


Cohen, Michael. (2007). Reconnecting and with nature. Ecopress. Lakeville, Minnesota.


Farrell, Emily. (2012). A way home: ecopsychology and the renewal of ourselves and our world. Retrieved from http://www.emilyfarrell.org/articles/a-way-home-ecopsychology-and-the-renewal-of-ourselves-and-our-world/ 1/5/2015


Martin-Ford, Paula. Art Therapy - Applications, Benefits. Retrieved from http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/45/Art-Therapy.html 12/30/2014


Sweeney, Theresa. (2002). Merging art therapy and applied ecopsychology for enhanced therapeutic benefits. Retrieved from http://www.ecopsychology.org/journal/gatherings6/html/Overview/overview_art_therapyhtml 3/06/15)


Phelps, Don. Therapeutic use of expressive arts with children. Retrieved from http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/exc_020712.shtml 1/2/2015

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