psychoanalysis: a new pragmatic?

I’m reviewing Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos, for the journal Ecopsychology. In the first sentence of the preface, the author, Joseph Dodds, writes,

“…psychoanalysis is required to unmask the anxieties, deficits, conflicts, phantasies and defences crucial to understanding the human dimension of the ecological crisis…”

Quite frankly, I could not agree more. (And I am very flattered to be quoted so extensively; drawing on a blog I published years ago, perhaps worth revisiting again.) And yet, amongst the numerous debates, discussions and research findings concerning the “human dimensions” of our ecological crises – including the climate crisis looming ever on our horizon – rarely do we hear a word about psychoanalysis. Forget psychoanalysis – how about the role of the human unconscious. Amazingly, despite the brain power and brilliance being directed towards human dimensions (read: behavior and behavior change), we rarely hear a word about what may be arguably the most key levers and drivers in how humans have managed to generate, perpetuate, and escalate almost unthinkable damage to the planet’s ecosystems (and that includes us, folks).

This gap in the discourse puzzles me, as it does Dodds. (Report back here for the full review in a month or two.) And it’s not the first time it’s been noticed. Gradually, researchers, thinkers and even consultants with any sort of clinical bent are beginning to weigh in, none too soon. What a clinical perspective offers, and specifically a psychoanalytic one, to our enormously complex dilemmas is a nuanced appreciation of the nature of dilemmas themselves. For example, the work of Rosemary Randall in Cambridge UK has thankfully been gaining some traction in her astute observations that people 1) need social interactions to help promote systemic and lasting behavior change re: carbon, 2) loss and mourning are inherently part of the process of coming to terms with climate change and its impacts, like it or not, and 3) the more sensitive we can be to acknowledging where people really are (confused, conflicted, sad, angry, and so on) in our work as communicators, educators and advocates, the more effective we will be.

Unfortunately, psychoanalysis has for so long been ensconced in esoterica and associations of the bourgeoisie, that it seems to have virtually no traction or application in the board room, or any other room for that matter than the consulting room. I must say this is entirely false and is being revised, as leaders and practitioners begin to open their minds to new approaches and frameworks.  We have simply reached the limits of seeing behavior change as merely about switching incentives and creating more intense appeals. Behavior change, as we are seeing, is far more systemic and social, affective and unconscious.

In the coming blog posts, I will be outlining in more detail what this may look like; drawing from my book (The Myth of Apathy), I will begin to illustrate how certain concepts, insights and practices in psychoanalytic psychology can be the most pragmatic and skillful means for effective communications and outreach we have yet to find. In the meantime, you can review my blogs on Sustainable Life Media, where I have outlined some of these concepts (without ever using the P-word… see, it can be done!)

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