Yes, some environmentalists “need shrinks” – but we need bigger vision here

This is a much needed acknowledgment of the emotional dimensions of these issues, and how much support those on the front line are needing.

However, it is vital we think very carefully, critically and creatively about what it would mean to incorporate emotional support into different contexts. Providing psychological, emotional support does not equal therapy or needing a shrink. (That may be the case but it’s a very limited view.) Rather what I’ve been advocating in my work is suggest that we all need this form of support, and one of the most important ways to do so is to create space and acknowledgment in our classrooms, our organizations, our communications, our outreach and engagement practices and strategies, our public information campaigns. We knock people over the head about energy efficiency, threats, disappearing creatures, devastation, etc, but until we can appreciate the confusion, overwhelm, potential sadness, grief and mourning that may be unresolved or even unconscious, we are going to keep circling around. We will fail to engage people.

Reducing this topic to “needing a shrink” reinforces our outmoded stereotypes about psychology and is actually dismissive. (Environmental activists have a long history of deriding psychological work as not being action or solutions oriented enough, elite, etc). We are starting to see however this work is highly practical and presents powerful tools we can all be leveraging in our work.

The “traction” we all need and talk about is rooted in emotional engagement. This is what underlies the talk about ‘values’ and ‘identity’ and ‘framing.’ We must look to where the real conflicts and dilemmas and emotional messiness is. We need to enlist and partner with psychological professionals and practitioners to help guide us in this work.

Environmental work is heavy stuff and we need to develop better emotional and psychological resources and tools. We do not need to be afraid of looking at this stuff; rather it is what will make our work stronger and more effective. I can guarantee that.

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