Terrapsychological Beginnings

by Craig Chalquist, PhD


It Began with a Dream

“My name is San Diego”―so said the feminine figure whose frown recalled that of the Bay near which I, Craig Chalquist, had grown up. Witch-like San Diego, with her Mission Bay eyes, Point Loma nose, North Island lower lip, and air of defense, was speaking to me in my dreams. It was the year 2000, and I was a graduate student of depth psychology with no dream theory to explain this visitation. 


Depth Psychology

Depth psychology started when Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, and, later, C. G. Jung, Toni Wolfe, and others learned that dreams and psychological symptoms could be interpreted as a kind of speech of the unconscious mind.

But in this paradigm, dream symbols stand for aspects of ourselves, or for the psyche as a whole. But what about what the land has to say? What about the voices of the things of the world that show up not only in our dreams, but art, fantasy, fiction, and other media of communication? All just about us? Or about the speech of the world?


I began studying ecopsychology because of its premise that human health depends on the ecological health of our ecosystems. Its Systems Theory component felt congenial to my Family Therapy training: we are not just isolated egos, but intimately and complexly woven together. Ecotherapy gives us uninvasive but powerful practices for consciously interacting with plants and animals, soils and elements.

But how could physical, material, and supposedly inanimate places show up in my dreams (as they kept doing) to share accurate imagery of what had disturbed them ecologically? I soon learned that Matt Cochran and Lali Mitchell were asking similar questions. And the circle of the curious grew.

Sacred Stories

As a student of folklore, including mythology, I knew of indigenous tales in which attentive people were addressed not only by animals but by rivers, mountains, and valleys. Western folktales told of willful objects having their way with us. Could any of this offer clues to help me understand my increasing sensitivity to places, their creatures, lively currents of sea and sky? 


“The Environment” is You!

Terrapsychology began as an inquiry into our deep and usually unconscious relations to the places where we come from, work in, or call home. These relations operate not so much causally as symbolically: full streams and abundant feelings, clear roads and congruent conversations. Part of our psyche is outside of us, as the alchemists of old used to say about the soul. It’s in tune with what’s going on. 

When we know how connected we are to our surroundings, we care about them more. Also, the world stops being a desert of dead objects and instead changes into a theater of reenchantment.

We are addressed by places and things, by insects and animals, by weather and water, by the living world itself. How will we choose to respond?

For more of the story, see “What Is Terrapsychology?”