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ASEN review 'Nature in Mind: Systemic Thinking and Imagination in Ecopsychology and Mental Health' by Roger Duncan
Posted by : Avon Schools Eco Network

Ella from Avon School Eco-Network has written a review of 'Nature in Mind: Systemic Thinking and Imagination in Ecopsychology and Mental Health' by Roger Duncan



This book is a very interesting academic look at how our relationship to the natural world shapes our emotional states and wellbeing. The book reads a bit like an essay or academic paper and explores elements of psychology, anthropology and storytelling in unpicking countless angles of human relationships to ‘nature’, both internal and external. The book covers our indigenous heritage, wilderness experiences, the mind and nature, prescribed therapeutic experiences in nature, natural understandings of the mind, spiritual experiences and nature, patterns and ‘systems thinking’ in nature and reimagining human development in context of nature.




This was more academic than I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it, and it was very interestingly decolonial from an academic perspective, deconstructing the traditional exclusionary definition of academia. The book included wisdom and tested knowledge from cultures that were traditionally marginalised and seen as ‘lesser’ forms of intelligence, particularly (in this case) some Native American cultures. Instead of only favouring peer-reviewed studies and essays, the book included folk tales, religious and spiritual elements and diverse cultural beliefs. One thing I really loved was the model of human life mapped onto the seasons, and found it very interesting that childhood started in summer, when I'd always imagined it in spring, and how the symbolic resonances of the seasons changed. I also particularly enjoyed reading about the benefits of alternative nature-based schooling and pedagogy for neurodivergent young people or young people who have not got on well with the traditional Western school system.


All in all, I found this a wonderful, illuminating textbook which was not so much overtly a book on climate justice, but a narrative building the framework to re-orient humans in historically hegemonic Global North cultures towards working for a better and more interconnected future. While this book does not directly address climate change or climate justice, it explores how we interact with the world around us, which then lays the groundwork for climate and social justice by default. This book provides a solid and thought-provoking foundation for all people wanting to take climate action, similarly to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer-- another fantastic read.

Favourite quotes:


  • ‘Water, stories, the body, / all the things we do, are mediums / that hide and show what’s hidden. / Study them, and enjoy this being washed / with a secret we sometimes know, / and then not.’


Key takeaways:


  • Academic psychology and anthropology must be expanded to form a holistic, integrated image of humanity, and we as humans are often lacking in complete understanding– nature is bigger than us!
  • Thinking in systems, or the whole, greatly improves wellbeing.
  • There is much wisdom to be found in folk tales, spirituality and stories.
  • Connection to nature greatly improves wellbeing and our sense of personhood.


Recommended for:


  • Any students of psychology, anthropology or English
  • Educators
  • Therapists and counsellors
  • Anyone particularly interested in decolonial modes of thinking and approaching the world
  • Anyone interested in the relationship between humans and the natural world
  • Anyone who is interested in/participates in climate activism



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