Therapy in a Time of Climate Crisis

You’ve probably been made to feel at some point in your life that there is something “wrong” with you for feeling anxious, angry, or sad. I always take the tack that you feel anxious, angry, or sad (very likely) because there is something right with you.
This kind of approach to mental health and human emotions takes on particular dimensions of poignancy in times of out-and-out climate crisis. Climate reports of recent years have actually been sending people to therapy, surpassing (in grimness) even the most pessimistic predictions of decades before.
The phrases “climate dread,” “climate anxiety,” and, “climate despair” have been coined to describe this new kind of existential dread that is a valid and direct response to this unique situation of facing the very real possibility that each of us, or any one of us, will be impacted by climate crisis in very real ways at some point in our lifetimes, maybe even much sooner than we’d like to think.
Many people describe feelings akin to being given a cancer diagnosis after reading the most recent climate reports. Some recent reports (put out by distinguished, well-respected, renowned climate scientists, not “fringe” people by any stretch of the imagination) warn readers that young people alive today may have about a 50% chance of witnessing the actual extinction of our species within their lifetimes, and will almost certainly be exposed to food shortages, mass migrations, and other responses to escalating climate crisis during their time here on earth.
Okay. Please take a deep breath. I write with such scathing, relentless honesty here because I care very deeply about the fact that this appears very convincingly to be the case. I know that feelings of climate despair can crop up when we have thoughts like, “It doesn’t really matter what I do. Go vegan. Stop flying. It’s all still going to happen.” And feelings of climate dread come from the idea of an immanent, existential ending of some kind. Valid. Valid, valid.
Add to this the despair associated with not knowing whether the legacy of our life’s work matters beyond the immediate people we touch within our lifetimes (for creatives and artists especially). Add to this frothing cocktail of emotions and considerations a smattering of total confusion about the moral responsibility of having biological children, especially for female-anatomied people who are way more pressed for time in making this momentous decision.  Add to all of this the fact that no one knows exactly how the tumbling domino effect of climate change will unfold. So there’s a thick frosting of deep uncertainty on top of the cake of utterly lugubrious recent scientific predictions. Wow. Jesus. Humans are amazing for breathing through this welter of conditions and emotions and decision trees ever at all.
What has not changed? We are all going to die. Sorry. That was always true. How can we transmute the harsh substantiation of that reality into a huge blessing for possible future generations? I believe that many Millennials, and younger generations, are revolutionizing the importance of what it means to be a human, alive, in the present moment.  These generations seem to be totally rethinking the way we place value on our happiness and the way we feel TODAY, and seem to be discovering how this can actually (contrary to traditional thought) be a very wise and joyous way to guide and direct your life.
However the current climate crisis unfolds, it never hurts to seek mental health support with your very valid feelings about the situation, with understanding how you’d like to spend your time on earth, understanding what you truly value, and understanding what your authentic spirituality looks like.  Therapists treating individuals with climate anxiety and/or climate despair should not hurry to "fix" the feelings, and should focus, rather, on simply being present with them, hearing them, seeing them, and validating them.  The power of relationship becomes particularly obvious in the face of such enormous, existential feelings; both the therapeutic relationship and other loving, personal relationships.  The presence of another human being can be like an anchor, a single thread to hold onto, when the feelings (or the experience) are so big that it seems they could burn us to the ground.  For some clients in the grips of climate despair or climate anxiety, encouragement to engage in activism and/or to adopt more ecologically friendly lifestyle choices can certainly be indicated.  On the one hand, an active approach can reduce feelings of hopelessness.  On the other hand, for those who feel certain that there may not actually be much hope, an active approach can still have a wonderful ameliorative affect on climate anxiety/despair if it is looked upon as a simple act of beauty.  In other words, even if there really is not much hope, engaging in activism and making ecologically friendly lifestyle choices may still feel like the "right" thing to do, and one might look upon engagement in the "right" thing for its own sake, even when there is no hope, as an act of beauty, or a spiritual practice.
What else do we continue to have in common with every human being who ever lived? All we have is now, and all we have is our subjective experience, plus whatever we are being told about the nature of reality and the world around us.  Said another way, all we have is the meeting of our own subjectivity with the great mystery itself.  Contemplation of the one true thing, or the only "true" things we know, can also be calming for those experiencing climate dread or despair.  So, in addition to the activist, spiritual and philosophical dimensions of an active response to an individual in emotional pain over the state of the world, we could also take a creative approach.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.  (Hemingway)