What the Heck is Eco-Existential-Positive Psychology?!
Eco-existential-positive psychology is a mouthful, but it’s really quite simple. To complicate it (as theory often does), it is an eco-bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of mental health that revolves around the human quest for meaning by addressing the tension between suffering and happiness, freedom and responsibility. To put it simply, it is using nature to answer the big questions in life, in order to help us realize our potential even in challenging circumstances.
In my practice, I support my clients in answering these big questions of meaning by delving into the soul and subpersonalities that make us who we are. I take an optimistic outlook on solving problems, and I do believe that the answers to our biggest challenges are within us, rather than outside of us. That being said, I find it helps to use nature-play (any enjoyable activities outside) as therapy homework and to connect with nature as a partner with whom we can find belonging, meaning, and purpose on our journey to mental health and wellness.
EEPP sprouted up from discontent with the medical model for mental health that has been unable to slow down rising rates of suicide, depression, and substance abuse in North America. It has become especially popular in literature discussing global coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, where humans have been isolated from others in a time of profound dread and uncertainty. EEPP is about sinking down deep roots of purpose, understanding our negative emotions, and remembering the ways we experience joy so that we can survive the violent storms of circumstance.
EEPP stresses the importance of reconnecting with the natural world. Having a relationship with nature has been linked to self-transcendence, harmony, interconnectedness, happiness, and a variety of other elements of wellbeing, including physical health. It helps us to expand our sense of identity by allowing us to recognize our place in the larger scheme of things. It helps us create meaning by connecting to something outside of ourselves, or our species, and noticing the permanence and patterns in an ever-changing world. Having a relationship with nature combats the feeling of isolation, as it is a functioning system that promotes relatedness and social connectedness.
I will leave you with a simple activity to help you connect with this great theory. Next time you decide to head out into nature, set an intention before leaving the house. Let that intention be some big question of meaning or purpose or challenge in your life. Then, go out into nature and look at the natural sights, or perhaps even ask a tree or sit with a rock while you ponder your question. See if you can translate the language of nature. Make metaphors out of what you see. When you get home, reflect on any insight you might have gained. Enjoy!
Passmore, H.-A., & Howell, A. J. (2014). Eco-Existential Positive Psychology: Experiences in Nature, Existential Anxieties, and Well-Being. HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGIST, 4, 370.
Quiroga-Garza, A., Cepeda-Lopez, A. C., Villarreal Zambrano, S., Villalobos-Daniel, V. E., Carreno, D. F., & Eisenbeck, N. (2021). How Having a Clear Why Can Help Us Cope With Almost Anything: Meaningful Well-Being and the COVID-19 Pandemic in México. Frontiers in Psychology, 1–10.
Sanchez-Ruiz, M.-J., Tadros, N., Khalaf, T., Ego, V., Eisenbeck, N., Carreno, D. F., & Nassar, E. (2021). Trait Emotional Intelligence and Wellbeing During the Pandemic: The Mediating Role of Meaning-Centered Coping. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, N.PAG.
Wąsowicz, G., Mizak, S., Krawiec, J., & Białaszek, W. (2021). Mental Health, Well-Being, and Psychological Flexibility in the Stressful Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, N.PAG.
Wong, P. T. P. (2020). Existential positive psychology and integrative meaning therapy. International Review of Psychiatry, 32(7–8), 565–578. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540261.2020.1814703