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The Psychology of the Climate Crisis

by Susan Coldwell
Published on 08 March 2021



How do we begin to talk about Climate Change? It is such a huge and terrifying topic with the mainstream media printing more shocking and frightening headlines, using words like disaster, extinction, death and destruction as they report on the alarming impacts of climate change around the world. What is often missing from discussions of climate change are consideration of the emotional impact the environmental crisis has on us all. It is so enormous; how do we begin to engage with it and the myriad of deep-seated emotions it stirs up? 

The Climate Psychology Alliance recently held a workshop led by Caroline Hickman aimed at addressing this imbalance. Caroline is a Psychotherapist and Climate Psychology Therapist who is often asked to do talks and present workshops on working with Eco-Anxiety and Eco-Grief. 

So what of the psychological impacts of climate change? For some, the enormity of this global problem is too much to face so they look away. They ignore what is happening because they don’t see that it has a direct impact on them, denying it from their awareness because reading the news is too distressing. Conspiracy theorists distort it, branding it ‘fake news’ and ‘a great hoax’. The truth is climate change is real and we did this: human beings made this happen. Caroline argues that if we are to fix this, we have the scientific knowledge to do it but we also need to engage with it emotionally.

If we are going to tackle this climate crisis we cannot afford to look away from the feelings of guilt, shame, loss, fear, anxiety, despair, rage, hopelessness. To create sustainable change and fix our relationship with the natural world: we need to learn to sit with and integrate these feelings, holding the distress with compassion, understanding and respect so we are neither in denial nor overwhelmed by it.

The workshop was about our role as therapists and how we can help each other to sit with these feelings without being overwhelmed by them. It was about getting this message out to schools, colleges, workplaces, groups and organisations, helping people understand their emotional responses to the climate crisis and how to live with the uncertainty. In addition to these talks the Climate Psychology Alliance offer information on the psychological impacts of climate change, do individual therapeutic support to those struggling with Eco-Anxiety and Eco-Grief as well as running regular climate cafés, a space where people come together to talk about their climate fears and anxiety.

You can find more information about the work of the Climate Psychology Alliance on their website or if you would be interested in attending a talk on dealing with the emotional impact of the climate crisis or a climate café hosted by us at tPCA, then please let us know. The Environmental and Climate Crisis Working Group now has its own email address, if you are interested in the environment and would like to be more involved in the work of our group: drop us an email: tecc.group@the-pca.org.uk


‘Our children in the future will look back at us and ask 

if we did all that we could have done to deal with this problem, 

or did we avoid doing what needed to be done?’

Barack Obama

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