• unlimited access with print and download
    $ 37 00
  • read full document, no print or download, expires after 72 hours
    $ 4 99
More info
Unlimited access including download and printing, plus availability for reading and annotating in your in your Udini library.
  • Access to this article in your Udini library for 72 hours from purchase.
  • The article will not be available for download or print.
  • Upgrade to the full version of this document at a reduced price.
  • Your trial access payment is credited when purchasing the full version.
Buy
Continue searching

A theoretical examination of individual psychology and ecopsychology

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Brian Waxler
Abstract:
This dissertation explores the fields of Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology in relation to one another with the intent of providing a framework for better understanding the impact of the natural environment on human behavior and the impact of human behavior on the environment. Individual Psychology is explored through the concepts of embeddedness, holism, interdependence, and social interest. The field of Ecopsychology is presented through an examination of its major tenets and themes. After introducing both fields, a mutually beneficial dialogue between the two theoretical perspectives is presented. Opportunities for growth for Individual Psychology, as well as for Ecopsychology are discussed through the integration of their central concepts. Future areas of research and theoretical discourse are provided with regards to an examination of the psychology of sustainability. The principle findings point towards the development of a broader perspective of Individual Psychology as well as a more integrated model of Ecopsychology. The goal of these enhanced perspectives is to develop a better understanding of human behavior and to provide a framework for developing strategies that encourage sustainable behavior.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Section Title Page Committee Page. Acknowledgements Curriculum Vitae Table of Contents Abstract Chapter One: Introduction Chapter Two: Review of the Literature Chapter Three: Comparative Analysis Chapter Four: Summary and Conclusions References

2 ABSTRACT This dissertation explores the fields of Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology in relation to one another with the intent of providing a framework for better understanding the impact of the natural environment on human behavior and the impact of human behavior on the environment. Individual Psychology is explored through the concepts of embeddedness, holism, interdependence, and social interest. The field of Ecopsychology is presented through an examination of its major tenets and themes. After introducing both fields, a mutually beneficial dialogue between the two theoretical perspectives is presented. Opportunities for growth for Individual Psychology, as well as for Ecopsychology are discussed through the integration of their central concepts. Future areas of research and theoretical discourse are provided with regards to an examination of the psychology of sustainability. The principle findings point towards the development of a broader perspective of Individual Psychology as well as a more integrated model of Ecopsychology. The goal of these enhanced perspectives is to develop a better understanding of human behavior and to provide a framework for developing strategies that encourage sustainable behavior.

3 CHAPTER ONE Introduction The theoretical underpinnings of psychological thought have been in a constant state of evolution. Even before the development of our modern conceptualization of psychology by Sigmund Freud, theories have been presented, developed, challenged, rejected, reorganized, and reconceptualized. As new information is gathered and analyzed it is important to revise theories to incorporate what has been learned, in order to maintain both the utility and validity of a given perspective. One such example is Alfred Adler's break from Freud in the mid-twentieth century. Adler's development of Individual Psychology represented a significant reconceptualization of psychological thought (Adler, 1956; EUenberger, 1970). For instance, Adler moved towards viewing the human personality through a holistic and ideological lens (Adler, 1956). He not only rejected the idea that the personality can be broken down into smaller parts, but also described the human condition as contextualized within society (Dreikurs, 1989). Since Adler first formulated his theory, a number of more recent psychological theories have been influenced by the work of Alfred Adler, and the field of Individual Psychology itself has been revised, updated, and improved over time (Adler, 1964; Adler, 1956). More recently, Ecopsychology has presented a new way of examining the human condition (Roszak, 1992). This perspective contextualizes the human

4 condition not just contextualized within society as Adler did, but within the natural environment, which leads to a conceptualization of psychological functioning that places importance upon an individual's felt sense of connection with the natural world (Roszak, 1992). The theoretical similarities that can be drawn between Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology allow for a discussion of how these two theories can meaningfully inform and enhance one another (Stewart, 2007). Through comparing and contrasting the two theories, it is possible to offer a more well-rounded view of both Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology by incorporating concepts and ideas from each respective theoretical stance. The purpose of this mutually beneficial dialogue is to advance both Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology and provide a psychology geared towards addressing humans' deleterious impact on their environment. As new theories are developed, it is necessary to reexamine existing theories while also incorporating the existing body of knowledge into newer lines of thinking. The development of Ecopsychology presents an opportunity for Individual Psychology to expand its understanding. Ecopsychology, first developed in the 1960s, also has the opportunity to benefit from the vast body of literature from Individual Psychology (Stewart, 2007). Individual Psychology has not only influenced many theoretical orientations such as Cognitive-Behavioral, Object Relations, and Social Psychology, it has also evolved through being influenced by more recently developed ideas over time (Adler, 1956; Carlson,

5 2006; Ellenberger, 1970). Carlson, Watts, and Maniacci (2006) have outlined the congruence and similarities between Individual Psychology and the fields of cognitive, systemic, postmodern, multicultural, and positive psychology. The assertion that Individual Psychology predated many of these theoretical orientations is supported by their thorough review of the literature of each orientation and comparison with Adlerian concepts (Carlson et al., 2006). Not only is the argument presented that Individual Psychology has had an influence on many newer orientations, but also that Individual Psychology has undergone changes and adaptations to fit more recent developments and contemporary needs (Carlson et al., 2006). The integration of Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology presents still another opportunity for such a fruitful discussion that can mutually benefit both of these perspectives. For example, questions arise concerning why the human race engages in destroying the environment that it depends on, as well as how can we go about making changes on a broad scale that can lead towards environmental sustainability. It is a goal of this dissertation to provide answers to this question and others that are based on concepts from both Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology. The four specific concepts from Individual Psychology that will be discussed are embeddedness, holism, interdependence, and the concept of mental health. These concepts were chosen because they provide the greatest likelihood for overlap with Ecopsychology.

6 Ecopsychologists, such as Paul Shepard (1982) and Theodore Roszak (1995), discuss how in order to fully understand the human psyche one must examine humans within the context of the natural environment. Since its inception, Ecopsychology has dealt with issues such as pollution, crowding, overconsumption, and fostering sustainability utilizing psychological theory and research (Gifford, 2007; Chalquist, 2007). Winter and Koger (2004) have examined contemporary environmental issues through specific theoretical orientations of psychology such as Freudian, Behavioral, and Systems Theory. Similar to Individual Psychology, Ecopsychology takes a broader perspective of what can be encompassed in psychological discourse. Thus, my goal is to extend previous literature in Ecopsychology by examining its links with Individual Psychology in order to provide a more well-rounded view of Ecopsychology, and thereby offer solutions to some of the most alarming problems faced by modern society, such as the relationship between human behavior and problems of sustainability. Psychology and ecology can be understood together as a single fluid field, rather than completely separate disciplines, for the purpose of understanding human behavior better with regards to our environmental impact and developing strategies that can lead towards decreased impact on the natural world. Stern (2011) points out that the problem of global climate change, for instance, has been caused by human behavior. Individual Psychology may offer ideas that help us

7 better understand how to influence and change human behavior and stall climate change. This dissertation will also examine socio-cultural perspectives of humanity's place in the universe and how these perspectives have changed over time. For example, humans once subscribed to the dominant viewpoint that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun revolved around it. Through scientific observation we have come to understand that this is false. While we have moved away from a geo-centric view of the universe, for the most part we have held onto our humanocentric view of life on this planet. Humanocentrism is the idea that humans are of primary importance above all else, or human supremacy. The field of Ecopsychology explores the psychological aspects and problems associated with a species behaving as if it is more important than other living beings and other parts of its environment that it actually depends upon. Individual Psychology, with its focus on social interest and community feeling, runs the risk of advocating for the perspective that humans are of greater importance, or superior, to other members of the interdependent system that makes up life. Adler's theory places primacy on our social interdependence (Adler, 1956). While Individual Psychology is a perspective that can help individuals to avoid striving towards the goal of gaining superiority over others, it is based on the underlying principle that social interest is the most important goal and seemingly fails to take into account the fact that humans are also embedded in

8 a natural environment or context. The same mistake of humanocentrism has been made in Individual Psychology as in modern Western thought. This is likely due to the fact that Adler was influenced by common beliefs held by Western culture when developing his theory. This dissertation aims to suggest that the theory of Individual Psychology should expand its tenet of social interest to include environmental interest, or concern for and an interest in the natural environment. Solid and robust theoretical perspectives allow for their evolution over time in order to increase their fit with current information. The developing field of Ecopsychology is a significant step in the field of psychology, just as the development of Individual Psychology was a significant step in the mid twentieth century. Because Ecopsychology takes a broader perspective than what is currently covered in typical psychological discourse, it has the potential of broadening the scope of Individual Psychology, just as Individual Psychology broadened the scope of psychological theory when it was developed. As there continues to be discussions on psychology's role in facilitating a healthier relationship between humans and their environment, there will be more opportunities for psychologists to enhance human well-being by promoting environmental justice. With new data coming forward concerning the detrimental effects that humans are having on the environment, it has become clear that psychologically minded interventions are necessary to facilitate changes in

9 behavior on the societal level in terms of how humans relate to their non-human environment (Stern, 2011). Fromm's (1956) assertion that entire societies or cultures can suffer from psychopathology guides the integration of these two theories. Fromm stated that just because "millions of people share in the same forms of mental pathology," that this "does not make those people sane" (Fromm, 1956, p. 140). Individual Psychology has long been interested in how individuals are affected by their society. The field of psychology has the opportunity to provide an understanding of how our current state of cultural dysfunction has come about, what it means, and how we can begin to make changes from the global level to the individual level that will promote wellness and sustainability. Both Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology deal with issues of how a broader system affects the individual. Individual Psychology identifies the relationship between individuals and their social environment as the prominent factor in psychological distress, whereas Ecopsychology identifies the relationship between humans and the natural environment as the prominent factor in psychological and ecological distress. The environmental movement that began in the 1970s has brought significant focus on the link between human behaviors, such as over-population, over-consumption of resources, pollution, and human sustainability. Humans have the unique ability to substantially modify the environment to increase their

10 fitness and capacity for meeting environmental demands, and thus the ability to survive in the struggle of life. Behaviors such as consumption of resources and population growth have short-term benefits, but also significant long-term costs. Ecopsychology has been examining such issues and their critical importance to our survival in the contemporary age. The idea of developing a more equitable and mutual relationship between humans and the natural environment that we depend on is similar in many ways to Adler's idea of reconciling personal feelings of inferiority through cooperation with the larger social context. This is an example of how the field of Ecopsychology will benefit from integrating concepts from Individual Psychology because of their shared concern with human issues and needs that bear on the relationship of humans to the contexts in which they are embedded. Chapter Two of this dissertation will examine the literature from both Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology, separately. The basic foundations of each theoretical orientation will be explored. The specific principles from Individual Psychology that will be examined in detail will be embeddedness, interdependence, holism, and the concept of mental health. Counterparts to these principles will also be explored from the Ecopsychological perspective, such as environmental embeddedness, biological interdependence, holism from the global perspective, and environmental interest. Chapter Three will provide a comparative analysis of the two theories, giving attention to the specific principles

11 outlined in Chapter Two. Areas where the two theories mutually inform one another and how each can be expanded and improved through integration and augmentation of the other will be discussed. Also discussed in Chapter Three will be an examination of the theory in practice using real world examples as basis for conceptualization. Finally, Chapter Four will be dedicated to summarizing the integration of the two theories, and conclusions will be drawn discussing potential uses for the key ideas and other areas for further study and exploration.

12 CHAPTER TWO Review of Literature This section will be concerned with separately exploring the theories of Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology. A brief overview of the history of each theory will be presented, followed by a more in-depth look at some of the important theoretical issues and principles covered by each orientation. From Individual Psychology the four key concepts that will be discussed are embeddedness, interdependence, holism, and social interest. Following this discussion of Individual Psychology, the key concepts from Ecopsychology will be examined. As the relatively younger field, Ecopsychology is still in the process of developing. Several different perspectives from current theory and research on Ecopsychology will be explored with the intention of drawing some ideas and principles shared by these perspectives. Chapter Three will then be a critical analysis comparing and contrasting these two theories and looking into areas of mutuality between them. The goal is to discover ways in which Individual Psychology can inform Ecopsychology and ways that Ecopsychology can inform Individual Psychology. In the interest of providing a systematic comparison of Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology, four specific concepts that have the best potential for overlap have been selected from Individual Psychology. The four topics are embeddedness, holism, interdependence, and social interest.

13 Individual Psychology Individual Psychology is the theoretical orientation developed by Alfred Adler in the mid twentieth century (Ansbacher, 1979). Before discussing the major theoretical concepts of Individual Psychology, it is important to discuss a brief overview of the historical development of Individual Psychology in order to understand some of the socio-cultural issues that influenced Adler's work. Adler received a medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1895, and worked as an ophthalmologist and general practitioner before being invited by Sigmund Freud to join the psychoanalytic movement in Vienna. Adler worked closely with Sigmund Freud, and was a key figure in the psychoanalytic movement in the early 1900s. Adler was a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society from 1901 to 1911, and served as president of this group in 1910. In 1911, after growing disagreement between Adler and Freud, Adler broke off from Freud's psychoanalytic group and developed the Society of Individual Psychology in 1912 (Adler, 1956). Adler continued to develop and practice Individual Psychology throughout the rest of his clinical practice (Ansbacher, 1956). Adlerian principles and the practice of Individual Psychology have continued to be influential on modern schools of psychology and are still being practiced around the world (Ansbacher, 1956; Dreikurs, 1989; Ferguson, 2000).Following a brief overview of the broad conceptual framework of Individual Psychology, four key principles will be examined more in depth.

14 Adler (1927) posited that because humans are a social species that the human psyche must be understood in terms of the broader social context in which the individual is embedded. Rejecting the idea that the psyche can be conceptualized as consisting of competing intra-psychic forces, Adler took a holistic perspective that explained all behaviors as moving in concert with one another towards some goal for the future (Ansbacher, 1979). Individual Psychologists are interested in understanding the unique way each individual interacts with his or her social environment and how each individual meets social challenges. Adler presented the idea that humans strive towards overcoming feelings of inferiority (Adler, 1927). The direction towards which an individual strives can be either more or less socially interested. To Adler, social interest constituted the very measure of mental health (Adler, 1927; Ansbacher, 1979). This section will focus on Adler's Individual Psychology, giving specific focus to four central principles of the theory. Adler discussed how one's social environment is paramount in the development of a unique lifestyle. Adler's theory was based on the principle that individuals are engaged in various social settings from birth, and that one's interactions within social settings significantly influences psychological functioning. The complex system of one's social environment became a focal point of examination for social psychologists after Adler. Placing primary importance on how the psychology of the individual is connected to the social

15 context of the individual represented a break from the dominant view of psychology at the time, which focused on competing intra-psychic forces such as the id, ego, and superego as proposed by Freud. Adler did not accept the idea that one can examine psychological functioning by breaking the psyche down into separate competing elements. Adler rejected this idea of elementarism for a holistic perspective, and suggested instead that people consistently act in ways that reflect their psychological goals. Adler used the term Individual Psychology because of his focus on how the individual operates as an indivisible whole. Ansbacher (1956) suggests that the term "individual" could better be translated as "indivisible." He believed that the study of psychology must include an understanding of the way in which one's unified personality strives within society towards some goal of perfection, which is constructed by the individual as a form of an ideal self. This view presented a broader perspective of what constitutes mental health than the contemporary view of the time. Adler's perspective on the personality was that as a singular entity, the personality strives to overcome problems that are social in nature. Not only did Adler disagree with his contemporaries on the position of elementarism versus holism, Adler also took a teleological stance by which behavior is conceptualized as future oriented and goal directed. He conceptualized the personality of the individual as operating towards some future goal, which an individual can be more or less consciously aware of.

16 Understanding the goal of the personality is central to understanding an individual from this perspective. Adler was a social constructivist, believing that individuals actively construct their psychological reality. As such, Adler believed that each individual develops a unique way of facing social problems that are inherent to human life. Due to the fact that no two people could have the exact same experiences or perceptions of their experiences, Adler believed that each individual uniquely strives towards self-created goals of superiority. That is, he believed that all individuals strive, in a unique way, to overcome innate feelings of inferiority. Social Embeddedness Adler (1956) stated that the first principle of Individual Psychology is that humans are socially embedded, and that inferiority is "relative to social situation(s)" (Adler, 1956, p. 126). Adler refused to examine an individual in absence of the social context in which that individual functions (Adler, 1956). In this sense, Adler placed primary importance on studying the social contexts of individuals, which constituted a break from his contemporaries, such as Freud (Carlson, 2006; Ansbacher, 1956; Adler, 1964). Each individual is embedded within a unique social environment from the moment they are born. According to the idea that humans are a social species, Adler developed a theory of personality that places focus on understanding the way in which individuals interact with one another (Ansbacher, 1979). For

17 Individual Psychologists, the personality develops as a unique way of striving to overcome feelings of inferiority that all individuals face (Adler, 1927; Dreikurs, 1989). These feelings of inferiority are seen to arise from being in contact with other members of society that appear to be more developed. As infants and youth, all individuals are smaller and weaker, both physically and mentally, than other members of society. Throughout infancy and childhood individuals develop a unique way of striving towards improving themselves. The main social context of the infant and child is the family system. For this reason Adler placed a high degree of importance on understanding family dynamics such as birth order, family atmosphere, gender guiding lines, and family values (Dreikurs, 1989). Adler believed that through early childhood experiences with the family system, that the individual develops a unique personality style (Adler, 1956). This personality style is then generally consistent throughout the life of the individual (Adler, 1927; Ansbacher, 1956). The concept of social embeddedness is valuable to understanding the links between Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology because both theoretical orientations take the perspective that the personality of the individual is influenced by, and operates within, a larger system that it is embedded within. Adler's movement towards a broadening of the definition of psychology to include the context in which the individual is embedded is related to the more recently developed field of Ecopsychology.

18 Holism Adler took the position that the human personality cannot be broken down into smaller parts. He viewed the personality through a holistic lens in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Rejecting the elementaristic idea that the psyche can be understood by breaking it down into simpler parts such as the competing id, ego, and superego, Adler examined the personality as functioning as a unitary whole (Adler, 1927; Ansbacher, 1956). This holistic view posits the personality is indivisible in its striving to realize an overarching goal. Every thought, every feeling, and every movement functions in concert with the individual lifestyle (Adler, 1964). The term individual more accurately reflects Adler's idea that the personality is indivisible: "All apparent psychological categories, such as different drives or the contrast between conscious and unconscious, are only aspects of a unified relational system and do not represent discrete entities and quantities"(Adler, 1956, p. 2). The concept of holism is paramount in developing an understanding of Individual Psychology. Adler embraced the importance of understanding individuals through understanding the overarching unitary style towards life that the individual takes. The importance of having a holistic theory of personality is that it requires individuals to examine their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as operating within a unified system. This overarching direction of striving takes into account the entirety of movements made by the individual. Even seemingly

19 contradictory actions or feelings are conceptualized as striving towards some future goal. The case of an individual who is conflicted over a decision and states that "one part feels this way, but another part feels another way," could be understood through a holistic lens by examining how these two "parts" function together to reach some goal, perhaps that of avoidance or to forestall an issue, for instance. The concept of holism allows for the individual to be conceptualized as operating within a social environment and meeting social challenges with a unique style. Ansbacher (1961) discussed the origins of the concept of holism. In his discussion, Ansbacher traces the term holism back to Jan C. Smuts' Holism and Evolution. Smuts discusses the basic principles of holism, in which organisms are examined as more than the sum of their independent parts. He states that it is not the parts that make up the whole, but the whole of the organism that determines the parts and the interrelationship between them (Ansbacher, 1961). Adler integrated this idea of holism in his conceptualization of the personality. Both Smuts and Adler found that the reductionistic approach to science goes against common sense (Ansbacher, 1961). Smuts was dealing with understanding biological organisms, while Adler dealt with understanding the human psyche. Both, however, rejected conceptualizations that employed reductionism or elementarism.

Full document contains 111 pages
Abstract: This dissertation explores the fields of Individual Psychology and Ecopsychology in relation to one another with the intent of providing a framework for better understanding the impact of the natural environment on human behavior and the impact of human behavior on the environment. Individual Psychology is explored through the concepts of embeddedness, holism, interdependence, and social interest. The field of Ecopsychology is presented through an examination of its major tenets and themes. After introducing both fields, a mutually beneficial dialogue between the two theoretical perspectives is presented. Opportunities for growth for Individual Psychology, as well as for Ecopsychology are discussed through the integration of their central concepts. Future areas of research and theoretical discourse are provided with regards to an examination of the psychology of sustainability. The principle findings point towards the development of a broader perspective of Individual Psychology as well as a more integrated model of Ecopsychology. The goal of these enhanced perspectives is to develop a better understanding of human behavior and to provide a framework for developing strategies that encourage sustainable behavior.