Climate Grief XTR Ep. 1
Thank you for this episode. I hae just become aware of your work so haven’t yet read much of it. But what I have read has enticed me to bring up some of my dilemmas. My split seems to be between my climate activist self and my psychotherapist self. I do psychotherapy that is influenced by my many years of education and postgraduate training. This training doesn’t naturally lead me to bringing up climate change with my patients. My activist self is VERY engaged in climate change. in that capacity, I talk freely about climate change. But though I am evolving in the direction of connecting the two, I haven’t yet found a way that makes sense to me. I’ve been trained to let patients take the lead in telling their stories and their thoughts about how their presenting problems have arisen and most of them don’t tell stories about nature or about climate change. My training has also discouraged me from imposing my views on them so I hesitate to raise issues about climate change unless my patients initiate it. Most of them don’t. I leave books about climate change in my office that they can see. If they ask me about this topic, I engage with them about it. But, most of them don’t bring it up. For me to bring it up when they come to talk with me about problems in their personal relationships or in their jobs or about various terrible things that are going on in our world, I follow their leads. That seems to be what’s on their minds in a most immediate way. Lately, I think climate change is more close to the surface in more people’s minds. So, I am listening for this so that I don’t miss it.
I am very aware that climate change is an elephant in the room and touch on it sometimes but, feel that pushing it into the discussion is forceful and will not be welcomed.
Please share your thoughts about timing and ways to know when and how to bring this up. Would you push a dying person to discuss their death or would you bring it up gently once or twice and not push further if they don’t pick up on the gentle mention of their death?
Given that you have been influenced by the dharma, I am wondering if you are aware of One Earth Sangha.
Susan: Thank you for raising this critical issue. I was in the wilderness when you sent it, on solo spiritual retreat along the Path of Totality for the solar eclipse, so you caught me at a good time! Still, I waited another week to respond, as I had no ready answer, and I wanted it to emerge in meditation rather than cogitation. The basic premise of Radical Ecopsychology in response to Western Psychology is this: someone comes to us with a troubled psyche, they’re reaching out to a total stranger because the source and solution to their mental distress is not obvious to them. Western Psychologists traditionally inquire into their family life (“so tell me about your mother”), their social life, and their work situation. But humans evolved in close relationship to family, community, and PLACE! How can we leave out context in assessing psyche? Especially in an age when we have become separated from the natural world, and thus have to make an effort to place ourselves in some kind of natural context (e.g., gardening, houseplants, a walk in the woods, vacations, etc.). When we forget to work at that natural connection, of course we will fall out of sorts with ourselves, will feel alienated from our environment, etc. Of course we will get depressed. All of this, I have a feeling you already know, but I wanted to place my answer in this context. But the answer that came to me is more practical. It is proven and becoming more readily accepted now that ecotherapy is effective in treating most of our modern mental afflictions. So put the cart before the horse. If you aren’t comfortable initiating a line of inquiry around a client’s relationship to the natural world, begin by simply giving them something to talk about. Ask them for e.g. before they come back next time to take a long walk in the woods or along the shore, and see what comes up as it relates to their relational issues, ask them to observe any differences in their thinking in a natural setting versus lying in bed at 4 in the morning. You can always preface this homework (soul work) by pointing out that science is discovering the benefits of nature walks to mental well being. We also know now that nutrients in soil, handled for at least 30 minutes, have similar benefits to anti-depressants, so assigning gardening work to someone fighting depression with instructions to observe their thought patterns before, during, and after is also a good “conversation starter.” In any case, rather than beginning your course of treatment with “Tell me about your mother,” you first get your client to enter some kind of intentional relationship with their natural world, hopefully connecting them to their own human nature, and THEN you ask “So tell me about your relationship with your Mother… Nature.” What do you think? Does this give you any ideas? It’s not my area of expertise, as I’m not a clinician, so I’m keen to hear your thoughts.
Oh, and on the death question. I would never directly ask someone how they feel about their own death. Instead, I would tend to ask them about their relationship to death, how it has touched their lives, how they’ve dealt with grievous losses, and allow that to lead into a more spiritual discussion of death and impermanence, about how we suffer small deaths all the time in our lives, and how death is as much a part of life as life is a part of death. My own father died when I was 19, but he is still very much alive in me. I highly recommend “Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s Red Book” to you. Jung believed the dead are more alive than the living. And it is helpful, I think, to point out that water is life, and is composed of 2 parts Hydrogen, which comes from the birth of stars, and 1 part Oxygen, which comes from the death of stars. So life is 2 parts birthing, one part dying. Not linear. Intrinsic.
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