Whilst there is understandably considerable attention being paid to the disorder, apprehension and general concern generated by the current pandemic, we want to introduce a new idea to the TA professional community. We had planned to wait awhile before launching our thinking but given what is going on right now, we realised that this is precisely the time to share this. We want to present a movement in TA that is orientated toward an ecological understanding of the individual embedded in relationship with others and the wider natural world. It is based on the premise that TA has historically been anthropocentric, by which is meant that human psychology has been primarily understood in terms of what goes on within the individual person and in between people, in other words, the intra-psychic and inter-personal domains. In common with most psychological frameworks, TA has been ‘person(s)-centred’. By introducing Ecological TA (Eco-TA) as a distinct movement, our intention is to draw attention to the ecological domain in advocating a new direction in TA theory and practice. We offer an initial working definition of Eco-TA as follows:
Eco-TA is an approach for understanding the human and more-than-human experience that is forged in connection with the ecological context in which it occurs. Furthermore, that this inter-connected process incorporates the embodied agency of both human and the more-than-human partners in the encounter. It is, to be more succinct, the practice of transactional analysis in alliance with Earth.
Our definition is based on a core assumption - an ontological premise - which is that human experience is just one component in a wider system of connections, extending beyond those simply involving other people. In this respect it is systemic, but one that incorporates the impact of the other than human factors and is therefore better understood as eco-systemic.
What is distinctive about Eco-TA is that its point of origin is outside of any one field of practice. It is, in the context of TA categorisation, coming from beyond the notion of fields of application. It has neither emerged from, nor ‘belongs’ to any one field and is perhaps the first time TA practitioners can share a common ground, to be cultivated, shared and enjoyed by all of us, irrespective of where we practice, with whom we practice and how we define our role. Like Earth itself, when lived with in respect, there is abundance, sustainability and flourishing to be found in nourishing a model that acknowledges inter-connectedness. It can be owned by no-one but belongs to us all.
Key features of Eco-TA
In exploring the scope of Eco-TA, we suggest that the following features begin to form a distinct character and distinguish it from what has come before in terms of theoretical and practical development. Each feature is designed to emphasise and support the overall aim of Eco-TA which is to advocate a key shift whereby ‘client’ (or group) and practitioner regard their working relationship not as being apart from, but to one of being a part of nature and the planet.
- A move toward the concept of the ecological self and away from the egological self. The ecological dimension offers a sense of the ‘I’ formed within and incorporating the wider web of life. This includes becoming increasingly eco-centric and acknowledges the limitations of an anthropocentric frame of reference. One dimension of this shift is that humanism is no longer sufficient as a basis for developing progressive, planet-focussed theory and practice.
- Linked to the above is the centrality of our embodied experience and 'knowings' inextricably embedded in an ecological context. The moving, sensing body is viewed as inherently connective and an important ecological guide.
- A recognition that it is increasingly necessary to develop an understanding of the implications of working in the ecological space, as different from, for example, the relational space. Or, to be more precise, that in referring to the ‘relationality’ of TA practice, this includes the interplay of embodied social, conscious, unconscious and environmental processes.
- Working with natural agency as it emerges in our TA practice. This has significant implications for how physis is re-framed conceptually. In Eco-TA, physis is understood as being universally present, existing both within and outside of the individual self. It is this understanding of physis that draws attention to the tendency toward homonomy alongside the familiar TA goal of autonomy.
- An understanding that people establish an eco-script both individually and culturally in relation to nature, ecology and Earth. Eco-TA is aimed at expanding the frame of reference, encouraging permission and becoming increasingly ‘script-free’ in relation to matters of the environment. Individuals and communities have narratives that can (dis)connect with the ecological domain. Ecological scripting has remained unexplored territory in TA, and Eco-TA exists, in part, to bring about a new phase of organisational psycho-educational development in the professional community.
An understanding that people establish an eco-script both individually and culturally in relation to nature, ecology and Earth. Eco-TA is aimed at expanding the frame of reference, encouraging permission and becoming increasingly ‘script-free’ in relation to matters of the environment. Individuals and communities have narratives that can (dis)connect with the ecological domain. Ecological scripting has remained unexplored territory in TA, and Eco-TA exists, in part, to bring about a new phase of organisational psycho-educational development in the professional community.
However, we argue that whilst a change of attitude is central to establishing Eco-TA, there are several ways in which changes might be considered that would make such a shift more effective in the TA community. Examples include:
- Legitimising the importance of outdoor work for practitioners and clients by devising guidance for this practice and acknowledging this type of approach in credentialing practitioners.
- Incorporating references to ecological awareness in examination criteria, through marking schemes, written examination guidance, theory questions and oral examination.
- Allocating a special issue in the TAJ to the theme of Eco-TA and working outdoors.
- Generating discussion and debate that raises awareness of the limitations of a default 'indoor mind' position and to open up discourse about other ways of envisioning where and how practice might take place.
- Incorporating Ecological TA in existing TA training programmes
- Including ecological considerations within TA professional ethical frameworks
At this early stage in developing the idea of Eco-TA we are mindful that there will be many in our professional community who will be interested in keeping in touch, developing practice and thinking anew about theory. In the first instance we have established an initial ‘watering place’ an on-line reference point at ecota.dev to register interest. You’ll be welcome - we’ll be waiting there.
- Giles Barrow and Hayley Marshall
Note: A full version of this paper was published in the Transactional Analyst, the journal of the UK Association of TA (April, 2020)