The greening of psychology

I MUST SAY THAT THE SPECIAL section in the April Monitor on the "greening" of psychology, was like a breath of cool fresh air on a hot muggy day in any big city. I challenge you to come up with a more relevant problem for psychology to address than helping people face the fact that our planet is getting really sick. You might even say, it's getting a fever.

All of our brilliant research, piercing insights into the human mind, and healing advances in psychotherapy will do little to stem the tide of the planet-wide anxiety, grief and depression that will inevitably result from ever-advancing environmental degradation. Asthma, emphysema, cancer of the lungs, colon, and liver, and a plethora of other terminal illnesses, have all been linked to pollution-related etiologies. It doesn't take a PhD to realize that as the human impact on the Earth continues to accelerate, the planetary degradation will be, and most certainly is, reflected in human health, or rather the lack thereof.

If we psychologists do not throw ourselves into the cause of educating the masses and purposely, intentionally trying to increase concern for the ecosystem, we will rightfully be remembered as the biggest fools of all. We had the tools to help the people wake up, and we chose not to use them.

Ellijay, Ga.

THE QUESTION OF HOW TO motivate individuals to behave in a more environmentally responsible manner may be the most important one we face, so I appreciate that the April Monitor on Psychology explored this subject.

The core issue lies in our disconnection from nature. Indigenous peoples respect the world around them because their lives are intimately connected to it. European cultures, on the other hand, have been disconnected for centuries. Our focus has been on conflict with and domination over nature.

If we accept these premises, it follows that cognitively based approaches, however well-conceived, will not significantly impact the problem. For fundamentally disconnected people, self-interest will continue to be perceived as the pursuit of consumerism; following the path of least resistance and continued denial. Enormous media forces are in place to sustain this mindset. Educational efforts, on the other hand, trigger guilt, thereby fostering the retreat into further denial. Instead, we must look at ways in which humans can again experience nature as an integral part of their lives. When the pain inflicted upon the environment is experienced as our pain, action will follow naturally.

Peoples who are connected to nature experience fewer psychological ailments than we do in this society. This may be the source of a secondary gain. As we heal nature, we may heal ourselves in the process.

Capella University

I APPLAUD THE "GREENING OF psychology" articles in the April Monitor and I appreciate APA's efforts at becoming more environmentally friendly. One APA convention practice that has long disturbed me is the Public Affairs Office's request for conference presenters to submit 20 copies of their presentations. I recognize the importance of generating publicity for our field, but believe there are less wasteful ways to accomplish this goal. An electronic repository for convention presentations might not only allow media access to the presentations, but also facilitate a more effective exchange of scientific and applied information among APA members.

Springfield College

Paying attention

THANK YOU FOR THE FASCINATING article on unintentional blindness in the April issue. It seems to me that the issue is really one of scope or narrowness of the focus of attention. In much of the research cited in the article, participants were asked to narrow their attention to particular aspects of the visual scene they were viewing. A primary function of the frontal and prefrontal lobes is to inhibit responses. Thus, by creating the mental set of focusing attention to specific aspects of the scene, participants are likely to actively screen out and inhibit responses to extraneous stimuli. In experiments that involved extraneous information--such as a woman with an umbrella crossing a basketball playing field--subjects are much more likely to screen out this information at a preconscious level because the narrow band of focused attention is directed only at players with white uniforms.

This is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly visible on our highways: As people attempt to focus narrowly on electronic devices, they are much more likely to have difficulty maintaining the open focus of awareness necessary for safe driving. It would be interesting to see a study that compared subjects provided with the narrow focus set of the basketball studies with a separate group that was given an instruction to keep awareness open, with general attention to the entire scene so that they could answer questions about the game they were viewing. It would be my prediction that individuals with an open focus of attention would be much more likely to perceive the extraneous stimuli as being more salient than the general features of the game.

Havertown, Penn.

Communicating effectively with physicians

ALTHOUGH I'M ENCOURAGED by the new rule change that will encourage physicians to collaborate with psychologists more often ("New rule will change the psychologist-physician relationship," April Monitor), we need to make sure we are ready to deliver what physicians need. We need to be able to discuss anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, pharmacology, medical procedures, etc. And our oral and written feedback has to be succinct and relevant. We have been trained in the climate of graduate school, the land of theses and dissertations, and the "language" of psychology. We will need to be comfortable in the medical/hospital setting and conversant in the language of medicine if we desire to fit into the medical/hospital culture and meet the needs of the patients and physicians there. Let's not see this as a situation where only one side needs to change (i.e., physicians need to work with us more). Instead, let's also focus on how we need to modify our own knowledge bases and practice patterns to better meet the needs of the physicians with whom we desire to work.

Jackson, Tenn.

Modern prejudice

IN THE ARTICLE, "THWARTING modern prejudice" (April Monitor), I was intrigued by one of the photos. In it, Dr. Doug McDonald, psychologist and Lakota Sioux, reportedly "waved smudge," and asked the participants to take the smudge into themselves for "purification." Is such a religious/spiritual activity appropriate for an APA-sponsored program? I certainly would have been very uncomfortable with such an endeavor. I'm not against discussing and examining the use of religion and spirituality, but doesn't it seem potentially unethical to promote any kind of religious and/or spiritual activity in this type of setting?

Further, at times I have become concerned that this kind of example reiterates the notion that our profession views certain spiritual endeavors as acceptable, whereas others are considered exclusionary and offensive (would praying to Jesus have been as acceptable as waving smudge?).

Perhaps it would be better to leave spiritual and religious activities to the institutions that utilize them.

Conway, Ark.

Physician-assisted suicide

A CLOSE FRIEND SUFFERED cardiac arrest two weeks ago. He told me that just prior to his crisis, his cardiologist had gotten him to reverse a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order that another physician had convinced him to sign. Had his cardiologist not been so decisively biased on the side of life, my friend--who had already struggled with cancer for more than 20 years--would be dead today. He spoke with his cardiologist after his resuscitation, and learned that his first doctor, an employee of the hospital, had been implementing the newly "efficient" practice, guided by hospital administrators, accountants and attorneys, of disposing of high-maintenance/cost patients.

APA needs to trade in its RxP campaign for a program to help psychologists acquire advanced-practice nursing status. Then, 1.) even more physicians in the trenches would welcome collaboration with them, 2.) organized medicine would have few if any persuasive objections to psychologists' prescribing, and 3.) a destructive, debilitating turf war would be averted.

Committee Against Medicalizing Psychology
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Further Reading

All letters to the editor must be 250 words or fewer. Mail them to APA Monitor, 750 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20002-4242, or e-mail them by e-mail. Letters will be edited for length and clarity. We regret we cannot run all of the letters we receive.