In times such as this, I question my role as a psychotherapist wishing that I had studied something that could truly and directly help the climate and environmental crisis that we face. I feel so connected to the natural world that to see it being destroyed, disregarded and exploited to this scale, to see us, humans, destroying what sustains us is truly horrifying and evokes in me a profound sense of helplessness.
I love my work because it entails looking at human psychology. In essence, understanding why we feel and behave the way we do. This is much easier to do with an individual sitting in front of me than to speculate what drives us to collectively cause harm or do nothing.
Biologically we are wired towards survival. Capitalism and consumerism, paired with technology have made us more and more disconnected from our bodies, our food and our environment.
In psychotherapy, we try to help people tolerate their feelings, be in their bodies, understand what drives them to make certain choices in life, etc. I believe that as a profession we can help to heal the wounds and traumas of the past so that we don’t have to continue repeating painful experiences. Psychotherapists can help individuals and groups to think the unthinkable and feel our most painful feelings. This is both a delicate and yet powerful process, which happens over time in order to not overwhelm the system.
Too much information, and we either react or disconnect.
A similar process is taking place collectively. The issues we are dealing with are huge and require serious attention. But how we pay attention is key. Reactivity and disconnection are inevitable responses to such overwhelmingly big issues. Therefore we need to learn to face things and not run away from them. We need to talk about and help one another grieve not just our personal losses but also the loss of nature and life, as we know it.
I deeply admire climate activists, environmentalists and all the scientists that dedicate their lives to bringing all this information to our attention and who are desperately trying to raise awareness to protect our natural world. But this depends on all of us waking up to what is happening and beginning treating ourselves and other humans/beings/the planet with care and respect.
We can only wake up and take action from a place of consciousness. So, it’s time we stop burying our heads in the sand and take a serious look at how we live, the choices we make and how we treat the planet every single day.
As a profession, a society and a nation, we need to face our areas of contradiction, our “splits”. After all, the personal is the political.
In the words of Great Thunberg:
“If the walls of your house truly came tumbling down, surely you would set your differences aside and start cooperating.
Well, our house is falling apart. And we are rapidly running out of time. And yet basically nothing is happening.
Everyone and everything needs to change. So why waste precious time arguing about what and who needs to change first?
Everyone and everything needs to change.”
Global Climate Strike 20 and 27 September 2019
Further reading by Sam Jahara –
Psychotherapy can change your life – but you may not want it to
How do Psychotherapists work with anxiety? Trio of Blogs – Part 3
Sam Jahara is UKCP Registered, CTA, PTSTA and is one of the Brighton & Hove Psychotherapy Co-founders. She is an experienced Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist. Her special interests include culture, identity, belonging, sustainability and environmental issues. Sam is available at our Lewes and Brighton & Hove Practices.
Ildiko Davis says
Thank you for writing such an important and timely article! I especially appreciated you widening the scope to include our whole environment and not just climate, as well as highlighting that we may react with acting out or cuting-off our feelings, if we get overwhelmed by information (or our feelings related to the information). My only comment would be, that as much as I agree that we shouldn’t waste time arguing, who needs to change first, I believe it is really important to reflect deeply on what would be the important things that we could change in order to tip the balance back on environmental issues. I mention this, as it seems to me that often the focus is on predicted disastrous climate change in the near future and CO2 reduction as a suggested remedy. In my view, the currently observable destruction/extinction of our natural environment is much more to do with industrial and personal practices that destroys natural habitat or the ecological balance, and pollute the environment with chemicals, hormones, GMO modified genes, plastic and other non-organic waste and electromagnetic radiation. All these things are already happening currently and on a big scale, as opposed to being possible future possible scenarios. So, in my view this also means that what needs to change is a lot more wide ranging than just CO2 reduction and using sustainable energy, but perhaps not quite everything either (which could be too overwhelming to contemplate and unclear in terms of what to do). The upside of this is that there are a lot more things that we can do personally and as a society to improve our impact on our environment and change our ways to more sustainable practices. On a personal level, I have found that re-connecting with our body and feelings helps us to distinguish between essential needs and just culturally generated desires, that are not that important. That way we can become a lot more clear on what are the things that we can live without and change (even if we don’t like the idea of it). Incidentally that would also make us a lot more happy too and we would not need so many happyness-replacements, any way 🙂
Brighton & Hove Psychotherapy says
Thank you for your thoughts Ildiko. I completely agree!