I started out my professional life as an environmental engineer but didn’t last long doing that. The work didn’t feel nearly deep enough and I still didn’t know how to make sense of a world paving over the planet with asphalt. Most of the productions of our culture, such as ads for chewing gum, remained bizarre to me. I was in a fair bit of emotional pain and I wanted a better way to understand what was going on.
I went back to school in 1990, with the idea that there are hidden psychological processes driving all this strange and destructive activity. Well, that turned out to be true. But in thinking about this I also became convinced that we need a less individualistic and more ecological way of understanding the psyche. The reality is that our interior lives do not just stand alone but are shaped by all of our relationships. These relationships include not only those within our family constellations but also all those material societal relationships governed by ongoing histories of oppression and colonialism within a capitalist world-system. We also live in relationship with all those other-than-human beings that we refer to as “nature,” even if this is experienced in our culture mostly indirectly, as a vague ache or sense of traumatic loss. A psychology committed to carefully elucidating and tending this whole complex, multi-dimensional field of interrelationships is what I came to call ecopsychology.
My studies complete, I came away in 1999 with a PhD in Environmental Studies and a couple of certificates to get me rolling as a psychotherapist. I had been in therapy myself for a number of years and had started practicing meditation and studying Buddhist psychology. With the goal of starting a private psychotherapy practice, I moved with my wife Jill Dunkley from Toronto to a little town in eastern Ontario called Perth. Among our reasons for moving here was our love for the rocky, forested, lake-filled land, where we hoped to build some close community, as well as a house. All these years later, we now live in our passive solar home in the vibrant community of Brooke Valley.
On the way here, I have been keeping up my work in ecopsychology. Among other activities, I published a number of scholarly and popular writings, began teaching an annual course on ecopsychology at the University of Vermont, and have been leading forest vigils with Jill. Now that I am relatively established in this neck of the woods, I want to roll out my efforts further still. I closed my therapy practice at the end of March 2020, which, as it happened, coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, I have been teaching on-line (e.g., Pacifica Graduate Institute's annual Certificate in Ecopsychology) and working on my next book. My first book, Radical Ecopsychology, was a scholarly work aimed at helping the field gain some serious intellectual and critical legs. For the new book, Ecopsychology as Politics, I want to preserve the seriousness but make it both accessible to a more popular audience and relevant to these fiery times.
In addition to my writing and teaching, I am now interested in more community-oriented forms of healing and learning designed for this shaky moment in history. I have been involved, for example, with the organizing committee for an Indigenous solidarity group, Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation. For me, the mission of ecopsychology is to cultivate a new kind of person: the psychologically, ecologically, and politically mature subject called for by our needful times. My plan now is to give myself over to this mission using a variety of pathways, aiming at both my local community and places further afield.