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What does it mean to be a climate-conscious practitioner?

In the same way that I developed a passion for Indigenous social work and working with the most marginalised, I have also made the commitment to become a climate-conscious social worker.  But what does that mean exactly?  Well, here goes.

For me, it means acknowledging the climate emergency, that it is a human made problem and that there is a real urgency to address it.  It means knowing just enough about the climate science to be informed, but limiting my intake of climate news so that it does not lead me down a black hole of despair.  It means filling my awareness with good news environmental stories too, of which there are plenty.

It means recognising both the experience-near and distance effects of climate change, and that it impacts all of us.  One does not need to have lost their home, possessions or loved ones through a flood or fire to be feeling deeply the effects.

It means I acknowledge that uncertainty over the future of the planet is a contributing factor to the rapidly rising rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.  I recognise the need to move away from individual therapy to more collaborative models that bring people together in community.  I believe linking the lives of people through sharing stories and experiences reduces isolation, builds resilience and fosters hope. 

It means being aware that the climate-concerns clients raise with me and the emotions they are experiencing are real, and deeply felt by me too.  It means I listen actively and respectfully to their pain for the world, making space for people to explore their despair, fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and other feelings.  And allowing myself to sit with the discomfort too.

It means I do not label people with a disorder.  Eco-anxiety is not something to be cured or fixed.  Climate distress is a very healthy emotional response, as a sign of sensitivity, empathy and love for our beautiful planet.  It speaks to the values and beliefs that are important to people. 

It means acknowledging the role that Indigenous peoples played in caring for the environment before colonisation and industrialisation (and continue to do so).  It is awareness of the links between climate change and global inequality and recognising that institutional racism, injustice and economic inequality are root causes.  It is those that have been exploited and contributed the least to the problem that are now suffering the most.

It means bringing people back into relationship with the more-than-human world.  It is the loss of our connection with nature that has got us into this mess.  And so my belief is that one step towards climate healing is coming back to nature.  When we have re-established our relationship with Mother Nature, then we are more like to care for her, look out for her, respect her.

It means helping people to find ‘active hope’, that is, moving beyond paralysing feelings of helplessness to taking action.  It is only after exploring and accepting our feelings, that we can take action in a conscious and grounded way.  Whether you decide to fly less and holiday near home or become an environmentalist, it is all valued.   

It means holding my counselling sessions and groupwork in the outdoors wherever possible.  There is a wealth of scientific knowledge that nature is good for our health and wellbeing and so holding my consultations outdoors is already working magic on people before they open their mouth to speak.

It means that I actively maintain my own healthy relationship with the more-than-human world.  I walk the talk.  I do everything that I invite my clients to do.  Spending time sitting in quiet contemplation, practicing mindfulness, finding ways of tending to nature like picking up rubbish or joining Landcare.

It means I live as lightly as possible on the earth.  It is accepting the reality that I am contributing to the release of green houses gases every time I leave the house but not letting guilt or shame talk me into becoming immobilised.  It is about taking any small actions I can, because it does make a difference.

It means that I actively support causes which are addressing climate change.  I attend Climate Change marches and events where possible.  I donate $1 from each counselling session I provide to ReForest Now, a non-profit planting trees and regenerating rainforest in NSW. 

It means I am committed to ongoing professional development in the area of climate aware practice.  I am a full member of Psychology For a Safe Climate and working towards becoming a Climate Aware Practitioner.

If it is a climate-conscious mental health practitioner you are looking for, then let’s chat.

stories matter

Facing the Climate Crisis: What’s Your Story?

As many of you know, I am all about story.

At the heart of narrative therapy is listening to the problem stories of people’s lives.

Right now, I am hearing stories of young people being crippled by eco-anxiety, feeling despair at the future that unfolds for themselves and future generations.  I am hearing stories of despair and sadness at the unfolding crisis on our planet and frustration through lack of climate action by our leaders.  I am hearing stories of the sense of powerless people feel over the melting ice-caps, the loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species. 

According to Joanna Macy, we are now seeing and understanding what is happening in the world through the lens of three main stories or versions of reality.  The Business As Usual story is the one that has people living the way they always have, with economic growth and getting ahead as its goal.  The story of the Great Unraveling acknowledges the disastrous consequences of living by the Business as Usual story, through the collapse of biological, ecological, economic and social systems.  The Great Turning is the story being created by those who recognise the Great Unravelling and are rising to create a different future for our planet.  Joanne argues that there is truth in all these stories.  They are all happening right now.  And we can choose where we put our attention.

While the ‘doom and gloom’ problem story is getting lots of airplay, as a narrative therapist, I am also interested in shining the light on the alternative story.  For it is in feeling despair and sorrow for the planet, that we can speak about our preferences for living. It is in losing hope that we can speak to the kind of future that we wish for.  It is in feeling the pain that we can speak about the values that are so precious to us. 

In 2020, my goal is to uncover the alternative stories of people’s lives around the climate crisis, unearthing the ways they are surviving and thriving, living out their true values and taking action.  The intention in collecting and publishing these stories is to give richer attention to the Great Unravelling that is happening across our communities.  Perhaps these stories will bring back hope to someone who has lost theirs and cannot pull themselves up out of the pit of depression or anxiety.

I am looking for people just like you to share your story.  I would love to speak with you about your relationship with the planet, how you are standing strong in the face of uncertain times and explore opportunities for developing superpowers for future actions. 

Just to be clear, you do not have to have a big story, you may not feel you are changing the world or even coping all that well with the climate crisis.  I envisage that my reflective interview questions will be a therapeutic and healing process for you, as we give voice to the downs and unearth the ups together.

If you are interested in participating, please get in touch and I will send you some questions inviting your written response, to become part of a narrative collective document on Facing the Climate Crisis Together.