I was able to collaborate with science writer Melodie Schreiber and group of psychologists and climate researchers to create this article about addressing concerns and distress about the climate crisis —targeted to professional counselors and healthcare providers. These professionals can obtain continuing education credits by studying the article.

Some highlights:

As California Psychologist Nancy Piotrowski, PhD, notes: “Climate change issues have a significant mental health impact.” In California, where she lives, weather patterns are being suddenly and drastically disrupted, as the region’s devastating wildfires have shown. “As a consequence of these and other environmental changes, people around the world are learning to live with troubling new stressors such as power outages, water shortages, poor air quality, emergency evacuations, and more.”

The learning goals for the article include:

  • Identify the impact climate change issues are having on people’s mental health around the world.
  • Discuss the most current research on how climate change is affecting specific populations and communities.
  • Describe ways mental health practitioners can address climate change issues and climate-induced stress with patients.

I share my thoughts about the ongoing nature of climate stressors, and how all counselors using many styles can contribute.

“Most of clinicians’ existing skills are “totally appropriate” for addressing climate change concerns, Doherty adds. Cognitive behavioral therapists can use their knowledge of people’s thinking patterns—the tendency to overworry or catastrophize the significance of a problem, for example—to help people mitigate their responses to climate change. Meanwhile, ­psychodynamic or depth therapists can help patients make deeper connections between themselves, their behavior, and the environment. Physical or somatic therapists can encourage people to relax, become more mindful, and reduce stress physiologically in the face of environmental stress. Still other therapists may focus on spirituality, feminism, or social justice.

Thomas Doherty, in “Addressing climate change concerns in practice”

Psychologist Derrick Sebree from the Michigan School of Psychology focuses the conversation on systemic racism and climate justice: “For instance, pollution-generating manufacturing plants or processing centers are more likely to be in and to affect communities of color, and these communities have not had the power to speak out against these practices. Changes in climate are similarly affecting marginalized communities more often and more severely. And around the world, those who have contributed the least to the drivers of climate change are the ones who suffer the most from its effects.”

Later on, we discuss diagnosis of climate concerns and coping with troubling emotions about climate change. As I describe, “We certainly don’t want to pathologize someone’s reasonable distress about climate and environmental threats …But we also don’t want to minimize issues that are causing significant impairment to a person’s life.” Seattle psychologist Zoey Rogers observes, “For a lot of people, it’s too scary to actually sit with those feelings,” she says. “Facing our grief and despair doesn’t make the feelings go away, but it may help us place them within a larger context that gives it different meaning.”

Derrick Sebree adds, “After a big disaster, sometimes just the idea of being out in nature for people is hard, if it feels like this is dangerous…Encouraging people to work through their trauma and regain control can help—including connecting with nature in positive ways.”

Check out the article for more insights. Keep in touch and take care of yourself.

—Thomas Doherty, Psy.D.

Published by Thomas Doherty

Psychologist Thomas Doherty's work on environmental sustainability and health has been featured in publications like the New York Times and in talks worldwide. Thomas consults with individuals and organizations through his business Sustainable Self. He was the founding Director of the Ecopsychology Certificate Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School and Founding Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed academic journal Ecopsychology. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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