A few weeks ago I was invited to join a new global initiative. It’s goals are to explore why those leading responses to ecological crises haven’t got round to asking psychologists for their input. And similarly why, despite some significant exceptions, so few psychologists and therapists seem professionally engaged with ecological issues.
It is extremely odd, given the socio-cultural nature of these crises, that psychology isn’t a first port of call for those tasked to lead change. This is especially alarming in a context that's being labelled as an “existential” threat to humanity. After all, it’s who we think we are - our identity - that forms the bedrock for individual and collective behaviour. Why haven’t leaders asked psychologists to get involved?
Is it fear of psychology as something mysterious and manipulative that stands in the way? Or perhaps a belief that the crises we face are technological problems that don’t require psychological or psychosocial insights?
Or is it because psychologists of all types have themselves been slow to engage with ecological issues? Why do the psychological professions continue to largely ignore the world collapsing around them and their clients? Does the profession itself find the idea of working with social and ecological issues too challenging? Or maybe it’s that psychology considers itself a science in the Enlightenment tradition – one based on separation, rather than on the relationships that actually reveal our true ecological identities. As renowned neurobiologist Dan Siegel puts it, “as long as we define self as a singular noun, the planet is cooked.”
Whatever the reason, there’s definitely controversy about bringing ecological issues to therapy. Is it professional to engage with more-than-human relationships in a therapeutic context? Is it acceptable for social and ecological issues to come into the therapeutic process? I have witnessed a lot of strong opinions about these kinds of questions, in both directions.
The new initiative called Globe and Psyche, “GaP” (a nod to the London Underground's ironic philosophical insight into contemporary disconnection “Mind... the Gap”), has been convened by Mark Skelding who has already brought together quite a community worldwide.
GaP’s first action is to raise awareness of the missing potential of their profession through a public letter from “psychological, psychosocial and psychospiritual professionals”. The letter will be launched as part of the Global Week of Climate Action. Linking this to action is important and the initiative's hope is to bring fresh conversations around several central questions to the heart of the psychological professions.
The longer-term goal is to provide some much-needed connective tissue to the many diverse efforts to engage psychology with ecology. Ultimately the project hopes to knock on the door of power. It seeks to bring psychology’s formidable and varied understandings of change, along with its powerful array of tools for transformation, to bear on the primary challenges of our epoch.
Who could refuse such an invitation?