ENSP 249: The Science & Experience of Ecotherapy

ENSP 249: The Science & Experience of Ecotherapy

Ecotherapy is “the practice of intentionally connecting with the natural world to create a reciprocal relationship that promotes human flourishing as inseparable from ecosystem flourishing.” -Carolyn Schuyler. In this course, students develop an intellectual understanding of the therapeutic benefits of nature on human health and well-being through review and discussion of scientific research in the burgeoning field of ecotherapy. This understanding is solidified through experiential learning and reflection. Students engage in weekly ecotherapy exercises in campus green spaces. Final projects integrate scholarly research with personal experience in the design of transformative ecotherapy programming for the local community. Course topics include: the neuroscience of nature therapy, children and nature, eco-art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, park prescriptions, and more.

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Course Objectives & Goals

  • Become acquainted with the field of ecotherapy, its primary subfields, and diverse modalities.

  • Explore the burgeoning field of scientific research on the therapeutic benefits of nature and the personal and psychological impact of human separation from the natural world, tech overdose, and environmental concerns.

  • Engage in experiential learning activities that nurture an embodied understanding of ecotherapy science.

  • Practice being comfortable in and appreciating the natural world (even when it is not the ‘perfect 72-degree sunny day’).

  • Develop a toolbox of ecotherapy exercises you can use to improve your own health and wellbeing, and apply to future careers so as to help others.

  • Hone an ability to effectively communicate the benefits of ecotherapy science to policy makers and the broader public.

  • Design transformative ecotherapy programming for our community.

  • Develop naturalistic intelligence in ourselves and others

Love Letters to the Earth, by the 2020 Ecotherapy class

To you, the Earth, my world, gratitude is not enough. You fill the space my eyes seek out in wonder, grant me the sensations of taste and smell that nourish, and create landscapes for my love to manifest, both in dreams and in reality. I often wonder how lucky I am to have the grace of your life, as life has failed so many times before. What other worlds could there be, I don’t know, but I am certain you are the loveliest. From the moss and lichen that furnish other living beings, to the vines embracing anything they can, you make it clear that we are best off with company. Your stars prove that darkness is never absolute. Your oceans remind us that there is always more to be realized than we know. I am grateful and in love, fearful and in debt, awestruck and always a child in your presence. I can only say that I hope you outlive us--your greatest gesture to all that considers itself alive. — Patrick Abboud '20

Dear Mother Earth,

Thank you. Thank you for supporting us. For always being here for us, and for putting up with us. We put you through a lot, too much in fact. But please hold on, because there are a good number of us trying to make change, albeit slowly. Thank you for being consistent when everything else is in our lives and world isn’t. We can always rely on you for beauty, peace, excitement, wonder, and a whole host of other emotions. Thank you for the simple things like chirping birds, rain, clouds, and flowers. You help ground and slow our fast paced lives. Thank you for working together with the sun, so that all living creatures and organisms can live. Thank you for everything and I’m sorry for what we’ve put you through, you don’t deserve this. — Amelia Lowe, ‘21

Thank you Earth, for being consistent, being evolving , being massive, being minuscule, being way more powerful than me. Thank you for reminding me that I am just a speck but that as that speck I am connected to so much more than myself. Thank you for going through four seasons and showing me that change may be scary but it’s natural + exciting + good. Thank you for being beautiful + giving me flowers to stare at and be reminded of the wide range of color in my life. Thank you for giving me skies to get lost staring into, for giving me the birds that sing on when music feels distant, for giving powerful blankets of snow that stop me in my tracks. Thanks for making me realize how much more there is out there. I love you. — Marc Charbonier ’20

Dear Mother Earth,

Thank you for all of our good times together. From glaciers to sand dunes and mountains to seashores, you have provided me not only a stage for some of the best moments of my life, but also a richness and joy all your own. Your plants have nourished me; your animals comforted me, your waters quenched me, and your storms cleansed me. When I felt too much burden, you helped me feel small and powerless in the best way. And when I came to you small and powerless, your energy surged through me. Also, thanks for a ripe Virginia peach– truly some of your best work. — All the love, Clara Waterman '20