Out of the Woods

People have an inherent need to be in contact with the out-of-doors.

By Paul Glanzrock, published on May 1, 1994 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

From the druids of the Celtic forests to the great tribes of American Indians, people have sought peace and wisdom by living according to the laws of Mother Nature. Unfortunately, this century will be remembered for unprecedented exploitation of nature--and widespread psychological disturbance of individuals.

No coincidence to Michael Cohen, Ed.D., pioneer of what he calls integrated ecology. A synthesis of ecology and psychology, integrated ecology proposes that both the destruction of the Earth's environment and people's deep feelings of isolation and dysfunction stem from a fundamental denial of our connection to nature. And by going into the woods we can get out of the woods.

Western civilization emphasizes only the faculties of sight, reason, and language, forcing most of us to suppress our natural senses--all 53 of them, by Cohen's reckoning. Among them: hunger, thirst, compassion, color, sex, and peace. With over 95 percent of our lives spent cloistered and indoors, human evils--cigarette smoking to greed to violence--naturally follow.

Cohen is not a lone hunter of the bond between man and nature. According to Pulitzer-Prize winning sociobiologist Edward 0. Wilson, Ph.D., of Harvard, people have an inherent biological need to be in contact with the out-of-doors. He calls it "biophilia," and believes that nature may hold the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction. Our childhood love of animals and natural myths and fairy tales may be early evidence of our basic affinity for nature and its instructive and healing properties.

Therapy by campfire? Cohen has devised therapeutic vacations that re-create many conditions of earlier hunting, gathering, and communal living. In The Humanistic Psychologist (Vol. 21, No. 3), he reports that while on these retreats, patients' personality and eating disorders subside, learning and other cognitive abilities improve, and violence and prejudice dissolve.

From his home base at the World Peace University in Roche Harbor, Washington (206-378-6313), Cohen runs Project NatureConnect, which offers workshops, training programs, and information about ecologically oriented therapeutic methods.

PHOTO: Trees