This group work arose in North America in the late 1970s, when it brought together many antinuclear and environmental activists as well as psychologists, artists, and spiritual practitioners. 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. Because of Joanna Macy’s 1979 article “How to Deal with Despair,” and her 1983 book, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, it first became known as Despair and Empowerment work.
In the mid-1980s participants began calling it Deep Ecology work, thanks to the consonance and inspiration they found in the deep ecological perspective. By then the work was spreading to Europe, Australia, South Asia, Japan and the Soviet Union. In 1988 Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings, which Joanna co-authored with John Seed, Pat Fleming and Arne Naess, was published, reflecting new forms of the work; and subsequent workshops often took the form of Councils of All Beings. Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect our Lives, Our World, co-authored by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown was published in 1998 to provide an up-to-date description of the theory behind the work and some sixty of its exercises, both new and old. Here the group work, reflecting the breadth of its applications, is called simply the Work that Reconnects. A new edition of Coming Back to Life was published in 2014 with updated practices, theory, and additional chapters.