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Peak Psychotherapy, Abundant Human Connection, By Carolyn Baker

We cannot be cured apart from the planet


~James Hillman~



In a world of unprecedented resource depletion, climate change, and economic catastrophe unseen since the Great Depression, each day manifests yet another reduction in energy, materials, services, opportunities, and funds for maintaining the status quo. We witness the almost moment-to-moment deterioration of every institution’s infrastructure, and the reality of the privatization of these entities becomes less and less unthinkable. But as peak oil and the collapse of industrial civilization intensify, even privatization will not be able to maintain the bulwark of systems dependent not only on gargantuan sums of money, but on fossil fuel energy and what are certain to be vastly underpaid personnel spread thinly across the substratum of a society in profound disarray.


For me, the topic of peak psychotherapy is not about wild speculation regarding the status of mental or other health care two decades from now. Will psychotherapy even exist, and if it does, what will it look like? We cannot answer that with certainty, but it is safe to assume that it will look very different from how it looks today and that however it looks in the future, it will be accessible to many fewer people than it is in present time—which may or may not be a good thing.


Most individuals who understand peak oil, climate change, and the ghastly economic realities of our time are likely to agree that access to health care as we have known it is rapidly vanishing. Yes, as collapse intensifies, alternative and natural healing techniques will abound. For some individuals, those methods will prove much more effective than allopathic medicine has been. For others, perhaps those who have suffered severe injuries or have advanced terminal illnesses, the absence of traditional health care will be fatal.


In any event, physical and mental health care as we know them today will probably not exist a generation from now. As humans cope with peak oil, they will attempt to acquire some form of energy to replace oil, and because they will not be able to do so, they will not have the products and services made possible by fossil fuel energy. As all students of peak oil know, there is no combination of energies on earth that can be implemented in time to avert a planetary energy crisis. Thus, the global infrastructure that has been operated on oil must eventually disappear. As the infrastructure disappears, humans will be forced to live differently. Likewise, as health care disappears, humans will be forced to heal differently. (Dr. John House’s article on health care in a post-peak world at Guy McPherson’s Nature Bats Last blog is especially relevant and useful.)


The Birth Of Psychotherapy


Psychotherapy, descendant of Sigmund Freud’s research, was born in the context of a burgeoning industrial civilization. Concepts such as neurosis, anxiety, cognitive dissonance, complexes, projection, and many more, became the tools of a trade that arose as a result of human beings attempting to come to terms with and make sense of the emotional turmoil within themselves evoked by the growth of industry and particularly urban industry. Distance from the land and dependence on people and places outside the city for resources appears to correlate with an increase in emotional distress during the industrial revolution and subsequent centuries.


The psychology of human beings who have never lived in cities, who inhabit limitless spaces of land, who do not abide in the milieu of sophisticated technology, and whose cosmology is interwoven with their relationship with the land is remarkably different from the psychology of individuals deeply entrenched in the urban industrial habitat. Considerable evidence suggests that disconnection from the land and the transplanting of humans from rural to urban environments in the 18th and 19th centuries contributed to the emotional turmoil in urban areas which gave birth to the science of psychology.


While native, indigenous societies of the twenty-first century have their own formidable challenges, having been directly or peripherally battered and undermined by industrial civilization, and while they should not be idealized as paragons of mental health, it is equally true that millions of inhabitants of industrial civilization have been drawn to indigenous traditions in recent decades and have discovered aspects of those traditions which resonate more fully with their deeper humanity than the values of industrial civilization. For some, it is as if their discovery of indigenous wisdom has allowed them to reclaim parts of themselves that they only vaguely realized were missing.


Emotional Repercussions of Collapse


In a world of collapsing institutions which is likely to become profoundly chaotic—a world where traditional physical and mental health care are no longer available to other than the very wealthy, we are likely to see an unprecedented level and severity of mental illness. What we are not likely to see are more resources and mental health professionals available to treat mental illness. In a milieu of privatization where mega-corporations are running the world and doing their best to contain the chaos, we may see innovative—and almost certainly nightmarish, techniques for containing “unruly” groups and individuals, but human beings are not likely to have access to psychotherapy as we have known it in recent decades.

So what do I mean by psychotherapy? One definition is: Psychotherapy, or personal counseling with a psychotherapist, is an intentional interpersonal relationship used by trained psychotherapists to aid a client or patient in problems of living. It aims to increase the individual’s sense of their own well-being. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialogue, communication and behavior change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships (such as in a family).

As we know the profession today, therapy usually takes place in an office or consulting room where a trained therapist and a client sit together to engage in a confidential, professional dialog designed to promote emotional healing and well being. The therapist is either paid directly by the client, or is paid by the client’s insurance company for services rendered. Typically, client and therapist meet only in the therapist’s office at a specified time and for the duration of an hour or less. In most cases, the client has the option to end the therapeutic relationship at any time, as does the therapist, but generally, client and therapist work together for several sessions, perhaps for several months or years.


What I have just described is a rather typical arrangement as it occurs in a relatively stable society. But in a society in collapse, my description may be unrecognizable or laughably irrelevant. In a chaotic world where physical health care and doctors are not available, one may seek treatment from a nurse or another health care professional or even someone who has had little more than remote experience in the profession. It may be a world where nurses, radiology technicians, or physical therapists deliver babies, suture wounds, or even perform emergency surgeries. Medical emergencies and the lack of bona fide professionals may ultimately lead to extreme treatment measures and perhaps assistance from some of the most unlikely individuals.


Emotional Healing In A Chaotic World


Collapse will unfold in myriad ways throughout the world which at this time we cannot foresee with certainty. What is certain, however, is that in many places, panic, terror, grief, despair, depression, rage, paranoia, and a plethora of other emotional responses will pervade and overwhelm families and communities. It’s safe to assume that the rate of suicides and emotional breakdowns will increase dramatically. The absence of services for children and the elderly will leave many in those age groups totally vulnerable or having to fend for themselves.


My sense is that similar to the transition in physical health care in a collapsing world, “psychotherapy” will take forms exceedingly different from how it is now practiced. I imagine a world replete with many more blatantly troubled people than we are presently witnessing even in these tough economic times. Today, the overtly mentally ill are incarcerated in the very few mental hospitals that still exist, but are more often among the homeless, and the average middle class American encounters them briefly and infrequently, if at all. An intensely unraveling world will result in more overt mental illness than is currently obvious, and it is unlikely that those with some degree of emotional stability will be able to avoid the ubiquitous presence of troubled souls in their midst.


Many people consciously preparing for collapse are arming themselves in order to protect themselves and loved ones from “the crazy people.” While I support efforts to protect oneself by any means necessary, I would also ask: Do you plan to shoot every troubled person you encounter? Today, we have the “luxury” of ignoring emotionally unstable people in our environment. We can give them a couple of bucks or a beer and walk away. In a collapsing world, we may not have that option. And the real truth is that the “emotionally unstable” person may be any of us—or a loved one.


My work for the past decade has been about helping people prepare emotionally and spiritually for collapse, and I believe that mastering certain intra-personal skills is extremely useful in doing so. What is also true is that learning basic skills in discreetly reading other human beings in terms of body language, facial expression, and honing one’s intuition, as well as practicing listening skills and learning how to be fully present with another human being may prove not only valuable but necessary. I emphasize this because some of the most “unlikely” individuals may find themselves in the role of “psychotherapist” in a collapsing world. “Therapy sessions” may occur in the middle of the night with two individuals or a group of folks sitting on the ground or in a pile of rubble, and the only “therapy fee” will be “paid” in the form of barter.


Beyond Psychotherapy


But “talk therapy” is hardly the only treatment for emotional distress and may become even less so in a post-peak world. Over the course of the past three decades, the discipline of ecopsychology has evolved, emphasizing that “there is a synergistic relation between planetary and personal well being; that the needs of the one are relevant to the other”—a concept echoing the quote from psychologist, James Hillman, at the beginning of this article.


I believe that the science of psychology erupted during the nineteenth century specifically because humans became increasingly disconnected with the land and found themselves emotionally overwhelmed with life in cities and the attendant values inherent in the paradigm of industrial civilization. Mounting evidence in subsequent centuries and in the twenty-first century reveals that when humans are given the opportunity to consciously immerse themselves in nature, emotional distress is mitigated. Especially instructive is Martin Milton’s “Waking Up To Nature: Exploring A New Direction For Psychological Practice”(2009)


In his 2011 article “Redefining Sanity,” Brian Alger states that “Ecopsychology embraces the essential task of healing our relationship with the Earth and with life itself. Ecology is at its core the study of interconnectedness, the exploration of relationships, and the synthesis of belonging. Psychology is the study of the workings of the human mind and how we think, feel, and behave. Ecopsychology is the confluence of ecology and psychology and proposes that the path to healing the mind is the very same path to healing the Earth; that is to say, the human mind is inseparable from the natural world. The landscape, terrain, weather, plant life, and animal life that surround us are as essential to the development of the mind as are thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.”


Thus it may be that in a post-collapse world, dialog, supplemented by guided immersion in nature will offer healing and restoration for individuals feeling overwhelmed by fear, grief, anger, despair, or other emotions resulting from acute or chronic trauma.


My work more recently has focused on emotional resilience in the face of trauma and loss in order to prevent emotional overwhelm as collapse unfolds. To reiterate: Collapse will manifest with varying levels of severity in different places, and in some venues, it will be sudden and terrifying. In other places, it will play out slowly, over time, nevertheless evoking more protracted sensations of loss, disorientation, depression, and despair. Moreover, the extent to which our natural surroundings will remain intact is also unknown. Immersion in the natural environment, while ideal for its salutary benefits, may or may not be possible. However, whatever remnants of the natural world are available in a post-collapse world, they must be protected for everyone’s benefit and skillfully utilized for eco-therapeutic purposes.


Yet another aspect of emotional healing in a post-peak world is the simple act of creating beauty. In all discussion of collapse preparation, I include this as a necessity, not merely an option. We have only to reflect on the history of our species to notice a plethora of examples of the restorative and healing effect of poetry, art, music, storytelling, dance, and theater on the human soul. The more dire our circumstances, the more salutary these expressions of beauty have proven for human beings.


As part of our preparation, I encourage people to consider creating regular community poetry salons where poems can be shared, perhaps followed by sharing music, story, and other artistic expressions which encourage people to express a full repertoire of feelings and celebrate their creativity and vitality. If we become comfortable with this practice in present time, it is likely to evolve quite naturally, or perhaps even feel necessary, as collapse intensifies.


A world departing from industrial civilization and its values will undoubtedly be a world in chaos, regardless of whether the transition occurs suddenly or slowly. Two things are certain: (1) The transition will be emotionally disruptive and in some cases traumatizing. (2) The methods to which we have become accustomed for addressing emotional upheaval are not likely to be available to us in a collapsing world.


It is unlikely that psychotherapy as we have known it over the past three decades will be a viable option for the majority of humans on earth in a post-collapse world. Nevertheless, pathways of emotional healing and well being are likely to evolve out of necessity and foresight. Psychotherapy as we have known it may very well become a relic of a distant past, but as long as humans exist on earth, so do their options for emotional healing through interconnectedness with each other and with the earth, deepened and nourished by co-creating ever-new forms of beauty.

19 comments to Peak Psychotherapy, Abundant Human Connection, By Carolyn Baker

  • Leon Night

    Something not mentioned above, which has a millennia-long history of success in encouraging a healthy balance between the sub conscious and the conscious mind, is the work of a gifted shaman, in a proper setting along with the intense self-reflection produced by locally grown and prepared entheogenic substances.

    There is even some evidence that perhaps the evolution of human consciousness from its uroboric stage to the present cognitive stage was influenced by such elixirs and potions, and might not have even occurred without their mind-expanding properties.

    I think it’s possible to conceive that such a natural shamanistic approach to balanced mental health will help produce the recovery from both the post-collapse madness that all survivors will be seeking, and may even help produce the advance in consciousness necessary to permit humanity to grow and to thrive in the new world.

  • Tom

    Peak Oil will mean society moving backwards toward a lifestyle more familiar to our Grandparents or Great Grandparents.

    When they experienced traumas, such as(example),losing a husband or son to the ravages of the 1st or 2nd World War, the last thing they could expect was psychotherapy.

    I’m afraid psychotherapy, like many so called professions, that involve, issues, diversity compliance, and outreach work, will be consigned to the trash bin.

    Fossil fuel allowed a lot of fringe activities to blossom over the last couple of centuries, and those activities will decline over the next few decades.

    • I do not consider “psychotherapy” to be a “fringe activity.” It has saved many peoples’ lives and helped them become functional enough to wake up and start preparing for collapse. Nor do I consider access to having a wound sutured a “fringe” activity. What I’m saying is that many things we have relied on and deemed absolutely necessary in recent decades will not be available. How we cope with that remains to be seen.

      • Tom

        I actually agree with the general thrust of your argument here. By Fringe activity, I’m separating it/them from Core activities.

        Perhaps a better description would be to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

        The base of the pyramid shows that we need food, water, shelter etc. Higher up the pyramid there are still needs for a wholesome life, but I would suggest that Psychotherapy is a lesser need. I’m not saying psychotherapy doesn’t work, or is
        somehow ‘unworthy’ of our attention.

        I’m simply saying that fossil fuel has given humanity scope to pursue other jobs and activities that are not core activities examples of which are growing food, or building shelter.

        Our grandparents will be our model when Peak Oil really bites. They were hardier souls who knew better that they needed the basics.

        By the way, I don’t recall saying that having a wound sutured
        is a “fringe” activity.

    • Franklin

      I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but oil, whether peaked yet or not, is a finite natural resource, and people have been killed, maimed, and some “oil producing” countries “occupied” by foreign invaders for it.

      I’d like to share some information with Carolyn and you all. Maybe it isn’t new to some of you, but I think worth promoting.

      David Blume, is an inspiration on what we can do, regarding cleaner energy. He has written a book: “Alcohol Can Be A Gas” and for more info on his alcohol-for-fuel projects, click on: and he lays it all out.

      I heard Blume and actress Daryl Hannah interviewed some months ago on “The Visionary Activist” (Caroline Casey) on and Bume was on KPFA’s “Sunday Salon” program this morning interviewed by Phillip Maldori. Worth listening to, and you’ll get a little known history lesson about one of the 19th century robber barrons regarding alcohol and gasoline.

      Carolyn, wise words, not only on psychotherapy but the whole web of activity concerning future society and how to cope. Many thanks!

  • […] Peak Psychotherapy, Abundant Human Connection [Translate] Print FriendlyBy Carolyn Baker of Speaking Truth to Power. […]

  • Hi Carolyn,

    A very interesting and compelling article. I found particular connection to your last sentence and the reference to beauty. I sense that beauty is the very essence of healing and is the source of interconnectedness. I wonder if you know of John O’Donohue’s “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.” ( it’s a book I constantly turn to.

    Kind regards,

    • In my books, Navigating The Coming Chaos and Sacred Demise, you’ll find several references to and quotes from John O. He’s one of my spiritual teachers.

  • Sarah Edwards

    Because we believe emotional resiliance is and will be a vital requirment for post peak survival, we are working in our Transition Initiative to prepare as many people as possible to provide for their own emotional well-being in times of trauma and crisis as well as to know how to be helpful to others in need emotional support. We’re providing as many self-help insights and tools as possible for maintaining one’s own mental and emotional well-being and teaching individuals and families how to recognize and respond in helpful ways to people around them who are suffering menatlly or emotionally. Granted this is an enormous task even in our small community. Offering the Red Cross training course for Psychological First Aid is one of the ways we are doing this. Other ways are by holding regular free Lunch and Learn mini workshops where by we provide information and tools for care of particular emotional, cognitive and psychological difficulties, particularly in common high risk groups of individuals. We also have developed and are training a referral network of caregivers and a mechanism for free counseling from currently licensesd professionals who we anticipate will continue to provide assistance when none of the existing payment systems remain. In addition we are working with and supporting another non-profit that is putting in place commuitas theatre and other arts activities for both youth and adults so that these channels will be in place and people will increasingly be participating in them.

  • “Thus it may be that in a post-collapse world, dialog, supplemented by guided immersion in nature will offer healing and restoration for individuals feeling overwhelmed by fear, grief, anger, despair, or other emotions resulting from acute or chronic trauma.”

    I found that time spent in nature, particularly wilderness, is the most psychologically restorative for me when combined with time spent in community. I feel that a good hike in the woods and dinner with good friends is all I need sometimes to stay sane in an insane world.

  • John Matthews

    One thing not mentioned in the article is the issue of psychiatric medication. Will that be available post peak?

    I developed bipolar disorder at 18, and now am 54. I believe that pyschiatric medications have saved my life.

    Psychotherapy and other talk therapies have been helpful but I need antipsychotic and antidepressant medications to ‘keep me on the planet’.

    In the country I am fortunate to live in, the government provides most healthcare and keeps medication costs lower by bulk purchasing. I believe that post peak oil some medications will not be available, such as those manufactured in the USA and still protected by patent.

    I predict that countries like India will become suppliers to the world of low cost medications.

    Governments will want to ensure access to medications in order to reduce stresses on communities. I hope we don’t end up like a developing country I heard about 20 years ago from a nurse who had worked there; where severely psyhotic people are ‘cured’ by a bullet!

    • Very few medications will be available post-peak, and humans will either find alternative remedies, or they will have to live (or die) with the consequences. Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge says: “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” We’re all going to die. For me, the object of preparing for collapse is far greater than physical survival. To dig deeper on that subject, please read my latest book, Navigating The Coming Chaos.

  • Albeit a plausible alternative – still, ecopsychology has its stickers and splinters…

  • James R. Martin

    It is clear to me now that a healthy response to peak oil, economic decline/disaster, ecological crisis … and the whole present enchilada, must centrally be the creation of viable, healthy/healing community/-ies. This is the best possible psychotherapy. What needs healing, ultimately, are our relationships — with each other, with the land, with our hearts, with the hearts of others. The work which can rightly be called “transition,” with or without the capital T, is pantherapeutic. It heals all. But it never, never turns away from suffering or pain–or truth. Instead, it stands near, embaces — but the holding is extended into community. We may be held; we may hold ourselves; we may hold one another.

  • Sarah Edwards

    What an excellent article Carolyn. I agree with you that the future for assisting people with the issues of achieving and maintaining resilientce and strong mental health will be unrecognizable from the form that occurs today. As an ecopsychologist in private practice, I part of a group of other licensed professionals who are working to evolve what such a model might be for the future here in our small mountain community.
    First we are foreseeing effective MH care in the future may be provided more like what Red Cross mental health repsonse professionals (MHP) do now only it will need to occue on an on-going basis, not just during a single incidence of emergency – in other words for a long emergency. So our group has taken all the Red Cross mental health training and find it applicable in many ways. For example the MHP mingles among those in the shelter, interacting and relating, as we can do within our community. There is also a place in the shelter where people in great need can step away for some privacy and personal time with the MHP. This could also be the case in our community. In larger areas this would be approached within a neighbor, much as is done in Cuba with medical care.
    Second we are preparing to arm people with their own tools for mainting mental health so that we can help ourselves or when needed families and friends can help one another. That is after all what good therapy today results in. But we’re working to do that on a community level, offering Lunch ‘n Learn workshops on key mental health knowledge and skills.
    In this regard we are also training and certifying family care givers through Red Cross training courses and offering first aid training to as many people as possible. Also we’re offering RC Psychological First Aid courses for all.
    This is a small start toward empowering our community to become a place where support of mental health is integral to the fabric of the culture instead of a separate professional discipline.

  • […] 1, 2011 (Speaking Truth To Power) — In a world of unprecedented resource depletion, climate change, and economic catastrophe […]

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