Selecting the Literature
Selecting the Literature Through spending time hiking and being in nature as a child and an adult, I have developed a passion for the outdoors. Currently I am concerned about how climate change is affecting our planet and I recognise that gaining a psychological understanding of this situation could help, by assisting others and myself to become aware and insightful into our unsustainable behaviours. Upon completing my clinical training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, I was ready to begin learning more about how therapy can help us to care for our planet more, and how to put this into practice personally and with clients. I realised that this dissertation would be a great opportunity to begin this process.
A hermeneutic literature review is very different from a systematic literature review, as the search for literature is not tightly predetermined by a clear research question (Boell & Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010). A hermeneutic literature review allows for an evolving, deepening question, continuously emerging from the research process. This allows for a range of literature to be reviewed, with deviations encouraged, whereas a systematic literature review aims to follow the research question strictly; this limits both the development of the research question as new ideas emerge , as well as restricting the allowable included literature (Boell & Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010).
In the beginning, I knew that I wanted this dissertation to be on ecotherapy, as this field seemed to incorporate our environment and planet into therapy, however, I did not have a specific question in mind. I decided that I wanted to contribute something that would help lessen the gap in the literature on how to practice ecotherapy. I already thought there was a gap here through discussing this with my partner, Michael Apàthy, who has experience in ecopsychology (see: Apàthy, 2010). To help discover my research question, I began reading books and articles that Michael had recommended. I also went to the AUT library and searched for literature on ecotherapy and ecopsychology. From reading these books and articles, I realised that I wanted to learn more about the practice of ecotherapy so that I knew how to apply and integrate it into psychodynamic psychotherapy. I was aware that I knew very little about this field so I decided to work on creating a guide for people like myself, who knew nothing and wanted to know some practical details.
From the literature I already had, I read the abstracts of journal articles, the first few pages of chapters, and the reference lists to see what interested me and to get more references. I also decided I needed to develop keywords to get a wide range of literature on ecotherapy in order to find my research topic. From this process, I determined that the main keywords that tended to produce literature of relevance were “ecotherapy”, “ecopsychotherapy”, “ecopsychoanalysis”, “ecopsychology”, “nature-based therapy”, “nature-guided therapy”, and “applied ecopsychology”. In order to make the search more efficient, at times I used an asterisk to include possible suffixes of a keyword. For instance “ecopsycho*” would find literature that used the terms ecopsychotherapy, ecopsychotherapist, ecopsychology, and ecopsychoanalysis. From searching databases relevant to psychotherapy (accessed through the AUT library database link) using these keywords I collated a large initial group of literature.
From this literature, I read the abstracts of articles, and scanned book chapter headings and introductions for items that captured my curiosity. A number of items did, however one in particular stood out to me. It was the article by Wolsko and Hoyt (2012) “Employing the Restorative Capacity of Nature: Pathways to Practicing Ecotherapy Among Mental Health Professionals”. I found it particularly interesting and I wanted to investigate this area more. This article became the key to deciding this dissertation topic and I decided to use the findings as a focus to the start of my research, and as part of the structure of this dissertation.
As my topic was practically rather than theoretically oriented, I wanted to focus on reviewing literature that was closer to the applied end of the theoretical – applied/practice continuum. I then developed keywords that were more specific, which I used in various combinations. These were: “practice”, “clinical”, “nature”, “environment”, “wilderness”, “therapy”, “ecotherapy”, “ecopsychotherapy”, “ecopsychoanalysis”, “counselling”, “environmental psychology”, “ecology”, “client”, “patient”, “mental health”, “ecology”, “nature therapy”, “green”, “earth”, “planet”, “therapeutic”, “obstacles”, “frame”, “confidentiality”, “boundaries”, “access”, “ethics”, “challenges”, “limitations”, “case study”, “solution”, and “benefit”.
I searched the literature that I already had, and repeated a database search (in the aforementioned method). I also added a google scholar search in case I missed literature that was relevant or interesting. I also gathered literature from the references in the Wolsko and Hoyt article.
As I gathered the literature, I filed each relevant item into a folder marked “relevant articles to review”. I determined relevancy through reading the introduction or abstract of each item to see if I felt it matched my topic. Once I had gathered all of the literature into the folder, I subjected them to further review, and did one of three things with it. I deleted it (due to it being irrelevant or repetitious), or moved it either to a folder marked “reviewed” (if I had made notes on it), or to a folder marked “reviewed, but not used” (for those articles that had interesting and relevant information which I might include at a later stage). Once the item was determined to be of strong relevance, I read it whilst taking notes from the literature and any interpretations. At this stage, I also noted down any relevant ideas that were referenced from a secondary source to look them up later. This was also the case if the literature provided a suggested reading list, organisations, or people of relevance. I searched for these references through the article linker through the AUT library website or through Google; once downloaded, I repeated the aforementioned methods to determine their relevancy.
For structure, I decided that I would use the five keys findings that inhibit ecotherapy practice in Wolsko and Hoyt’s article, to be five sections of research. I made headings that related to each finding (see Chapter 5 for details), so that as I was reading the literature I could put notes (including the reference) into each section. For example, if the literature referred to boundary concerns, notes were added under the heading “Boundary”. When I came across literature that did not fit precisely into a category, yet I felt that it was interesting (as it demonstrated clear and feasible examples of how to apply ecotherapy), I made notes under a heading called “Practice Resources”. I included this material as I felt it would be useful additional information for practitioners interested in practicing ecotherapy.
Although a hermeneutic literature review does not necessarily require inclusion/exclusion criteria, for the purposes of constraining the amount of literature to a manageable size it was useful to develop some criteria. Additionally, without creating these criteria, I would have needed to undertake large amounts of additional study in order to understand the ideas and practice of unfamiliar fields of therapy.
I decided to include articles referring to psychotherapy and counselling, and to exclude psychology, social work, psychiatry, and clinical psychology. This choice was based on my sense that counselling is similar enough to psychotherapy, whereas I felt that the excluded fields were quite different. In addition, as ecotherapy is a burgeoning field, I realised that I needed to read literature beyond peer-reviewed articles as the number of peer-reviewed articles relevant to my topic was limited.
Due to the large number of theoretical orientations and modalities that make up ecotherapy, I also narrowed the topic for manageability in two ways. Firstly, I selected modalities that aligned predominately with psychotherapy and counselling. This meant that there needed to be an element of talk therapy involved. Secondly, different modalities can hold opposing values; therefore, I excluded those that view nature as a resource to be consumed or conquered, or not as a partner in the therapeutic process. I also excluded modalities that primarily focused on self-improvement or confidence building as I felt that this was a limited treatment outcome, and also as it did not (appear to) consider the environment. If the modality listed below appeared in the title, keywords, chapter heading, or abstract, I did a quick look at the article to determine if it also included modalities that I determined to be relevant. If the literature solely referred to one of the modalities below, I excluded it from my research. These excluded modalities were, adventure therapy, referring to Outward Bound style programs; animal-assisted therapy; art therapy; ecotherapy that utilises predominately shamanic ideas and dreamwork; modalities of therapy that do not use any talk such as dance, yoga, and bodywork; and family, couples, adolescent, and child therapy.
Applying the Methodology
Through utilising the philosophy of hermeneutics, I approached this dissertation through two distinct, yet inseparable, processes. First, there is the viewing of a text, such as book or journal article, in the more conventional manner that is, attempting to develop an understanding of the author’s ideas. The second process is the associative or interpretive aspect that involves allowing, and thus not attempting to control, any arising associations, diversions, or confusion to be fully observed. Doing this acknowledges the value that associations can offer; by facilitating openness and exploration within the research project, this allows the development new ideas and questions. Once this associative process dissipates and appears complete, I would return to viewing the text in the conventional manner (process one), beginning where I noticed the association occurring and attending to my mind and body, and thus allowing the interpretive process to arise again. This cycle of observing my associations, returning to reading, and observing associations, and so forth, will be how the methodology is applied in this dissertation.
This interpretive process is anticipated to serve as a means of finding underlying ideas within the text, as well as generating new ideas that will enrich the research process, this dissertation, and hopefully contribute to the field of ecotherapy (D. Harper & Thompson, 2011; McLeod, 2011). Another hope is that this flexibility will loosen any preconceived notions (known and unknown) of what this research project will look like. The discipline of regularly returning to the text (and if needed to the research objective or question), will ensure that I do not become too lost in associations, feelings, and ideas. It also acknowledges the importance of following an overarching structure as this dissertation has criteria that it needs to achieve, both in terms of time (to completion) and academic standards (marked according to specific learning outcomes).
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