Coping with the Climate Crisis

By Kevin Boon


Rosemary Randell is a psychotherapist who has been working for over 15 years on therapy in the context of climate issues. She has prepared a series of short videos looking at how we respond to the climate crisis emotionally.

Firstly, Ro talks about disavowal which manifests itself as knowing about the issues on one hand and acting in denial on the other. People know about the climate crisis but don’t seem prepared to take action. This is echoed in our lives through politics and business. 

Ro moves on to talk about climate distress. Such feelings are appropriate in light of the climate emergency and go much wider than just anxiety. People commonly respond with feelings of guilt, shock, grief and despair. Some start to question their own identity and their purpose in life. After ten years of austerity in the UK, there is concern as people see support systems being cut back. Important in dealing with this distress is that people are heard and able to determine what role they can play whether it’s getting out on the streets to protest or changes to their lifestyle. 

Ro goes on to talk about the tasks necessary when grieving in response to the distress caused when accepting the reality of the climate situation and working through those painful emotions. It’s important to adjust to the new reality with re-orientation to a new identity. We need to avoid feeling hopeless and giving up on the issue. 

To support someone who is distressed, we need to be further along the journey than they are. Key is to be accepting, non-judgemental and giving the person space. Listen with empathy and allow the person to be upset. Reassurance needs to be grounded in reality. Try and help the person find balance. If necessary give the person support in getting professional help from a therapist who understands climate distress. 

Ro considers the two extremes of hope and despair. She argues that coming from either of these viewpoints is a barrier to realistic political action. Her suggested mindset is that we don’t know where the journey will lead but that there is work that can be done to make things better. 

Finally, Ro talks about what she calls the “climate journey”. Her thoughts on this came together after talking with frontline climate activists. She talks about stages including epiphany, immersion and action. Ro suggests that, if taking action, it’s important to place yourself in a community of like-minded people who can provide support. Care must be taken as action can lead to burnout. However, action can also lead to resolution.