The impact of the Human-Nature relationship on wellbeing

Evidence from research into the relationship between human beings and nature points to enhanced wellbeing benefits. Learning about how these benefits come about is now essential if we are to ensure that interventions and experiences are good for the planet and people. In a recent study we interviewed a number of people who reported wellbeing benefits from being in nature in order to better understand the characteristics of their experience. This process of reflection led to the formulation of an essential psychological structure of the lived experience of the natural world. The lived experiences were explicated using a combination of phenomenological psychological methodology and relational psychoanalytic reflexivity. We found that participants experienced the human-nature relationship in similar terms to psychoanalytic concepts, and in particular, relational constructs based upon an understanding of the primacy of attachment relationships. Five main relationships emerged from the research
1. Nature was described as being similar to a nourishing primary attachment made during childhood and then perceived as nourishing,
2. Nature was experienced as a secure base which facilitated play and a sense of being home
3. People also described a sense of being at one with nature or a part of nature.
4. Nature was also experienced as containing in the sense that nature soothed emotions and feelings
5. Finally, nature was experienced as embodied in the sense that the experience was primarily sensory and emotional.
The paper, published in frontiers in psychology as part of a special edition on nature and wellbeing extends previous empirical descriptions of the human-nature relationship by incorporating psychoanalytic processes and theory into a theoretically informed qualitative methodological stance. The findings further demonstrate that a convergence between phenomenology and psychoanalysis might offer a richness of understanding human-nature relationships, a perspective not often attainable through more traditional quantitative research methodologies.

Research article:


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