Our existential reality: What am I doing to avert climate catastrophe?
When a client decides to see a psychotherapist it makes sense that they expect that the process might make them feel better in themselves. Often this is not immediately the case and when a client comes to see me to discuss potential climate catastrophe I can offer no reassurance. There is a path through but it involves deep inner work and action. ! It seems to me that therapy often helps clients ‘feel’ better, but this is really to ‘feel’ more, deep and difficult feelings of vulnerability, joy, sadness, anger, fear, jealousy, rage.. amongst many others. Often we deny our feelings or run away from them. In therapy, we can become more truthful with ourselves and widen our perspective, before working out how to go forward, creating something valuable to live for in the present. As a therapist I sit beside a client in this process, asking questions, reflecting back, offering relationship.
Over the last six months, I’ve had an increasing number of clients coming to therapy because of the existential threat of global climate change, massive biodiversity loss and our potential extinction. How can we live today, they each ask themselves and me, with this huge threat to ourselves and to our earth? Our very existence at stake. What is the point of it all? And crucially: ‘What can I do now - in this pivotal time - to avert climate catastrophe?’
First and foremost, with my clients we explore emergent feelings about climate catastrophe, experiencing and processing these, whilst ensuring the self is deeply nourished. While the comfortable path of denial may seem easier, or alternatively to panic, it seems to me that we need to pause, nurture ourselves and others… and feel this existential crisis: to be anxious, we need to be miserable, we need to be worried, to grieve, to be angry, to be frightened,. And then, when these feelings are alive in us, we need to sit through them, breathe into them until a deep knowledge is within us. And then we’ll know what to do.
(Not in therapy? There are climate change sharing circles now in many towns where people can meet, feel the shock with others, be sad, angry, grieve. There are online groups. Or maybe a friend for some ‘co-counselling’).
Online podcasts can also be very helpful in feeling into this difficult area outside of therapy time; I recommend Tara Brach’s talk on the ecological dis-ease of our planet. She offers inner practices of presence that enable us to respond with wisdom. https://www.tarabrach.com/earths-crisis/
Then for many its time for action! Activism offers hope and connection with others. There is no surety here - as a therapist I can’t offer reassurances, however I can and do encourage my clients to claim their agency and to act. Now. While politicians, corporations, online climate deniers and others may deride individual efforts to recycle, reduce plastic, or move away from petrol-powered cars, plant trees. the reality is it all helps,... Now is also the time to join groups and take collective action: talk to others about our reality and to do what works best with your own conscience: to create connected communities, to join grassroots movements like Extinction Rebellion, to protest with other adults and children on the Global Strikes for Climate, and vitally, to lobby governments and corporations to tackle the environmental crisis.
As Greta Thurnberg says (the young Swedish School Strike for Climate activist, nominated for the Nobel Peace prize) ‘ I want you to panic’ Feel into the feelings, deeply look after yourself… then act in whatever way you can, joining the millions who are out there also wanting systemic change.