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5 Ways Ecopsychology Transforms Maternal Mental Health

ecopsychology maternal mental health Mar 07, 2022

The stories I've heard from mothers over the last four years have convinced me of the need for a maternal ecopsychology. Here are five mother-centered reasons how an ecopsychological lens shifts maternal mental health:

1. Cause of suffering: traditional psychology looks at our thinking, heredity, stress and trauma, and childhood experiences. Ecopsychology looks at disconnection from the web of life, our natural stress and grief about our ecological reality, our unsustainable lifestyles, and alienation from supportive internal and environmental resources that are our birthright as ecological animals. A fully holistic lens is vital. A human-centered lens of our suffering is sure to replicate it because it is never going to give us a true feeling of psychological health. Examining our mental health challenges from the widest possible lens can also help us to find a way through distress and ill-being that might be less triggering of specific traumas. 

2. Language: Traditional psychology approaches our mental health challenges with pathologizing human-centered language. This approach in and of itself can lead a mother to feel broken and isolated. This exacerbates two common sources of maternal suffering in the modern world. The myth of the" good mother" that is 100% pleased with her role and sacrifices her own needs and desires as a part of her role contributes to a mother feeling broken when there is struggles in motherhood. The modern world also isolates mothers in human-built spaces answering the many needs of small children without the reciprocal care of a community (often referred to as a "village"). An ecopsychological approach, on the other hand, is strength and resource-based. We are immediately planted in a huge community of supportive others within our ecosystems who desire connection with us and are able to cocreate new, often more supportive meaning of our lives and its challenges. For mothers this is deeply healing.

3. Location of our problem: Is it us (our thinking, genetics, habits, etc.) making us sick? Is it our families (often our mothers)? Or is it our broken relationship between the human and more-than-human world? Starting with nature reconnection, which itself has so many health-supporting benefits, can shift our symptoms and the stories that shape them. Why only look at ourselves in the mirror for answers when looking out a window might provide the best solution?

4. Goals: Traditional psychology wants to alleviate symptoms and help people feel better mentally and emotionally. Great, right?! What if feeling better (so we can go back to mother work, adjust to unreasonable expectations, uphold ecocidal systems with our lifestyle) isn't good enough? Ecopsychology's goal is to help us create lives worth living that contribute to human AND ecological wellbeing. This goal requires us to make radical changes within and without. So a part of ecopsychology is to transform symptoms of anxiety, grief, depression, dissociation into meaninful action for ourselves/others. This transformation asks us to confront the stories within us, our worldviews, that value some lives more than others. The work may be to unsettle these stories and undertake disorienting work to find and live new stories that value all Life.

5. Praxis: Traditional psychology often looks like talking and coping. While that's a wonderful approach to therapy, we can begin to expand our understanding of therapy with an ecopsychological lens. We might decenter our specific concerns as we typically share them in words with another human by turning to nature as a cohealer.  We can clean up, cocreate art, perform land-centered rituals, sit in nature, and just envision a life that cares for the Earth as a central value. How much more embodied/relational/fun is this understanding of healing?! How much more accessible is this approach to mothers often doing many shifts of work a day?

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