Activists, burnout and eco-therapy

Environmental action was a key factor in my becoming a therapist so I’m pleased to be part of an event about psychotherapy and activism. The event organizers have come up with a few questions to kick off discussion.

‘Where does a desire for social change come from?

It can grow from all kinds of roots. I’ve met activists who seem to be working through some personal anger or issues with authority that have little to do with positive social change. But they are a minority and most are driven by passion and love. If you’re fully engaged with the world, a desire for social change is inevitable. Arne Naess, the founder of Deep Ecology, wrote:

“… care flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that protection of free nature is felt and conceived of as protection of our very selves” (1988).

protest site dwelling

At home on a protest site

How can we be active in the outer world without burning out or hurting our inner worlds and vice versa?

How separate are ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds? I’ve often argued that inner and outer are intimately intertwined. If that’s so, then whatever goes on ‘inside’ must effect the ‘outside’ and visa versa. Gregory Bateson explores the ramifications of this interplay. Lake Erie is part of our “wider eco-metal system”, so if we pollute the Lake, we pollute our own minds (1972). The flip side is that if we live in a comparatively healthy environment – like a wood we’re protecting – the ‘outer’ supports the ‘inner’. I’ve often written about this here and elsewhere.

Can reflecting on this make any difference to the effectiveness of our engagement with the injustices and inequalities of the worlds we inhabit?

Yes, of course, but the real question is how can it make a difference? This topic hasn’t been discussed nearly enough and I hope this event can get the debate moving on. It’s in London on Nov 9th. Full details are on my website.

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