Why We Needed Waking Up
The current crisis is a chance for us all to rethink our values. Earth Day, which has its 50th anniversary today, reminds us to include our relationship with the planet. Taking a holistic perspective, psychotherapist, ecotherapist and lecturer Dr Joe Hinds explains why we need to rediscover community and our environment, and calls on therapists to ensure we don’t let empathy become a myopic activity confined to the consulting room
Wisdom is derived from life experience and the openness to learn from these experiences. We often talk about things as if we know them: we are good at conceptual understanding, perhaps less so at enacting an empathic position. The German language provides two different words for knowing: Wissen, which is a cognitive or intellectual form, stands in contrast to Verständnis, which speaks of an empathic or insightful understanding.
It is only really when we have personally encountered something akin to trauma and change that we can begin to understand. Perhaps what the client brings to therapy – isolation from the world, fear of uncertainty, living in a structureless and a radically changed way of living – may resonate with us more strongly as we share these experiences simultaneously. As our clinical work becomes increasingly important, I wonder whether we are also doing all we can to actively embrace those characteristics of practice outside the therapy room – or are we only empathic in the session?
The current crisis may present an opportunity to level a very uneven playing field. It is in times like these that we understand that delivery drivers, refuse collectors, cleaners, care staff, teachers, supermarket workers and many others have as much importance as those that are in law, finance, and entertainment. For instance, Boris Johnson may wish to reconsider the value placed on healthcare (including our own profession) and the NHS given his recent near-death experience and the wages paid, for instance, to a band 5 Nurse with 5-years experience. As therapists, we may be considering lowering our fees to accommodate those that typically have been undervalued and underpaid.
The global health scare is an opportunity to revalue our myopic lives and rethink the values we place on our relationships – and not just those who we are close to. To survive, we need to rediscover community and our environment. Perhaps we needed waking up. Some people already understand the need to slow down and follow a more natural pace of life – and perhaps we are now developing an understanding (Verständnis) of the need to be outside. Alongside the consideration of all people, we may also begin to consider the other-than-human.
It has been argued that we live in an age of rampant narcissism and a culture of admiring and worshiping the idolatry of celebrity. This modern world is far removed from the one that humankind evolved in and, as a collective, we are increasingly signalling our dissatisfaction and alienation from it. Not only are we affected by all manner of interpersonal, work and social based pressures – particularly those who are living in deprivation (intellectual, financial, health and community) – but those synthetic environments in which we work and live contribute to the overall sickness as well.
As zoologist E O Wilson proposed in his 1984 classic, Biophilia, humans are naturally inclined to connect with other forms of life:
‘People can grow up with the outward appearance of normality in an environment largely stripped of plants and animals, in the same way that passable looking monkeys can be raised in laboratory cages… asked if they were happy, these people would probably say yes. Yet something vitally important would be missing, not merely the knowledge and pleasure that can be imagined and might have been, but a wide array of experiences that the human brain is peculiarly equipped to receive.’
This is a time for us all – therapists very much included – to reacquaint ourselves with what is morally and humanely important. While we stare into the yawning mouth of a global crisis, we become more aware of the beauty of the world and its sustaining qualities. As therapists, as human beings, our selfcare depends on the care of the other – there is no difference.