This dissertation is guided by the research question: ―How do psychotherapists conceptualise human beings‘ relationships with the natural environment, and what are the theoretical and clinical implications of this in the context of Aotearoa?‖ The aim is to review some of the concepts psychotherapists use to think about this relationship, and to examine these concepts in the Aotearoa context.
The research process is drawn from the evidence based practice model, and takes the specific form of a modified systematic literature review (SLR). SLRs gather, evaluate and synthesise evidence ranging from randomised controlled studies to expert opinion, in order to provide answers to specific research questions (Gray, 1999). Evidence Based Practice often looks at quantitative research, however because the majority of psychotherapeutic literature is qualitative, this review will be modified in order to include qualitative research. The emphasis on qualitative research is also appropriate because of the generally qualitative orientation of the field of psychotherapy. Many psychotherapists are critical of statistically oriented quantitative research which they find superficial and which they find does not reflect well their everyday work with their clients (McLeod, 2010).
Systematic Literature Reviews
This dissertation will follow the key features of a systematic literature review (Gray, 1999):
1) Framing the research question.
2) Identification of research studies through database and other online searches (in the case of this research sources used were: PEP, psychINFO, EBSCO, findNZarticles, JSTOR, google scholar), and also by checking reference lists of identified literature.
3) Selection of studies for inclusion by keyword searches.
A wide range of keywords were used, as initial searches identified a great deal of material relating to psychotherapy and the natural environment, less research relating to the part of the research addressing clinical implications, and even less on the Aotearoa context. The following criteria/topics were searched:
1) Ecopsychology, applied ecopsychology, and eco-therapy.
2) Psychotherapy and the natural environment.
3) Psychotherapy in Aotearoa.
4) Ecopsychology in Aotearoa.
5) New Zealanders‘ relationships to the natural environment.
The scope of the review includes literature published in English that explains concepts relevant to psychotherapists‘ conceptualisation of the relationship between humans and nature. Literature will also be included that is not written by psychotherapists, but is relevant enough to the psychotherapeutic endeavour to be utilized by psychotherapists to think about this relationship (for instance material by ecologists or philosophers.)
Because of a scarcity of Aotearoa-specific literature, literature written by nonpsychotherapists will be particularly important in addressing the part of the research question that contextualises these concepts in Aotearoa. In this case the writings of sociologists and historians will be particularly important in understanding the context of New Zealanders‘ relationship with the natural environment.
In this review the word ―nature‖ will be used to include plants, animals, and substances that are not produced by human activity or intent. Often in this review the term ―human-nature relationship‖ is used. This term includes both the relationships between humans and the physical substance of the natural environment (thinking materialistically), and also the relationship between humans and their personal subjective experience of the natural environment (thinking in idealistic terms). For explanations of materialism and idealism, please see the next chapter.
A number of psychological schools‘ contributions will be mainly excluded from this review. This decision has been made for two reasons. Firstly to consider all available psychological concepts would enlarge this research to unmanageable proportions, or require that they be addressed in an un-usefully brief summarized form.
Secondly, the research question‘s focus on relationship may be most directly addressed by schools of psychological theorising that are most relationally oriented. The relationally oriented psychotherapy in which I have mainly been trained has been psychoanalytic psychotherapy, which has therefore in turn influenced my approach to this topic, and whose influence is evident in the way I have chosen to organise the material found in the search. I have decided to accept the limitations inherent in my grounding in psychoanalytic theory, and the limits on the extent to which I have been able to integrate different theoretical orientations with it. When, as explained below, non analytic literature is included, it will be incorporated into an analytic perspective as will be shown in a model. This psychoanalytic perspective is one of my biases as a researcher.
According to Scull (2004) psychoanalytic theories form a large part of the ecopsychology literature. Though transpersonal (including Jungian), indigenous, and humanistic psychologies are also prominent in the literature they will be excluded from this review except when they are being related to psychoanalytic concepts or literature. Having this tight and coherent perspective will allow literature not written by psychotherapists (but which is still relevant to the research question) to be integrated. This seems necessary given the lack of material written on the human-nature relationship by New Zealand psychotherapists of any theoretical orientation. It also seems necessary given that some of the most influential writers in the field of ecopsychology such as Theodore Roszak (a historian) come from non-psychological fields.
The decision to largely exclude indigenous psychologies from the review requires particular justification, given the importance placed on indigenous peoples‘ relations to the environment in so much of the literature. The decision to exclude indigenous psychologies has been influenced by considering white Westerners‘ (such as myself) cultural identities in the light of Hardiman‘s identity development model (Sue, Allen, & Pederson, 1996.) Hardiman identifies five stages of identity development that are relevant in thinking about culture. The third stage of resistance, which may be highly relevant to the cultural critiques embedded in much of the literature, can include romanticisation of the other and denigration of one‘s own group. This is contrasted to the next stage, that of redefinition, which is more realistic and in which one focuses instead on redefining what one‘s own cultural identity means to oneself. Writing this dissertation as a Pakeha psychotherapist I feel that it is appropriate to focus on this redefinition – the task of coming to terms with white/Western cultural identity as it has manifested in the human-nature relationship. I hope that doing so will help myself and other Pakeha to be more open to genuine rather than romanticising or devaluing relationships with the other in the form of either indigenous peoples or the environment. For this reason indigenous and Maori literature will largely be excluded from the scope of the review, except where they are found relevant to the Pakeha task of redefinition.
Table of number of hits for different search combinations not included here.
Non-Systematic Literature Search
In addition to the above, literature was also identified from the following sources: book references obtained from the writer‘s personal library and from those of colleagues; books and journals located through journal reference lists, and ad hoc sources; literature sourced manually or suggested by the dissertation supervisor, AUT lecturers, and/or colleagues; and key word and topic searches conducted on internet search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Google Scholar.) Search engine search terms included: ecopsychology, psychotherapy AND New Zealand, ecopsychology AND New Zealand, environment AND New Zealand.
I stopped the literature search when I reached saturation – the point at which the same concepts and information were being frequently repeated. This let me know that I had an overview of the field.
Click to go to next section: Organising the Material