ECOPSYCHOLOGY: THE BIRTH OF A NEW PROFESSION
BY THEODORE ROSZAK
In the post-Earth Summit era it is becoming clear that the environmental movement will have to find a new way forward if it is to achieve its ambitious agenda for change. The Earth Summit succeeded in clearly establishing one fact; We are all-literally all-in one planetary boat. The living standard of the rich has been maintained largely off natural resources, labor, and the unwilling compliance of the poor. Now the poor demand their share, and we see that there is no benefit the rich nations enjoy that the poor nations cannot deny them or destroy by the reckless "development" of their resources.
Unique in human affairs, environmentalism is a movement whose audience is a Global Symposium of the Whole; it must address itself to all people, must persuade all listeners. There is no society one environmentalists can afford not to be on speaking terms with, from the bureaucrats in suits who make far-reaching decisions in the metropolitain centres to the earth's indigenous peoples. Needless to add, the dialogue must even (especially ?) include the nonhuman realm that now is making its ethical and empathic claim. Yet, despite the scope and urgency of the crisis,
the movement's familiar rhetoric of shock-and-shame shows signs of being less and less productive. "Green guilt" has lost its ethical sting: in its place is a growing anti-environmental backlash in the developed countries that identifies ecologists as bullying prophets of doom.
It is time for the movement to draw up a psychological impact statement. It must find a way to connect with what is generous, joyous, freely given, and noble in people everywhere and at all levels. It must touch that ecological depth of the human personality that is reborn to us in the spontaneous experience of children, in the great art of all ages, in the lore of indigenous people.
But where is the movement to turn to find the new psychological paradigm it needs ? The psychiatric mainstream of contemporary society has little to teach us about our place in the natural environment, it is as alienated from the living planet as the est of our society. Its role for generations has been to soothe the anguish of the urban-industrial psyche.
Psychology needs ecology; ecology needs psychology. From this partnership a new profession can be born: an ecopsychology that combines the sensitivity of the therapist with the expertise of the ecologist. The value of such a new body of professionals reaches well beyond individual healing. Just as past therapies have achieved wide-ranging, cultural influence by redefining the roles that sexuality, aggression, family ties, and spiritual alienation have in human nature, ecopsychology, too, has a greater cultural task: to redefine the relationship of the natural environment to sanity in our time. The political implications of such a trans-valuation of human nature should be clear.
A likely first step toward this goal might be to issue a call for the creation of a new profession. The call itself would dramatize the idea and the need; and there is good reason to believe that it would be heeded. A rising generation of therapists is seeking new directions for its ethical energies. Many Freudians, Jungians, Gestaltists, Transpersonalists, and Humanists are ready to reexamine their schools in search of a task that binds them to something greater than ethnocentric social forms and the usual repertory of modern, Western values. There are indications that many now wish to speak for the planet, for its imperiled species, for primary people, for the long lost Anima Mundi. Psychiatry has grown by constantly expanding its context; it has reached beyond the intrapsychic mechanisms to the family, the society, the workplace, the culture. The planetary environment would seem to be the largest of all imaginable contexts for the healing of the soul, especially if one finds within that context intimations of the sacred. Similarly, there are environmentalists who want to present a different face to the world audience than that of scolding puritans and scowling ideologues.
Implicit in this project is the need for a scientific paradigm that gives life and mind a new central status in the universe. Building that paradigm as part of an ecopsychology would make the effort more than a merely academic exercise; it would become part of a practical healing mission.
Issuing a call for such a new profession is concrete, specific, timely, and deeply imaginative. Its object is to heal both the psyche and planet as a single, continuous project.
The Voice of the Earth
Simon Schuster 1992
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Last Updated: December 26, 2001