Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, & Ecopsychology


Frequently Asked Questions

We asked our faculty to respond to some of the questions that prospective students are asking us. You will hear the faculty's different voices in the responses below. We understand these responses as starting points only, and look forward to the answers you will forge through your studies.

1. In the course descriptions I see the term "critical community psychology." What is critical community psychology?
Community psychology emerged from clinical psychology in the mid-1960's, studying the individual in a wider societal context than afforded by individualistically oriented mental health models. Its research and practice has aimed at enhancing the quality of life for individuals, families and communities.

Critical community psychology moves this discipline further by embracing values of social justice, emancipatory praxis, empowerment, and inclusion of people who have been marginalized by hegemonic structures in society. It challenges epistemologies, ideologies, and worldviews—including those of mainstream psychology--to reflect on how these perpetuate conditions of injustice and oppression. Critical community psychologists work with communities to legitimize popular knowledge, generate new, inclusive knowledge, develop innovative paradigms, and envision radical transformative praxis. In authentic collaboration with local people and the places they inhabit, critical community psychologists co-construct knowledge, imagine new possibilities, and work to implement and evaluate such possibilities to promote social change and individual and community health. Critical community psychology is of necessity multi-disciplinary. Its practice is based on critical reflection and action that transforms the structures and policies that reproduce inequity, rather than purely ameliorative actions.

2. What is liberation psychology?
Liberation psychology is an orientation that seeks to develop and encourage local understandings and practices that can support people's desires and actions to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. Liberation psychology was first articulated as such in the 1980's by Ignacio Martín-Baró, a Spanish born Jesuit and social psychologist working in El Salvador. Martín-Baró envisioned a psychology that would acknowledge the psychological and community wounding caused by war, racism, poverty, and violence; a psychology that would support historical memory and critical reflection; and a psychology that would aid the emergence of the sorts of subjectivity through which people felt they could creatively make sense of and respond to the world. What we reach for, according to Martín-Baró, "is an opening—an opening against all closure, flexibility against everything fixed, elasticity against rigidity, a readiness to act against all stagnation" (p. 183). Who we are in the present contains a kernel of something ideal in the future: "hunger for change, affirmation of what is new, life in hope" (p. 183). Psychology should be able to support this opening and to learn from those who are already doing so.

Martín-Baró argued that by considering psychological problems as primarily
individual, "psychology has often contributed to obscuring the relationship
between personal estrangement and social oppression, presenting the pathology of persons as if it were something removed from history and society, and behavioral disorders as if they played themselves out entirely in the individual plane" (p. 27). Instead, liberation psychology should illuminate the links between an individual's psychological suffering and well-being and the social, economic, political, and ecological contexts in which he or she lives.

While liberation psychology is most strongly established in Latin America, Martín-Baró's work has become a rallying call to psychologists and cultural workers on all continents to place into conversation their theories and liberatory practices.

3. What is ecopsychology?
In 1992 Theodore Roszak coined the term "ecopsychology" in his book The Voice of the Earth. Two of ecopsychology's central goals are to heal the alienation of people from the natural environment and to examine and transform human modes of thinking and behaving that lead to the imperilment of ecosystems. Ecopsychology has also served as a corrective to psychology's relative neglect of the impact of built and natural environments on the human psyche and on communities. It strives to understand the interdependence between humans and built and natural environments. Since the well-being of humans and the natural world are inextricably connected, ecopsychologists are critically needed to heal human/nature divides, creating pathways for human/nature/animal relations, as well as working to create the increased awareness that is a necessary step to the restoration of habitats and the creation of built and natural environments that are sustainable.

4. Why is the Depth Psychology Program combining in a single specialization depth psychology with community psychology, liberation psychology, and ecopsychology? We believe that a paradigm of interdependence is necessary to meaningfully address the psychological, social, political, and ecological challenges we face. We need a psychology where the Other is as important a term as the Self, where the liberation of self is co-dependent on the liberation of others. Once we begin to understand that psychological well-being and suffering are intimately related to familial, community, intercommunity and ecological well-being and suffering, we can begin to forge efforts of creative restoration at multiple levels of organization. To place these approaches into dynamic conversation with one another is to forge a holistic or systems perspective to depth psychological studies and practices. In bringing these areas of study together we are purposively linking the psychodynamics of individuals with eco- and sociodynamics, underlining the important impact of the sociocultural and built and natural environments on psyche.

Depth psychology's dedication to and valuing of the importance of the imaginal–as it appears through image, dream, symbol, story, myth, and ritual—reminds us of our potential as human beings to create in the face of the limitations that are imposed on us. In addition, depth psychology provides a language of working through defenses and acknowledging denial that helps us to understand resistance to needed transformations. Transformative change toward justice, embodied democracy, peacebuilding, and environmental sustainability requires engagement with a range of understandings from intrapsychic dynamics to policy creation.
To connect depth psychology with community, liberation, and ecopsychologies is to understand the necessity for critical dialogue on multiple levels of engagement: intrapsychic, interpersonal, community, inter-community, and with the environment.

Martín-Baró who first coined the term "liberation psychology" developed a radical proposal: to transform and humanize repressive or failing human institutions, all of the people who participate in them must also be transformed and humanized through participatory dialogue and creative imagination about alternatives. Such praxis nurtures individuals' dreaming, while creating together, what Paulo Freire described as "a world in which it will be easier to love" (Freire, 1989, p. 24). Our hope is that our studies together in these interrelated areas will help us develop the insight and skills to help create such a world.

5.How do the study and practice of critical community and liberation psychologies position us in our work differently from mainstream psychologies?
We are aware that psychology can be used in a culturally invasive and disrespectful manner, reducing others' experiences to terms derived from our own cultural location and theoretical perspectives. Instead, we want to learn alongside others and enter into dialogue with them. While we may offer what we know that could be of use, we are interested in and respect what others know, trusting that we can learn from it. We desire our scholarship and research to be accomplished with others and to be used first for the benefit of the community we are working with.

"The role of the psychologist may be that of a convener, a witness, a co-participant, a mirror, and a holder of faith for a process through which those who have been silenced or unlistened to may discover their own capacities for historical memory, critical analysis, utopian imagination, and transformative social action. The psychologist may bring to the table theories and histories that have been developed in the past, but they will be 'relativized' and 'critically revised' in each local arena where they may or may not apply. Truth in this new epistemology is democratized. Each participant evolves a sense of meaningful voice; a way of making sense of the world that is both valued and provisional within the larger context of community listening and discernment. Psychologists relinquish their role as authorities and experts who have the final word, developing new capacities for listening, questioning, and facilitation of collaborative group processes." (Watkins and Lorenz, Toward Psychologies of Liberation, 2008)

6. What does the study of depth psychology offer to ecopsychology?
Philosopher Ken Wilber advocates a four quadrants approach in order to gain a truly holistic picture of reality: individual subjective, collective subjective, individual objective, and collective objective. Because the field of ecopsychology blends the science of ecology with the too-often-mechanistic field of psychology, the field often tips to the right hand quadrants -- the exteriors (as does the environmental movement as a whole), lacking the balance of the left hand quadrants (the individual- and collective-subjective and the depth approaches). Depth psychology is critical to a balanced and deeper understanding of the human-nature relation. It offers a language and a symbolic and imaginal awareness that can help us to articulate the non-rational encounters between psyche and nature. Our encounters with nature are filled with symbolic expressions that give us access to greater personal and ecological consciousnesses. In this respect, personal individuation is inseparable from the awareness of our connection to earth.

7. What does ecopsychology offer back to depth psychologies?
Ecopsychology reminds depth psychology that as living beings, we are deeply embedded in the natural world at all times. Ecopsychology also expands our vision beyond human experience and human-human interactions, revealing the deep truth that psyche -- however narrowly or broadly defined -- exists throughout nature. Ecopsychology asks depth psychologists to face and become active in the healing of the currently disastrous and dysfunctional state of the human-nature relationship. C. G. Jung put it plainly: "The facts of nature cannot in the long run be violated. Penetrating and seeping through everything like water, they will undermine any system that fails to take them into account."

Ecopsychology allows us to think of Nature beyond the Cartesian box of subject vs. object, mind vs. matter. Instead of viewing the natural world as a set of discrete entities (animals, humans, plants: each taken in splendid isolation), we can begin to regard this world as embracing and pervading all that lives – as well as the great elemental presence of water, air, and earth. Seeing that everything (literally, everything, including technology) is interdependent in Nature allows us to include the individual, cultural, and collective unconscious within Nature's ambience rather than to regard them as located strictly inside us.

Because psyche is continuous with the natural world, the psyche is more an aspect or mode of Nature than something separate from it. Once this is realized, care for the soul takes on new dimensions that now include ecological equipoise, sustainability of the self, and care for the earth and its atmosphere. To go into the depths of the psyche is at the same time to go out into the horizons of the surrounding environment – and vice versa. As a consequence, psychical health can no longer be a matter of individual human beings' prospering and profiting, all too often at the expense of the environment; now what matters is taking care of oneself and others first through care for the world.

8. What are some of the areas your students and alumni work in?
Formal and informal education (high schools, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, universities, retreat centers, prisons, alternative learning centers, youth programs, medical and nursing education, workshop leaders, adult education, organizational training); writing and publication; diversity training; prison reform and restorative justice initiatives; arts-based community building; trauma healing; advocacy and grassroots coalitions; social justice; documentary filmmaking; organizational development, consulting, and transformation; peacebuilding and community dialogue; health services (including hospice);spiritual direction; NGO's (nongovernmental organizations); planning, visioning, and evaluation; urban planning; land preservation; peak oil planning and sustainability issues; local food initiatives, community gardens, permaculture; intentional communities; philanthropy; microlending and economic alternatives.

We welcome other areas that would be served by studying depth psychology with an emphasis in community psychology, liberation psychology, and ecopsychology!