The Psychologist


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story: Catron County's politics heat up as its land goes bankrupt

Melinda Garcia of Albuquerque has been a clinical and community psychologist for 25 years. She has led three day-long sessions in Catron County for Forest Service employees and their families: one on the high cost of stress, another on how to survive and thrive in an unhealthy environment and a third on advanced mediation. She also challenged the mayor of Reserve, two clergymen and a doctor to take the lead in quieting the animosities that troubled the town.

"I usually work in urban communities - east L.A, south-central L.A., Roxbury in Boston. War zones. This was a war zone, but in an idyllic setting. (District Ranger) Mike Gardner had people from the militia having meetings in their trucks right outside his home with loaded guns. It's not happening any more, but when they called me it was happening.

"There's not a big market for this kind of work. I was surprised to get the referral, frankly. Mike Gardner's idea was to get counselling for the agency people and their spouses. But that's not what I did. It's a really small town; no one was going to come in for individual counselling because everyone would know. So I said, 'Let's go for community intervention,' so nobody would get scared off for being seen as weak and unmanly.

"I think an important contributor to the contention was self-righteousness. I think particularly the ranching and logging interests and the environmentalists are extremely self-righteous. And when you're self-righteous you have to deny the rights of others. I tell them that you can be self-righteous or you can be at peace, but you can't be both at the same time. Being at peace doesn't mean being a doormat."

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