Panel 14: Ecopsychology



Panel 14: Ecopsychology

Paradoxical Perspectives on Cultural Psychotherapy: What is a Cultural Intervention?

Chris Robertson, Climate Psychology Alliance (speaking on his own behalf)

Seldom addressed in COP21 were the underlying cultural and social dynamics that constrain people from acting in ways that fit their espoused values. This talk seeks to address these issues by looking at how psychotherapists are able to understand these cultural dynamics and complexes that may hinder environmental action (more).

Against Anthropocene and for the Ecocritical Psyche

Susan Rowland, Pacifica Graduate Institute

This paper seeks to shed light on the ecocritical psyche. Made possible through Jung’s psychoanalysis, it teaches that what we know of climate change remains open and receptive to epistemologies of intuition, embodied knowing, feeling, eros, connectivity and creativity, as well as the rational disciplines that dominate the scientific Anthropocene. Tackling climate change requires re-membering the humanities as necessary partner to rejuvenation (more).

On The Brink of Extinction

Jon Mills, Adler Graduate Professional School

Are we on the brink of human extinction?  This paper delves into the risks humanities faces, risks that primarily are due to our own actions. Acknowledging the interconnected planetary ecological crisis we have initiative that may precipitate such a collapse of civilization, this talk forces us to consider the real possibility of actions that could lead to our demise (more).

Q & A

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13 replies
  1. Chris Robertson says:

    Paradoxical Perspectives on Cultural Psychotherapy Context

    Hello conference participant!
    This presentation is a vignette of a much larger issue of our cultural malaise that includes cultural complexes such as that of the hero that still hold us in its grip despite having outlived its value. A much more current complex is the need for comfort that points to trans-generational or cultural trauma. For wider exploration of this context than I could encompass in this video, try for short papers the Well-being of Misfortune and Everything and Nothing at
    For comments and/or questions you can email me at

    • Rick Thomas says:

      Hi Chris,

      First off, very well made video, it was a pleasure to watch! I had two questions after viewing it and hearing the discussion of the need to develop a new collective perspective. What is it that got us in need for this intervention in the first place? Is it primarily the scope of the climate crisis and our inability to fathom such dire consequences or does it go back further than that to other cultural issues? Second, how would the intervention change (if at all) if, rather than we being confronted with denial not because the consequences are terrifying like you said, but denial for other reasons? I’m thinking of political/religious motivations, or perhaps denying because it is simply convenient to do so. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

      • Chris Robertson says:

        Hi Rick
        Thanks for your comments and questions. Yes to your inference in the first question that the climate crisis is a symptom of cultural malaise – something like a collective trauma of alienation that leads to dissociation and anxiety. There are different connectors on this from an ancient trauma of shifting from hunter-gather to farmers or more recent confrontation with our destructive powers in unleashing atomic weapons.
        On the second point, Sally Weintrobe ( has made the distinction between denial as a relatively unconscious defence as opposed to disavowal which is a knowing minimisation of reality – as you suggest for political or other motivations. Mitigation can come through working with such feelings as collective grief and attempting some reparation for the damage to which we may feel some responsibility.
        Do come back if I have not caught your question accurately.

  2. Jon Mills, Adler Graduate Professional School, Toronto says:

    Greetings to all. I am currently writing a book on the logical possibility, given our current state of world affairs, of the fate of civilization ending in mass human extinction, where there is a high probability of radical eradication of life on this planet as we know it. Climate change is one very important variable affecting futurity, but this is compounded by all the existential risks that threaten the acceleration of a collapse of the world including human societal infrastructures and ecological disasters affecting all life on an unprecedented scale in the history of the human race. There are so many interrelated and contingent topics and events that could push this risk to the tipping-point of environmental and human deracination, that I would welcome any dialogue on any aspects of my talk.

    Best regards, Jon Mills

  3. Susan Rowland, Pacifica Graduate Institute says:

    When you say that climate change is a symptom of cultural malaise, I am interested in your use of the word “symptom” and also the implicit hierarchy in the sentence. Surely some climate scientists would argue that cultural malaise is a symptom of climate change? Plus, “symptom” suggests a hegemony of the medical model of social/environmental transitions.
    My own work seeks to problematize disciplinary ontological and epistemological hierarchies. It seems to me that the Environmental Humanities is one place where a more “complexity” approach may be possible. After all, surely the conference is implicitly calling for a complexity evolution of disciplines?

    • Chris Robertson says:

      Hi Susan
      Yes fair question in terms of an implicit hierarchy. I very much appreciate your work and am sympathetic to what I understand as a complexity approach. Not sure that climate scientists would suggest the cultural issues were symptomatic but rather that there is a feedback loop between the atmosphere of our culture and that of the climate.
      Symptoms are not exclusive property of the medical model. In responding to Rick question, “does it go back further than that to other cultural issues?”, I want to prioritise where Psychotherapy puts its attention and agree that there are cultural issues to which we could attend – especially rather than to those issues that we so often attribute to the individual.

      • Susan Rowland, Pacifica Graduate Institute says:


        Thanks for getting back to me. On a related note I do like your reflection on the psychological unity we now have with machines rather than with nonhuman nature. Moreover, the term “shamanism” seems to be morphing rapidly into an implicitly nonwestern mode of being that can be used critically against the dominant culture. As you probably know, there has been a reaction to it in anthropology. But like you I see its value in revealing what is unacknowledged, unseen and even unconscious in our adoption of machines as part of a posthuman self. Fortunately, the world of the original shaman (of course a loaded term) has better models of human creaturely existence with the planet.

  4. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Hi all,
    Thanks very much for your presentations – such fascinating interconnections between your three talks.
    My own work looks at human mourning in response to the loss of botanical diversity – many of the people I’ve interviewed, who were born in the 1930s or 40s, have seen large-scale loss of habitat in their lifetimes.
    What are your thoughts on environmental mourning, and how environmentally sensitive people might cope with species loss?
    Best wishes
    John (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

    • Chris Robertson says:

      Hi John
      First thought is of Solastalgia -
      I think that a failure to adequately grieve blocks the heart – leads to melancholic longing for a past c.f. Renée Lertzman’s new book, Environmental Melancholia: Psychoanalytic Dimensions of Engagement
      Environmentally sensitive people makes me think of Borderlanders as in Jerome Bernstein’s work
      It would e great if we could have local grieving facilitators to give space and permission to the collective grief that so often has to piggy back on the grief expressed by individual clients.
      Good wishes for your new book

    • Jon Mills, Adler Graduate Professional School, Toronto says:

      John, I would wonder about the unconscious identification with nature as a form of psychic loss that intensifies the conscious sense of environmental mourning. For those who feel more of a profound or complicated mourning, it may also be tantamount to a form of melancholia, as grieving the loss of an internal object (or what nature, biodiversity, ecology, and so forth symbolizes or represents) in individuals or cultures heavily identified with what environmental sensibility means to them. In any event, best wishes on your continued work.

      Best, Jon

  5. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks very much for your reply – solastalgia is a wonderful articulation of environmental mourning or, as Glenn Albrecht describes it, a ‘homesickness when one is still at home’. And thanks for the reference to Renee Lertzman’s book Environmental Melancholia.

    I appreciate your idea of local grieving facilitators, those trained in recognizing and helping people cope with ecologically based grief. In some of the my interviews, I have seen how the opportunity to speak about feelings of solastalgia can be therapeutic in itself.

    With best regards, John

    • Susan Rowland, Pacifica Graduate Institute says:


      Do you know Jerome Bernstein’s book, Living in the Borderlands? It so excitingly sees environmental mourning in the context of persons who actually do hear nature’s distress – not to them a metaphor – but actual. And there is more in this book on environmental sickness too.

  6. John Ryan, University of Western Australia says:

    Hello Susan,

    Thanks very much for the reference – I will certainly look into Jerome Bernstein’s book.

    I just contributed a chapter to the forthcoming book ‘Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Loss & Grief’ with McGill-Queen’s University Press. I can send you details when they become available: Keep in touch!


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