The Practical Task:

To Develop Therapeutic and Recollective Practices Towards an Ecological Society

The immeasurable losses we are experiencing are the pivotal psychological reality of our time.

Our emotional responses to this are appropriately complex, yet precisely because it is so collective and great we face an additional difficulty: the tendency to deny or repress this pain. Although it is understandable that we cut ourselves off from our painful feelings, by doing so we deprive ourselves of the energy and direction our emotions might lend us towards taking creative political action. By staying numb we stay stuck.

Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology 1

Broadly speaking, the practical task of ecopsychology is to develop (or reclaim from the past) psychologically informed practices aimed at creating a life celebrating society, including practices which have a supportive or therapeutic function and those which play a recollective role – activities which are designed to help us remember how our human psyches are embedded in and nurtured by the larger psyche of nature.

The need for such practices is clear. In the same way in which the impact on the environment of our current profoundly consumptive economic model is dismissed as a mere “externality”, mainstream psychology does not take adequate account of the impact which the destructive behaviours sanctioned by this model and witnessed by us every day of our lives, have on our psyches. We are split off from the part of of ourselves which experience this “pain for the world” and because these harmful patterns have become largely normalised in our society, it is very difficult to encounter appropriate situations in which to really reflect on these dimensions of our existence. “We may know intellectually that we are in desperate straights, but emotionally we are unconnected to this knowledge. An aura of unreality hangs over the whole thing… We are dealing with a vast psychological problem, a planetary clinical picture of flattened affect, yet psychology offers little in the way of assistance.”2

In response to this unhealthy situation, some ecopsychologists are now exploring how the ecology movement may be organising, educating and agitating with little regard for the fragile psychological complexities of the hearts and minds of the public it seeks to win. Theodore Roszak is unequivocal is his view that environmentalists “work from a narrow range of emotions – the statistics of impending disaster, the coercive emotional force of fear and guilt… they overlook the unreason, the perversity, the sick desire that lies at the core of the psyche.”3 Joanna Macy suggests that the grim information held up by activists “by itself can increase resistance, deepening a sense of apathy and powerlessness”.4 On this basis, environmentalists have a responsibility to provide support for the anxiety that accompanies the perception of upheaval and wounded ecosystems. In this way the environmental profession becomes a healing profession.Therefore, an important dimension of the practical task of ecopsychology is to “acquaint the environmental movement with a subtler, more sensitive psychological approach to the public it seeks to win over to it’s cause.”6

References

  1. Fisher, A. (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. New York, Albany: SUNY Press. pp.14-15.
  2. Melamed, M. (1984) “Reclaiming the Power to Act” in Therapy Now p.9.
  3. Roszak, T. (1995) “The Greening of Psychology: Exploring the Ecological Unconscious” in The Gestalt Journal, 18.1. pp.9-46.
  4. Macy, J. (1983) Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: New Society. p.xiii. 
  5. Thomashow, M. (1995) Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. pp.144,151.
  6. Roszak, T. (1994) “The Greening of Psychology” in The Ecopsychology Newsletter, 1. p.1.

Notes from a journey towards ecological consciousness