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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Climate Change Makes Its Way Into the Therapy Room

A flood of regret and humiliation would wash over Alina Black whenever she walked down the snack aisle at Trader Joe’s. Her skin crawled with the sensation.

Something as basic as a handful of nuts. They arrived in such large quantities of plastic, frequently in many layers, that she pictured it leaving her home and heading to a landfill, where it would stay for the rest of her life and the lives of her children.

She wished, sincerely wished, that she had left less of an imprint on the planet. In addition, she had a newborn in diapers, a full-time job, and a 5-year-old who insisted on snacking. These opposing forces were progressively closing in on her, like a pair of jaws, as she approached the age of 37.

After nursing the baby in the wee hours of the morning, she would disappear down a rabbit hole, scrolling through news reports of droughts, fires, and mass extinction, before returning to reality. She would then close her eyes and look into the darkness.

Dr. Doherty and a colleague, Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology at the College of Wooster, wrote a paper a decade ago in which they proposed a novel concept. They suggested that climate change would have a significant psychological effect – not just on those who would face the brunt of it, but also on those who would learn about it via news reports and scientific studies. This was considered to be very speculative at the time.

That distrust is beginning to fade. Eco-anxiety is a term that was popularised by youthful activists and has now entered the general lexicon. And professional groups are scrambling to catch up, investigating techniques to addressing anxiety that is both existential and, many would say, reasonable.

Despite the fact that there is little empirical evidence of beneficial therapies, the discipline is rapidly increasing. In addition to providing an online database of climate-aware therapists, the Good Grief Network, a peer support network fashioned after 12-step recovery programmes, has grown to include more than 50 groups, and professional certification programmes in climate psychology are beginning to develop.

She was no Greta Thunberg, but rather a stressed-out, sleep-deprived working mother. After two years of wildfires and heat waves in Portland, she had reawakened something that had been dormant within her: a drive to be prepared in case of tragedy. She found herself up late at night researching and comparing water filtration system prices. She requested a generator as a gift for her birthday.

At 56, he is one of the most well-known specialists on climate change in psychology, and he also presents a podcast called “Climate Change and Happiness,” which is available on iTunes. The treatments he uses in his clinical practise range from well-known approaches to anxiety, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, to more obscure approaches, such as existential therapy, which was developed to help people deal with their feelings of despair, and ecotherapy, which examines the client’s relationship with the natural world.

Ecology was considered a “woo-woo” field at the time, with colleagues diving into shamanic practises and Jungian deep ecology, as he described it. Dr. Doherty’s research focused on the physiological effects of anxiety, which was a more conventional approach. In the process, though, he had come upon a notion that was unusual at the time: that individuals may be harmed by environmental disintegration even if they were not physically caught in a catastrophe.

Recent study has left little dispute about the fact that this is taking place. A poll of 10,000 adults aged 16 to 25 conducted in ten countries and published last month in The Lancet indicated alarming levels of pessimism. Fourty-five percent of those who answered the survey said that being concerned about the weather had a negative impact on their daily lives. Three-quarters of those polled said they think “the future is terrible,” and 56 percent said they believed “humanity is on its way out.”

According to Dr. Clayton, the damage to young people’s confidence looks to be more severe than it was in the past, when they faced dangers such as nuclear war. “We’ve certainly dealt with significant issues in the past, but climate change is being portrayed as an existential danger,” she added. People’s feeling of security is undermined in a fundamental level, according to the report.

A Portland therapist who graduated from graduate school in 2016, Caitlin Ecklund, 37, said that nothing she learned during her training — which included topics such as buried trauma, family systems, cultural competence and attachment theory — had prepared her to help the young women who began coming to her with feelings of hopelessness and grief about climate change. Those initial encounters are remembered as “misses” in her memory.

On weekends, she goes on walks in the woods with her family, focusing on not allowing her thoughts to go to the past or the future. It was through her discussions with Dr. Doherty that she was “able to see that it’s not really up to us as people to address the problem.”

Occasionally, she isn’t sure if relief is what she is looking for, however. Following the news on climate change seems like a duty, a weight she is expected to bear, at least until she is certain that elected authorities are taking meaningful effort to address the issue.

Rather than being free of her anxieties about global warming or being immobilised by them, she wants to achieve something in the middle: she compares it to someone who has a phobia of flying, but who learns to control their anxiety effectively enough to take a plane flight.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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