Work that Reconnects Network


This group work arose in North America in the late 1970s, during a time of escalating concerns about nuclear weaponry and the hazards of nuclear power. Chellis Glendinning, Joanna Macy and Fran Peavey observed that when people share with others their feelings of fear, anguish or despair, their power to act for change is released. Thus began “despair and empowerment” work (phrase coined by Chellis). Joe Havens and Sarah Pirtle added the concept of “the turning” – the natural release of energy and insight that arises out of the mutual acknowledgement of shared feelings.

Rapidly the efforts of these people and many others (including Barbara Hazard, Tova Green and Kevin McVeigh) synergized to develop a model that used counseling methods, spiritual principles, ritual and myth, laughter and tears, reverence and irreverence to help individuals break out of the numbness of despair and denial. Joanna Macy’s 1979 article “How to Deal with Despair” and her 1983 book, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, were vital to the spread of the work. Workshops, ranging in length from an evening to a week, in churches, classrooms and police armories, drew many thousands of people from within and beyond movements for peace, justice, and a safe environment.