Go to:Introduction to the Instructor Resources
Psychology Subdisciplines:History and Systems
Since the 1970s, researchers have studied the link between environmental hazards and mental health (e. g., Shurley, 1979; Williams, Leyman, Karp, & Wilson, 1973). Urban stressors such as air pollution, noise, and crowding have been implicated as potential contributors to psychological distress such as depression and anxiety (e. g., Freeman, 1988; Lundberg, 1996). Toxic hazards such as pesticides and lead have been linked to physical and psychological health problems (e. g., Gallagher & Tierney, 1996). In a recent study inspired by work on environmental racism (in the form of the well-documented proximity between urban environmental hazards and residential neighborhoods of economically disadvantaged and minority populations), Downey and Van Willigen (2005) found support for a mediational model in which living near industrial areas predicted feelings of neighborhood disorder and personal powerlessness, which, in turn, predicted depression.
Traditionally, mental health has been understood as a phenomenon within an individual, or within the individual in a social context. Recently, ecopsychologically minded clinicians have expanded the discussion of mental health to include humans' ecological context and the relationship between an individual and nonhuman nature (e. g., White & Heerwagen, 1998). A fundamental hypothesis in ecopsychology is that living disconnected from our natural context (as we do in urban-industrial cultures) contributes to psychological distress such as depression and anxiety and to disorders such as schizophrenia. See Buzzell & Chalquist's (2009) edited volume, Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind for essays on therapeutic approaches based on theoretical ecopsychology. See the Ecopsychology page of this manual for more detail on this topic (Click " Ecopsychology" in the menu at the left).
" Wilderness therapy" is a term used to describe a variety of programs, some conducted by mental health professionals, some not. Some wilderness therapy programs (also known by the label " outdoor behavioral health") use wilderness settings basically as a soothing backdrop for traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques while others integrate wilderness skills and interaction as a part of the therapy itself. Wilderness therapy programs commonly involve intense wilderness experiences lasting a month or longer. Empirical research on outcomes is limited, but some studies report data on the rates of successful outcomes and explore aspect of wilderness therapy leads to positive outcomes (e. g., Russell, 2003, 2005; Russell & Phillips-Miller, 2002; Wilson & Lipsey, 2000). The primary client population for most wilderness therapy programs is at-risk adolescents (e. g., Banderoff & Scherer, 1994; Romi & Kohan, 2004). A second population is women, particularly those who have suffered abuse (Cole, Erdman, & Rothblum, 1994; McBride & Korell, 2005). Wilderness experience can be significant for women in ways it is less so for men because wilderness living represents a greater departure from the feminine gender role as it is socially constructed in our society than from the masculine gender role (Scott & Hoffman, 2003). In particular, women experience their bodies differently. " Masculine" bodies are well-suited for the rigors of wilderness adventure, but " feminine" bodies are supposed to be attractive, delicate, not-too-muscular, sweet-smelling, and groomed. Wilderness settings and outdoor challenges get women away from mirrors and billboards, requiring them to occupy their bodies instead of scrutinize them. Women report that these experiences inspire feelings of competence, confidence, and strength in contrast to the feelings of objectification and self-consciousness about appearance that pervade their lives in contemporary urban culture (Arnold, 1994). Any discussion of wilderness therapy should include the subject of ethics and standards of care. Some providers have formed the Outdoor Behavioral Health Industry Council in an effort to police quality in the industry, but many providers practice without oversight. For a riveting horror story about wilderness therapy by unqualified practitioners, see John Krakauer's (1995) article, " Loving them to Death" in Outside Magazine (available online here).
Students may be interested in research on the mental health benefits of companion animals. For example, Judith Siegel (1990, 1993; Siegel, Angulo, Detels, Welsch, & Mullen, 1999) has studied the beneficial role of companion animals in coping with stress and illness. (See Virué s-Ortega & Buela-Casal, 2006, for a review of literature on how and why interaction with nonhuman animals may have positive physiological effects on humans; see Parslow, Jorm, Christensen, Rodgers, & Jacomb, 2005, for a study on negative psychological health associated with pet ownership in older adults.) Aaron Katcher (2002; Katcher & Wilkins, 1998) has studied animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of children with developmental disorders, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct-disorder, and oppositional-defiant disorder. Animals included birds, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, ferrets, and small farm animals. Katcher suggests that observed increases in self-image, social competence, and cooperation, and decreases in aggression, result from a " liminal" state induced by interaction with animals. In other articles, Katcher (e. g., 2000; Beck & Katcher, 2003) discusses human-animal interaction more broadly and suggests that the effects of human-animal interaction will be best understood when researchers move beyond a medical model in the therapeutic context and consider human-animal interaction as one example of the broader biophilic benefits of humans' interaction with various forms of nonhuman nature such as plants, gardens, and wilderness. Note: Beck and Katcher (2003) appears in a special issue of American Behavioral Scientist featuring articles about human-animal interaction in illness prevention and therapy.
In recent years, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (e. g., 2000) have been the leaders of a " positive psychology" movement that redirects the focus away from what factors cause distress and disorders and toward factors that lead to life satisfaction, happiness, and well-being. As Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi describe,
If psychologists wish to improve the human condition, it is not enough to help those who suffer. The majority of “ normal” people also need examples and advice to reach a richer and more fulfilling existence. This is why early investigators [including William James, Carl Jung, Gordon Allport, and Abraham Maslow] were interested in exploring spiritual ecstasy, play, creativity, and peak experiences.
As described on the History & Systems page of this manual, both Carl Jung and William James wrote about the importance ofa nature connection for human wellness. A few contemporary scholars are also highlighting the role of the human-nature connection in positive psychology, with a particular emphasis on how wellness is associated with living a less materialistic and consumptive lifestyle. Raymond DeYoung, an associate professor of environmental psychology and conservation behavior in the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment, studies the personal benefits of engaging in " environmental stewardship" (Clay, 2001). According to DeYoung, the simplicity associated with living a more sustainable lifestyle is mentally restorative and increases time available for relationships and preferred activities. Eleanora Gullone's (2000) article in the first edition of the Journal of Happiness Studies focuses on the biophilia hypothesis and its relation to increasing mental health. In the second half of this article Gullone reviews research comparing mental health outcomes in industrialized and developing worlds that suggests advantages of the less industrialized lifestyle. Csikszentmihalyi (2003) contributed a chapter on materialism to Tim Kasser and Alan Kanner's edited volume, Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world. Kasser (2004) has a chapter on materialism in Linley and Joseph's Positive psychology in practice.CLASS ACTIVITIES
Psychologists who have studied consumerism and materialism have generally found that a materialistic values orientation is negatively correlated with subjective well-being (e.g., Kasser, Ryan, Couchman, & Sheldon, 2003; Wright & Larsen, 1993). Individuals who focus on image, status, money, and possessions tend to report lower self esteem, poorer quality relationships, and less life satisfaction overall. Many college students are in the process of setting goals in pursuit of a satisfying life. They are in a prime position to empirically examine the adage that "money can't buy happiness" and discuss their findings as they relate to a sustainable future. Belk (1985) and Richins and Dawson (1992) are sources for scales to measure materialism. There are many measures of subjective well-being that students could use. Students should collect data from a sample older than traditional college age.
Ask students who have had experiences camping or living in wilderness or near-wilderness areas to describe their subjective experience. Our students report a variety of positive effects including feeling less stressed, being more tuned in to their surroundings, feeling content with few material possessions, and experiencing a closer sense of community among the group. They also report a culture shock when returning to the urban context characterized by feeling overstimulated, harried, overwhelmed by their possessions, and disconnected from the people around them.MULTIMEDIA RESOURCES
This hour-long film describes materialism as a disease "that is having a devastating impact on our families, communities, and the environment. We have more stuff, but less time, and our quality of life seems to be deteriorating." Click here for a description of the film on the Bullfrog Films website.
For information on wilderness therapy/outdoor behavioral healthcare, see the following sites:
Koger, S. M., & Winter, D. D. (2010). Health and the psychology of environmental stress. In The psychology of environmental problems: Psychology for sustainability (3rd ed.) (pp. 227-260) New York: Taylor & Francis Group
Arnold, S. C. (1994). Transforming body image through women's wilderness experiences. Women & Therapy , 15, 43-54.
Banderoff, S., & Scherer. D. (1994). Wilderness family therapy: An innovative treatment approach for problem youth. Journal of Child & Family Studies , 175-191.
Beck, A. & Katcher, A. H. (2003). Future directions in human-animal bond research. The American Behavioral Scientist, 47, 79-93.
Belk, R. W. (1985). Materialism: Trait aspects of living in the material world. Journal of Consumer Research, 12, 265-280.
Buzzel, L. & Chalquist, C. (Eds., 2009). Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Clay, R. (2001). Many approaches to being green. Monitor on Psychology, 32(4).
Cole, E., Erdman, E., & Rothblum, E. (Eds.) (1994). Wilderness therapy for women: The power of adventure (simultaneously published as a special issue of the journal Women & Therapy, 15). New York: Haworth Press.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2003). Materialism and the evolution of consiousness. In T. Kasser & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world (pp. 91-106). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Downey, L., & Van Willigen, M. (2005). Environmental stressors: The mental health impacts of living near industrial activity. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46, 289-305.
Freeman, H. L. (1988). Psychiatric aspects of environmental stress. British Journal of Psychiatry, 17(3), 12-23.
Gallagher, A. G., & Tierney, K. (1996). The impact of the environment on physical and mental health. Irish Journal of Psychology , 17, 361-372.
Gullone, E. (2000). The biophilia hypothesis and life in the 21st century: Increasing mental health or increasing pathology. Journal of Happiness Studies , 293-321.
Kasser, T. (2004). The good life or the goods life? Positive psychology and personal well-being in the culture of consumption. In P. A. Linley& S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (pp. 55-67). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Kasser, T., Ryan, R. M., Couchman, C. E., & Sheldon, K. M. (2003). Materialistic values: Their causes and consequences. In T. Kasser & A. D. Kanner (Eds.), Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world (pp. 11-28). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Katcher, A. (2000). The future of education and research on the animal-human bond and animal-assisted therapy: Part B: Animal-assisted therapy and the study of human-animal relationships: Discipline or bondage? Context or transitional object. In A. H. Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice (pp. 461-473). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Katcher, A. H. (2002). Animals in therapeutic education: Guides into the liminal state. In P. H. Kahn, Jr.& S. R. Kellert (Eds). Children and nature: Psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations (pp. 179-198). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Katcher, A., & Wilkins, G. (1998). Animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of disruptive behavior disorders. In A. Lundberg (Ed.), The environment and mental health (pp. 193-204). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Koger, S. M., & Winter, D. D. (2010). Health and the psychology of environmental stress. In The Psychology of Environmental Problems: Psychology for sustainability (3rd ed.) (pp. 227-260) New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
Krakauer, J. (1995, October). Loving them to death. Outside Magazine.
Lundberg, A. (1996). Psychiatric aspects of air pollution. Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery, 114, 227-231.
McBride, D. L., & Korell, G. (2005). Wilderness therapy for abused women. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 39, 3-14.
Parslow, R. A., Jorm, A. F., Christensen, H., Rodgers, B., & Jacomb, P. (2005). Pet ownership and health in older adults: Findings from a survey of 2,551 community based Australians aged 60-64. Gerontology, 51, 40-47.
Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. (1992). A consumer values orientation for materialism and its measurement: Scale development and validation. Journal of Consumer Research , 19, 303-316.
Romi, S., & Kohan, E. (2004). Wilderness programs: Principles, possibilities and opportunities for intervention with dropout adolescents. Child and Youth Care Forum, 33, 115-136.
Russell, K. C. (2003). An assessment of outcomes in outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment. Child and Youth Care Forum , 32, 355-381.
Russell, K. C. (2005). Two years later: A qualitative assessment of youth well-being and the role of aftercare in outdoor behavioral health treatment.Child and Youth Care Forum, 34, 209-239.
Russell, K. C., & Phillips-Miller, D. (2002). Perspectives on the wilderness therapy process and its relation to outcome. Child and Youth Care Forum , 31, 415-437.
Scott, B. A., & Hoffman, S. M. (2003). Woodswomen and "Super Studs": Gender issues in an Northwoods environmental studies program. In H. Crimmel (Eds.), Teaching in the field: Working with students in the outdoor classroom. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press.
Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
Shurley, J. T. (1979). Relating environment to mental health and illness: The ecopsychiatric database (Rep. No. 16). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association Task Force.
Siegel, J. M. (1990). Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology , 58, 1081-1086.
Siegel, J. M. (1993). Companion animals: In sickness and in health. Journal of Social Issues , 49, 157-167.
Siegel, J. M., Angulo, F. J., Detels, R., Wesch, J., & Mullen, A. (1999). AIDS diagnosis and depression in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study: The ameliorating impact of per ownership. AIDS Care , 11, 157-170.
Virués-Ortega, J., & Buela-Casal, G. (2006). Psychophysiological effects of human-animal interaction: Theoretical issues and long-term interaction effects. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(1), 52-57.
White, R., & Heerwagen, J. (1998). Nature and mental health: Biophilia and biophobia.In A. Lundberg (Ed.), The environment and mental health: A guide for clinicians (pp. 175-192). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Williams, J. S., Leyman, E., Karp, S. A., & Wilson, P. T. (1973). Environmental pollution and mental health. Washington, DC: Information Resources Press.
Wilson, S., & Lipsey, M. (2000). Wilderness challenge programs for delinquent youth: A meta-analysis of outcome evaluations. Evaluation and Program Planning, 23, 1-12.
Wright, N. D., & Larsen, V. (1993). Materialism and life satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Disatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior, 158-165.