Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do Environmentalists need Shrinks? Here is my answer

There has been an article kicking around on the internet  called Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks. The article talks about a theory and subsequent research by  John Fraser, a psychologist, architect, and educator with the Institute for Learning Innovation, who thinks that environmentalists may be suffering an emotional toll from their strong beliefs and concerns for the planet.

"We're asking people to accept that something they have always believed is their passion is also something that's hurting them," Fraser was quoted as saying.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to the article when I first read it.

But I've been feeling pretty stressed lately so I went out early this morning to take a walk. The sounds and sights of nature were just starting to unfurl the tight ball of tension inside me and clear all the conflicting "racket" and to-do tasks out of my mind when two female joggers came up behind me on the other side of the street.

Since they were running and I was walking, I only heard a few tiny bits of their conversation, but it was enough to take away my peace again.

I'm not sure what the topic at hand was, but one woman was telling the other one "I just pour the gasoline onto the ground and burn it until it is all gone and then keep repeating it."

For some reason, I assumed she was talking about ways to remove grass from her yard to create a garden. But she may have just as easily been talking about ways to get rid of old gasoline or kill insects.

In any case, my immediate reaction was that I wanted to pick up my pace, jog after them, and lecture them about Stormwater runoff, non-point source pollution and every human's responsiblity to keep chemicals out of our water supplies. The peace that I had just started to feel again after weeks of tension, was gone.

The article about Fraser's theory  immediately came to mind.

I thought about other times that I have driven after people who were throwing trash out their car windows, honking and waving my finger. I thought about the times that I have called government agencies and reported people for chopping down trees that they shouldn't. And I realized that there is some truth to what Fraser said.

But here is the bottom line and the answer to the question Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks . For me, nature is my shrink. It is the one place where I can go to unwind and de-stress  and get away from all of the other tensions in the world. So I DO need my shrink. And I need everyone else to quit abusing her.


  1. Great post, and I couldn't agree more. I have been trying for months now to get a job back in the environmental field after a sabbatical and when I do, I will probably need the ultimate shrink more than ever. Great perspective!

  2. Agreed, nature IS a good shrink. Sometimes, though, there's just not enough hours in the day to get out into nature to unwind!

    That being said, I'm a strong advocate of getting help around managing any emotional challenge. John Fraser's article really resonated with me, especially given my near-PTSD reactions to mountaintop removal, whale hunting, climate change deniers… well, shoot, just about all of it. While I don't want to temper my passion for environmental advocacy, I believe it is important for all stewards of nature to have the ability to work on and speak about the issues from a scientific aspect rather than an emotional one, in order to maintain credibility. For me, that means having a "toolbox" of stress management techniques and communication skills. Seeing a professional therapist is a great way to obtain (or hone) those skills.

    Besides, who else is gonna willingly listen to me talk about myself for a whole 50 minutes??


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