One recent wintry January morning, I took myself off on a guided walk offered by reconnect.works and inspired by the work of Joanna Macy.
Each walk follows the spiral of reconnection; from gratitude, through honouring our pain for the earth, then seeing with new eyes before going forth into the world again, with guided instruction for reflection and meditations.
I chose a city walk of 1-1.5 hours through my local park and along an old railway track, simply downloading the prompts to my phone to facilitate the walk.
I enjoyed the opportunity to slow down, connecting to the nature around me. I walk in Alexandra Park regularly, but on this grey morning I was particularly drawn to the green lichen on the avenue of lime trees and the noisy call of the green flocks of parakeets above me.
I was then invited to be with my grief for that which has been lost on the earth, through a simple sentence exercise. This supported and provided me with a contained opportunity to be with my feelings for the pain of the earth. I imagined that with a walking partner I might explore deeper emotions here - a possibility to consider for the next walk.
I was moved by the meditation that connected me through deep time to our ancestors. The sense of such deep connection across time has been grounding for me since I discovered it and again, it felt supportive, particularly amongst the daily chaos of the pandemic and the connect/disconnect of our current online world.
Finally I was invited to stand and breathe with the earth - connecting with the depth of the space this time in contrast to the previous connection to the breadth of time. I returned to my working day feeling a rich and nourishing connectedness inside of me; to my emotional world, my body and the earth around me.
The scientific community are in agreement that we are now in a state of planetary emergency, and if we don't act immediately the damage to our way of life could be irreversible within the next 11 years. With governments still choosing to ignore the current level or threat, deny the science and distort the truth, organisations such as extinction rebellion (XR) have been growing in strength and numbers as people look for a way of making their voices heard. With scientist, teachers and doctors all joining XR, discussions are going on about the emphasis on arrests within XR and implications for professionals such as ourselves. It's time for us all to consider where we stand on the issue of societal change and climate justice. What can we as therapists do (if anything) to support this movement and raise awareness within our communities? What steps do we need to take both as an organisation and as individuals to tackle the climate emergency? How do we support our clients who may be waking up to the realities of this emergency; clients who may be facing arrest or court for the first time in their lives? How can we engage our personal power to bring about change? If you would like to join the conversation then maybe you should consider joining our working group on Climate Change and the Environment.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘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,
I recently asked myself this question, and, being a member of the Environment and Climate Crisis Working Group, felt I should be able to answer it confidently. I couldn’t, however, so decided to reach out and ask some therapists who are doing this kind of work on a day to day basis. I spoke to Dr. Ruth Watson about ecotherapy, her work and how (if at all) the environment comes into the counselling space. Look out for a longer interview in the upcoming PCQ, but for now I’ll leave her response to the question “How would you explain to other counsellors what it is that you do with clients?” below.
Please note that her answer is representative of the views of only herself and not ecotherapists or any member organisations she may be a part of, as a whole. Ruth Watson is an outdoor (and online) psychotherapist, author/writer and workshops & organisational trainer. She has a new book called “GROUNDED: How Connection with Nature Can Improve Our Mental and Physical Wellbeing” which is available now and she can be found at www.whitepeakwellbeing.com // Instagram @whitepeak_ruth // Twitter @whitepeakwell.
RW: I would say I do what we all do in some ways, I work with clients – lead by them – on the issues and problems concerning them, and often that’s outside the room in an outdoor space, rather than indoors. As a result of that, in my work we are in movement a lot more than we would be inside or online, and this brings it’s own dynamic to the work we do together. This is my starting point, but how that work looks with clients varies person to person, and the role, impact and meanings of being outside in the rest of nature for the therapy changes from person to person.
Results of the PCA Environment & Climate Crisis Working Group survey
Over the summer months, the Environment & Climate Crisis Working Group conducted a survey within the PCA to gauge counsellor knowledge and interest on the current climate crisis and how that impacts on them both personally and professionally in their work with clients. We thank all those who participated in the survey and we gained some valuable insights into what the membership feels is important. The Survey was in three parts, each focusing on different areas, the first section asked about the participants personal experience, the second section asked about how this was affecting their work professionally, the final section asked about the issue of activism.
We found that there is overwhelming concern amongst respondents about the climate crisis, with 80% reporting they were ‘very concerned’ and the remaining participants being at least “a little bit concerned”. We found that most respondents have taken on the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mantra, trying to increase their green transport use, reducing waste, using reusable containers and recycling where possible.
There was an even split between counsellors who had worked with concerns about the climate crisis and those who hadn’t. We believe this shows that though not everyone is currently being impacted by the climate crisis, there is enough concern amongst clients that they are bringing it to the therapy room, the most significant of these were the personal impacts experienced directly by clients.
The Question of Activism
We had a 100% “yes” response to the question “Do you think it is appropriate for therapists to be involved in climate activism?” which tells us that counsellors want to get involved!
We’ve taken this on board and are considering ways in which our Working Group can encourage this amongst the membership, including, training, pamphlets and encounter groups. Finally, we had some really insightful and useful feedback in the additional comments section, which gave us some food for thought on where we should focus our energy next.
We hope to be announcing our next course of action in the coming weeks and months so if you’d like to get involved in what we do, please get in touch with the organisation and they can direct you to our group. We meet online once a month for an hour so the commitment is low and if you feel moved to advocate for change, we are open to new members. We look forward to hearing from you!