Ordinary Earth Returns: People Need a Place

The importance of a sense of place to psychological well-being became evident during my travel to Israel. While we understand many psychological difficulties in terms of relationships (particularly parental), or development, or even the body, rarely do psychologists venture into the significance of space and place. Human geographers like Yi-Fu Tuan, Nigel Thrift, Steve Pile and Derek Gregory (to name a few) have written extensively about the mutual influence of space and consciousness.  Clinicians have not focused on it as much, but my thinking is that we can learn about another facet of our minds from these geographers .

While many mammals are known to have strong ties to territory, humans are not.  It is taken for granted that people can be re-located, transported and mobile.  It is assumed that dramatic shifts in landscape won’t affect the consciousness of people.  Yet, what if that isn’t the case? What if the extensive amount of time paid to the elaboration of ethnic or heritage narratives is an attempt to fulfill a human need for place identification?  A good deal of the dislocation that characterizes normative social behavior may actually induce clinical symptoms. I’m thinking about alcohol and substance abuse in Native American communities, and now, of course, the Jewish and the Palestinian people. Place is such a significant issue in the Mideast that it leads to war. Additionally, young people who no longer have a relationship to landscapes and who have increasingly profound problems with attention and mood also come to mind.

It isn’t the only factor that might cause psychological difficulties. It may, however, be an overlooked antagonist.  Further, environmental and climate change could actually produce the types of psychological symptoms that cause people not to act in their best interest. Findings from my clinical practice and community work support this idea.  I’ll be doing more research on this topic and will post findings as I have them.

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