What is Eco Anxiety? An Interview with Dr. Thomas Doherty
Curt and Katie interview Dr. Thomas Doherty about Eco Anxiety. We look at the history of eco anxiety, what therapists should know about the environment, the concept of environmental identity, and how we can support clients with Eco Anxiety in therapy. We look at ways to bring these topics up with our clients as well as empower them to take action.
Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.
An Interview with Dr. Thomas J. Doherty
Thomas is a clinical and environmental psychologist based in Portland, Oregon, USA. His multiple publications on nature and mental health include the groundbreaking paper “The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change,” co-authored by Susan Clayton, cited over 700 times. Thomas is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), Past President of the Society for Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology, and Founding Editor of the academic journal Ecopsychology. Thomas was a member of the APA’s first Task Force on Global Climate Change and founded one of the first environmentally-focused certificate programs for mental health counselors in the US at Lewis & Clark Graduate School. Thomas is originally from Buffalo, New York.
In this podcast episode we talk about what therapists should know about Eco Anxiety
In preparation for Earth Day, we wanted to understand more about Eco Anxiety and what therapists can do to support our clients and the planet.
What is Eco Anxiety?
- The history of Eco Anxiety, including worry about the use of chemicals, climate change
- The importance of words, personal experiences, how the client sees the world
- The diagnoses that align with this area, the types of impacts on clients
What Should Therapists Know About the Environment?
- Resources related to climate change
- How to explore Environmental Identity
- Understand our own Environmental Identity
- The 3 basic psychological impacts from the environment (disaster, chronic, or ambient)
- The benefits of nature and how people in all environments can access them
What is your Environmental Identity?
“Our environmental identity is really all of our values and experiences regarding nature, in the natural world.” – Dr. Thomas Doherty
- Relationship to the natural world
- Significant experiences in the outdoors
- The nuance of bringing these ideas up in Urban areas
- What “nature” means to each of us
“One of the things I tell people is that, around the world, there’s millions of people that are working on climate change issues, and all these different areas, and people are studying things, and they’re building things. And it’s really inspiring to be around some of this stuff. So that’s an important message to get out to people it. Yes, it’s a big issue. But there’s a ton of people working on this, think of all the people even in the Los Angeles area that are going to work every day, on climate and public health.” – Dr. Thomas Doherty
How Can We Support Clients with Eco Anxiety in Therapy?
- Understanding the basics on the environment and climate change
- Building capacity to be with these issues
- Reeling in the anxiety, imagination
- Understanding the waves of emotions and completing the anxiety cycle
- Giving clients permission to talk about the environment and how to open up the conversations
- Coping strategies specific to Eco Anxiety
- Suggestions for activism and what clients can do to improve the environment
- Helping clients to identify if they are doing enough
- Where to find resources on environmental efforts
- How therapists can employ climate awareness in their practices
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Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:
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Dr. Thomas Doherty’s Practice Sustainable Self
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Who we are:
Curt Widhalm, LMFT
Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com
Katie Vernoy, LMFT
Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com
A Quick Note:
Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.
Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.
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Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):
Curt Widhalm 00:00
This episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide is brought to you by Thrizer.
Katie Vernoy 00:04
Thrizer is a modern billing platform for private pay therapists, their platform automatically gets clients reimbursed by their insurance after every session. Just by billing your clients through Thrizer you can potentially save them hundreds every month with no extra work on your end. The best part is you don’t need to give up your rate they charge a standard 3% payment processing fee. By using the link in the show notes, you can get a month of billing without processing fees just to test them out for your clients.
Curt Widhalm 00:30
Listen at the end of the episode for more information.
Katie Vernoy 00:34
This episode is also brought to you by Melissa Forziat Events and Marketing
Curt Widhalm 00:39
Melissa Forziat is a small business marketing expert who specializes in marketing advice for businesses that have limited resources, including the very special course How to Win at Social Media, Even with No Budget. Stay tuned to the end of the episode to learn how you can get the most from social media marketing, even with little to no budget,
You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.
Curt Widhalm 01:15
Welcome back modern therapists. This is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists about literally at this point, just everything that we come across in our practice in our field. After a couple of 100 episodes, we continue to find new areas that we’re hearing conversations in the background and wanting to be able to put you our audience in touch with the people who are leading some of these conversations. And as close as we can tie this into Earth Day, we wanted to talk about eco anxiety and those clients presenting with concerns about climate change. And this being an area that we’ve been aware of for a while but figured we would get somebody who’s really, really smart about this. So welcoming to the podcast today Dr. Thomas Doherty, a psychologist up in the Portland area, and with his podcast, also Climate Change and Happiness. We are very happy to have you here today. Thanks for joining us.
Dr. Thomas Doherty 02:25
Thanks, Curt and Katie, I’m glad to be here.
Katie Vernoy 02:28
We are so excited to have you here. And to have this conversation. The first question that we ask everyone is who are you? And what are you putting out into the world?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 02:38
Yeah, that’s a great question for all of us to think about every day, you know, today I’m thinking about being a parent of a parent of a 14 year old and getting her out to school, I have my day, I work from home, mostly these days, because of the pandemic, a lot of my practice has shifted to my home office. And so I’m, and I’m a psychologist and I have most recently been really immersed in this area of environmental identity and people’s connections with nature and their concerns about nature and the natural world and climate change. And that is something I’ve been interested in. But now, you know, the world has caught up to me a little bit on this, and a lot of other people are interested in it too. So it’s really, that’s kind of where my where my focus is these days and exploring some of these issues.
Curt Widhalm 03:23
So let’s start from the basics here and kind of work our way up into some of the bigger ideas. Let’s start with defining what is eco anxiety and maybe how that’s a little bit different than kind of passing concerns around environmental transition sort of stuff.
Dr. Thomas Doherty 03:40
I’ll make a point that we can cycle back to about this because people, we have anxiety when we’re concerned about some, you know, we’re apprehensive about some potential threat in the future. But you know, there’s a saying in therapy, you know, you’ve heard where we care. And so anxiety is a signal to us. But it’s also a signal that we have values and we have things that we care about and things that are important to us, right. And so very quickly into the eco anxiety conversation, I like to pivot to that value piece because it helps to ground people. And we can get to that. But eco anxiety is a term that started by my reckoning, it started to be used in the media around 2007, give or take. And it was originally describing people’s concerns around just these kind of insidious environmental issues that we know about that are that are hard to track, like plastics, in the food chain or chemicals, or various kinds of you know, these kind of forever chemicals that are floating around. And it really insidious kind of feeling that that’s kind of where that that term first originated in my research of it. And then of course, it’s more recently been attached to people’s concerns about climate change, and the potential changes that could happen to the environment and other species. So it has It has a history and then it you can go back to say, even people’s concerns about nuclear war and during the Cold War, or people’s concerns about chemicals in the environment, going back to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which was published in the early, early 1960s. So it does have a little bit of a history if you dig this idea of being concerned about the state of the world. But in the last couple of years, it’s really been amped up because of the predicted, you know, disasters and events associated with climate change have been happening to people, and they’ve been happening close to where you live. And we’ve been seeing this on the news or even personally, experiencing in terms of heat, smoke, fires, severe storms, flooding. And so that’s, that’s kind of taken this, this kind of general, you know, existential concern that all of us have at one time or another, and really, really amped it up for people.
Katie Vernoy 05:55
It’s so interesting, because when you talk about that, I feel like especially for those of us on the West Coast, it feels very present related to the fires. You’re up in Portland and I, before we were started, I gotten to Portland a couple of times, and, and I think it’s an amazing city. And the first time I really got to explore it, it was under ashes. And air quality was pretty, pretty gnarly. And it was something you know, well, before the pandemic, folks were wearing masks just to try to get through day to day and it, it felt very apocalyptic to be there, the sky is this horrible color, or maybe, you know, in a weird way, a beautiful color, but then there’s also just ash raining down and, and to me, it feels very logical to say like, this is going to impact all of us. And for some folks that might impact more dramatically. This this idea that the world is failing is coming to an end that we’re destroying the planet. And so what’s it mean? Is there is there a kind of subclinical, like, I’m worried and care about the environment? And there’s clinical eco anxiety? Like, is there a discernment there, that we can make for our audience?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 07:08
Yeah, I would say so. And it’s really neat that we’re, we’re, you know, the, the listeners are therapists, because we can get into this kind of thing. So a lot of it is, it’s really juicy, it’s about our meaning, it’s about the words that we use, you know, so when I start to when I start to talk to people, I’m immediately being very observant to what they what their language is, what their personal experiences are, you know, even using terms like apocalyptic and stuff like that, it gives us a clue to how we’re seeing things, right. And then there’s that people, I have some control over my words, and I have some control over what language I use. And so they immediately were, were started, just like any other kind of therapeutic issue, whatever, whatever it happens to be, we’re just really listening for the narrative, you know, and therapists, of course, themselves have been influenced by this as well. So that’s also been a tripping point is that the last couple of years therapists themselves have been, they’re human, and they’re, they live in Portland, or whatever. And they’re dealing with the smoke and the heat. So they’re going through it also. So all the therapists that were listening, that are listening are going through this as well. So we’re not sheltered from this, there’s no special eco anxiety diagnosis, as you know, there’s, and I know you were talking to DSM experts. And so it’s really touchy about, you know, what’s in the DSM. And there’s really important rules about diagnostic categories are made. So what we’re dealing with is, and we don’t need a new diagnosis, we we have the tools, we can diagnose someone’s feelings of depression, or anxiety or trauma, with quite amply with existing DSM. And so anxiety is a normal emotion, we all feel it, it’s a healthy, useful emotion we were, that’s how humans survive, we, you know, anxiety keeps us alive. And also we have social anxiety and different other kinds of anxiety about our performance, and how we fit in with our tribe of people and all that sort of stuff. So, so we have to remind ourselves that anxiety is normal and some anxiety about the future. And there’s so many things to be anxious about in the, in the, in our global interconnected world, all of us sit with some anxieties, from time to time, that’s quite normal. And it helps us to be the best people that we can be like with any other kind of anxiety issue. To me, there’s three levels, there’s normal feelings, there’s adjustment level problems, that would be kind of adjustment disorder level. And then there are, you know, more diagnostic problems, like, like someone might meet criteria for an anxiety disorder. So if someone’s concerns about the environment are affecting significantly affecting their sleep, or their diet or their relationships or their work or going to school, you know, if there’s that significant impact on activities of life, then, you know, if the patient or client is, is amenable to that, I mean, that’s, that’s, we can use that label to help them. Yeah. So, and I think our goal is to allow I think a lot of people myself maybe yourselves as well, we all of us will move into that adjustment disorder category from time to time, you know, in the sense of wow, we’re really needing to do some extra work to adjust to this stressor that we have. And it could, it could be temporarily affecting our sleep or things like that. So that part of the goal is to keep people in the adjustment. And, you know, keeping them toward health, and helping them to not fall into the deeper diagnostic issues.
Curt Widhalm 10:25
I’ll maybe for spicing this up a bit come at this from more of the alarmist side then, you know, this seems to be, you know, following all of the climate predictions, everything else seems to be getting worse and worse. And in managing some of these conversations with our clients, we’re going through this too. And it’s, it feels like it’s so much bigger than what any one of us individuals can do. And it seems like a lot of us are managing these conversations, it’s just kind of like well, put your head down and hope for the best and focus on the positives. But I’m imagining that that is not the only things that we should be doing here.
Dr. Thomas Doherty 11:08
Yeah, yeah, it is. And that’s part of it is bearing witness to this, you know, it is scary, it is overwhelming, I will go through moments of overwhelm, too, I mean, and it, it’s a paradox, the more you know, ignorance is bliss. And if you don’t know much about this, you don’t, it’s not concerning you, because some of these things are far away, for you don’t necessarily have to link, you know, weather changes to the climate. So certain people are more vulnerable. Even traditionally, people have been more vulnerable people that are environmentally minded, in general, people that are environmental professionals, or conservation professionals, or teachers or scientists, public health people, you know, so those people have been vunerable are more vulnerable, because they know a lot, putting your head down for a moment is fine, you know, that’s okay. But, you know, it’s about building capacity, you know, it’s about building capacity to be with these issues, you know, some basic kinds of cognitive behavioral and other kinds of therapy techniques are helpful about just helping people to, to kind of grade what is the true danger today, like, how are things going right? Today, when you walk outside your door, it just keeping you know, getting people into the present moment, helping people to be more mindful, essentially reeling in, reeling in the anxiety, I say, you know, your your horses are going to one of my chair therapy sayings is that your horses are going to ride like you, if I My imagination is going to go on, on anything, just don’t, your horses are gonna ride, but just don’t ride them, you know, so let your imagination is going to do what it’s going to do. But let’s come back to the present moment. And so I feel like there’s a wave function here where people get really stressed, and we kind of help just pull it together, build some capacity to take in a little more. And then, you know, so this ride, you know, there’s this kind of despair, empowerment curve that happens in environmental work in general. But in any kind of important work, you know, you’re trying to write a novel or anything, you’re gonna go through periods where you’re up in periods where you’re down. And so it’s helping people just to get into that little longer flow. But not sugarcoating it either. I mean, that’s not helpful. It is, it is scary, and it is dangerous. And ultimately, people do need to find a way to take some action, you know, because that’s the way to complete the anxiety cycle is, is to take some action. So so it gets really existential gets political, we need to be like really upfront about all that.
Katie Vernoy 13:27
You said that folks who don’t know kind of can keep their heads down or not even know they need to keep their heads down, that that kind of ignorance is bliss.
Dr. Thomas Doherty 13:36
Katie Vernoy 13:37
And it feels like in, in these times, therapists can’t be ignorant to these issues, because so many folks who are walking into our doors or are opening up our virtual office windows, I think that they are worried about these things. And so what do you think are the basics that all therapists should know about this?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 14:00
Yeah, yeah. And it is becoming it is becoming a competency, right, either a sub competency that everybody needs to know a little bit about and then some people are choosing to, to make this more of a subspecialty we’re just in the new territory for that. I mean, I do a training program like a 10 week, Zoom based program for therapists, eco and climate conscious therapists that I’ve been doing, I started last fall and I’m into my third round of doing that. And then I have people I have therapists in from around the US and also from Canada and Australia and England and Germany. And so people are reaching out to me about that. And they are because there are very few resources. There’s the climate psychology alliance in the US and in the UK, and they’re they’re really working hard to try to bring things together so it’s it’s not a it’s not a barren territory. There’s there’s things happening, but it’s it’s still new. And so what should all therapists know? That’s a good question. On the positive side, I think the most positive thing, and the thing that I tend to go to with clients is this idea that I mentioned earlier of environmental identity, right. So this is an idea that really is, is, is, is ready for primetime, it’s the sense that we have it, all of us have an identity in relation to nature in the natural world, how we see ourselves in relation to nature and other species and places, it’s similar to our other kinds of identity, like our gender identity, or cultural identity, or sexual identity, these kinds of identities, we need to give people some information about them, so they can think about them and articulate them, and then kind of take pride in them and, and enact them, right. And so our environmental identity is really all of our values and experiences regarding nature, in the natural world. Climate change, and environmental issues really, really threaten some of that to us. And, and one of the big problems in the modern world, you know, is that people haven’t been, unless they’re sort of Environmental Studies student or nature writer, or, you know, an outdoor educator or something very few people have been taught to really get clear on their environmental identity, we pick it up, and it’s kind of tacit, and it’s kind of in us and we could either of you, we could talk about your your significant experiences, you know, whether someone’s an urban person or a rural person, or they have done outdoor, they feel comfortable doing outdoor camping, or they have pets, or they have connection with other species, it’s everybody’s story is slightly different. But you know, that that’s the value. And that’s the base where we would then take action in the future to be the person we want to be. So as you know, I think, hoping that all therapists can help people to help clarify their environmental identity, why is this important to you? Where did you come from? What does it mean to you? And this becomes a base that you can get really strong on. And then I think it calms people down and it says, Okay, this is this is a real thing. This is part of mean, this is why I’m concerned, and some of that free floating anxiety will come down. And so that’s, that’s one, that’s one piece. The other the other piece, I would say is there’s three basic impacts from mental health, mental health impacts of climate change that people should be aware of. The first one is kind of obvious as disaster impacts when you’re really affected by a specific situation, like a heatwave, or, or fires or any kind of thing. And there’s a whole range of, you know, disaster psychology research and Mental Health First Aid and things like that, that you can, you can learn about. The second is the more chronic impacts, which would be being displaced, like being a climate, refugee, chronic chronic economic problems, you know, things that last a long time and then are that aren’t easily solved. And then that immediately dovetails with all environmental justice issues, and people’s placement and things like that. So it brings in, you know, social environmental, justice, focus. And then the third category is the, the kind of ambient impacts the subjective emotional impacts of just watching things from afar. And depending on where you are, as a therapist, you might find clients in any of those boxes, or multiple boxes. And so the approach is slightly different.
Curt Widhalm 18:05
And you’ve written an article on this it for American Psychologists that will link in the show notes that goes into those features a lot more deeply than here in a minute on our podcast here. I want to go back to your first point that you were just talking about, in Katie and I both have practices in very urban settings, that Los Angeles, we end up with a few people who really have some access to some of the greater outdoor activities that we have around here. But how do you bring these conversations up to clients who maybe not quite verbalizing some of their relationship to the environment yet?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 18:48
Yeah, that’s a good point. And, and that’s, that brings up the larger question of how to bring these ideas up in general. And so, you know, like, with any other kind of focus that someone has, therapeutically, we have to give signals about what we’re doing. Because, you know, this isn’t about necessarily putting something on someone, you know, clients come in for a service. And so we want to help them solve their problems, people that I work with, you know, I know in the, in the, in the branding of my my practice, sustainable self, and I talk, they know a bit about my work, and I’ve done teaching and research so people already come in, or are drawn to me because Because of this, and it actually, you know, so it’s important, I think, for therapists to have multiple levels of signaling, like say, if you want to work in this area, put it on your website or your or your, your materials that this is an area that I’m interested in, and that gives people permission because people don’t necessarily know they can talk about this kind of stuff. You know, I say one of my another one of my therapy sayings is we have issues and we have Issues so it’s, you know, capital I issues like the big things we want to take on in the world and concerns about justice or climate change, or you know, whatever our destiny is to that we’re working on. And then we have our lowercase I issues, which is our baggage, our neuroses, our weaknesses, our, you know, traumas and things like that. And so, you know, being clear, we’re open to both of those things like Yes. What do you want to achieve in the world? But also how what’s what’s what’s holding you back? And what are some of your issues because they they’re kind of related together. And so to come back to your thing about your, your question about nature, there’s a lot of consciousness raising, and a lot of sort of psychoeducation, you could do in this area, because again, a lot of people haven’t really study this or broken this out. And so even the term nature, you know, the way I think about it, at least from my, you know, work and in broader areas of environmental psychology is nature’s is a big term, that means a lot of things to a lot of people. And there’s practically in our lives, there’s a spectrum of nature, connections from indoor nature, like plants, and even virtual nature, like artwork and things like that, but you know, plants and pads, and then there’s nearby nature, which is parks and gardens and green spaces, and, and then there’s more, you know, manage nature, like forests and seashore and then there’s, you know, wild or perceived wild, there’s, there’s a whole spectrum. So you can be living in Manhattan, and still be part of that spectrum of nature. And arguably, I would say, many of your clients have a lot of nature around in their lives, but it might be more of that indoor nature in terms of plants and paths, or their imagery and their art or their nearby nature, like their parks or gardens and green spaces. And so there’s, and you get benefits, you know, another doorway here is just talking about all the health benefits of connecting in in safe, you know, outdoor green spaces in terms of stress reduction, and in terms of mental restoration, and creativity, educating people, and then they become more empowered to say, oh, okay, I can claim some of this for myself, because, you know, sometimes urban people feel like, Oh, I can’t be that, I can’t be that eco person, or I can’t be that outdoor person, I didn’t grow up doing that, or I don’t feel comfortable, you know, camping. And so then they, they, they cut themselves off from from the switch. But that’s not necessary. There’s a space for everybody. So and then this grades, just generally into basic self care.
Katie Vernoy 22:07
When we look at folks with different levels of connection to nature, or different types of of environmental identities, it to me, it feels like the the conversation saying like, this is how you would have the conversation seems a little bit daunting, because there’s such a different experience we all have. And and I guess the question that lends to me is for folks who men or their big I issue is not related to the environment, are we missing something, if we don’t introduce the topic?
It is daunting. I mean, some of these issues are politicized. And we have to kind of be aware of, you know, the culture of who we’re working with, and things like that. But I find over time, that, you know, when I open this up in a general way, people, what I actually find is when you when you start to scratch the surface on this, people often have a lot to talk about, around all of these issues, because they just don’t, they have very little opportunity to speculate or talk about any of these kinds of things. One of my environmental identity exercises, like just a simple lifetime line, and just from birth to the present, what are significant experiences in nature, the natural world or paths or things like that, and that opens up all kinds of all kinds of things. But, you know, I think one way to bring up the environmental identity piece is just again, in terms of general discussion of other kinds of identities that people have, you know, so, you know, in my work, I help people think about all different kinds of identities, they have their, their cultural identity, their gender identity, or sexual identity, their environmental identity, how they think about nature and natural when you could just add that in there as part of the suite of things. That’s, that’s a kind of a fairly benign way to just put that out on the table. Or when someone is concerned about, you know, or if they’re, if there is a environmental stressor that’s happening, like heat, or smoke, or some sort of issue happening regionally, someone can say, well, these kind of outdoor stressors sometimes affect our identity and who we are and our and our values. And is that happening for you? And I can guarantee you if you’d ask people that in Portland, during that, when the ash were falling, there would be a lot to talk about there. Oh, yeah. And so having that in our tool belt, had all therapists having that in their tool belt was really helpful. And then of course, for the therapists themselves as part of their life as well because they have their own environmental identity and that in like with a lot of things, like in the work that I do with therapists when we’re doing this training, I lead them through their own environmental identity They do all the exercises themselves, and it’s really rich and really fun and people get really into it, but you know, it’s like doing your own work essentially, like in any other kind of therapeutic issue, you you push your own boundaries and see what what affects you doing a family tree diagram but having an environmental identity family tree so you think about all The environmental identity of all the people in the family through your parents and your siblings and your grandparents and the generations, people get really wow, that’s this is really neat. I never thought about this. And I know we’re talking about the anxiety and coping, but it’s also it’s also a growth opportunity. And I think therapists are particularly well positioned for that, that growth opportunity aspect.
Katie Vernoy 25:22
And I was thinking even, you know, when you’re, when you’re opening that up, and someone does say, yeah, it freaks me out. I don’t like to think about it, you know, the world is dying. And you know, and I’d rather just focus on X, you know, how do you address that? Because I think that there are folks, it feels daunting, and maybe this is me needing to do my own work, but it feels very daunting to think about a planet dying. And, and or becoming uninhabitable. Maybe that’s a more accurate way to talk about it at this point. But it’s something we’re that’s, that’s overwhelming. That’s, you know, there’s there, it feels like there may not be ready at hand solutions, and and the advocacy efforts seems like that could be helpful. You said kind of those types of things, but I guess I’m just searching for, where do these conversations go, when you identify that someone is really freaking out, because there’s ash falling from the sky, or the levees have broken? Or, you know, their house was burned down? You know, like, it seems like some of this stuff, you know, if we if we move away from the crisis, you know, like disaster and direct effects to the more indirect effects, like, how do we have these conversations in a productive way?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 26:33
Yeah, well, obviously, if someone’s going through a true disaster than we we’re, then we’re really in disaster mental health territory was really about affecting, helping people with activities of daily life, like, how are you doing in terms of, do you have food? And where are you sleeping and clothes. And so that’s, that’s kind of that red cross level of work. And some of it is it is basic sort of trauma work. So you could have, you know, really, for a lot of just stabilizing, you know, mindfulness and relaxation, and really helping people to get stabilized, and all that sort of stuff. I mean, one of the things I tell people is that, you know, once you get into this work far enough, you also start to meet all kinds of neat people that are doing all kinds of things. And there’s 1000s, or millions of people. I mean, around the world, there’s millions of people that are working on climate change issues, and all these different areas, and people are studying things, and they’re building things. And it’s really, there, it’s really inspiring to be around some of this stuff. So that’s an important message to get out to people it. Yes, it’s a big issue. But there’s a ton of people working on this, think of all the people even in the Los Angeles area that are going to work every day, on climate and public health and things like that. And so that’s important. You know, one of my images is this, I call it the upside down pyramid. And people get really upside down, it’s like this pyramid is like over the top of them pointing at them. And they have very little resources in this, the scope of the issue seems so huge, they just are crushed. And just naming that as an experiential thing that we feel that is important. Because that’s validating for people. But then we say, You know what the reframe is, let’s flip that pyramid on the ground. And let’s put it on a base. And let’s stand next to the base, like what do you need to do every day to take care of yourself? So it brings the conversation back to basic self care, what are the bricks in your foundation, diet, sleep, exercise, your family, your work? And let’s focus on that. And let’s build some organic energy. So you can work on some of these issues, you know, some of it is, that’s a kind of a stabilizing thing that I would do. And a big culprit here is media use and media intake, people get really immersed in the news. And of course, with the pandemic, and with the war in Ukraine, there’s so many things out there that are troubling, and that there’s nothing wrong with being an informed person. There’s nothing inherently wrong with news media in itself, but it’s the overwhelming immersion in it that really, really affects people’s nervous system. So I’ll often say let’s, let’s do a bit of a news. Let’s look at your news diet, because it’s usually lurking there. And let’s let’s let’s think about where you went where and how and when you’re accessing news, particularly digital news, news on your phone. And, you know, like, Henry David Thoreau would have said, you know, a few 100 years ago, you know, like, the news is your life like that, like go outside the door. And that’s the news. So I help also help people to get into more into their daily life and pulled out of the news and that, that will very quickly help help our nervous system to change a little bit. So some of that, that overwhelming, apocalyptic thing is kind of a perception that happens when we’re really jacked up and have a stress and a fight or flight response. And so, these are truth threats and we don’t want to again sugarcoat things, but our perception of them can really change, if we can kind of pull ourselves together and come down into the present moment. So it is it is, again, it’s this, this this process, and it’s engaging, you know, bearing witness and sitting through it, when people are really, you know, really impacted we have we feel it, you know, so there’s, we have to take care of ourselves well, because then we get the compassion fatigue kind of issue that can happen as well.
Curt Widhalm 30:29
Moving beyond the individual that, you know, a lot of what we look at systemically is individual reactions to systemic problems. I’m sure that there are clients that want to get involved in more activism type things that help to take this on in a broader way. What kinds of things do you find yourself suggesting to clients is maybe taking this beyond kind of their own individual reactions to the world going on around them?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 31:00
Yeah, and that’s a huge piece, because we get so many messages to do action and to take to take action and people feel, you know, again, people are like climate hostages, I say, because we’re in this big system, but we really can’t affect what the US Senate does, or what corporations do. And so it does feel people are trapped. But it does feel good to take action. And so it really it really, it’s kind of a bespoke kind of custom approach to each person, like, who are you? Where are you? What, what kind of actions would you do? Where are you placed so it really becomes a conversation. You know, there’s a front line there of direct action, you know, terms on picket lines around the protest lines, and there’s about behind the lines, where people are doing all kinds of other things, websites, and fundraising and research and helping the community. And so it really freeing people up to say, Well, where do you fit on that spectrum? And what what are you drawn to? What are you curious about some of it is education, like, you know, we might just need you’re curious about a certain area, well, then maybe just educating yourself about it, it’s, it’s kind of, beyond the kind of simplistic, you know, these are 10 things you can do for the environment, you know, helping people to find something that’s, you know, authentic to themselves, they can do for a while that fits into their, their gift. And then there are, there’s, there is a basic sense of sustainability, that’s good for therapists to know, it is, you know, making major life changes about how you get your power in your home, or how many cars that you own, or your diet, or how many children you have, these are the big ticket items that do do affect our carbon footprint. And so trying to, you know, just educate people, they can make their own choices, obviously, and it’s not that easy to say, install solar panels on your house or do whatever, because it depends on how much money people have, and whatever. So we don’t want to shame people or guilt people. But we do want to give them some good information. So if you do want to make changes, you know, your light bulbs are less important than whether you have an efficient water heater, you know, that kind of thing. So there are some basic sort of sustainability, things to know about. But in terms of the climate, that’s a large, it’s a life thing, like in all of our life. For the rest of our lives, climate change is going to be an issue. So it’s like engaging with something like poverty or injustice, it’s something that we’re going to we can engage with in various ways through our life. And when people are younger, they might be more on the frontline. You know, when you want to encourage people we need, we need people on the front line. And if you’re a frontline person, let’s let’s get you there. I was a frontline person when I was younger, now I’m a parent and I’m more of doing other things. So you know, it’s going to there’s a you know, if we have future conversations, we there’s a whole developmental thing here we can think about what elders and adults and parents that’s a whole nother that’s another lens to lay over this kind of thing that therapists are really good at. But in the short run the the the action is something that it’s authentic for you. And you might already be doing enough. You know, you if you’re a parent and you’re working, you might be doing enough, you know, that’s the other message to give people ultimately, in a good in a good world, experts in government are going to be dealing with this kind of stuff, not your average person. So that’s where we’re trying to go go with this as well. So I do want to liberate people a little bit to say, you know, you don’t you might be doing enough right now. And that could be that might be important for people to hear.
Katie Vernoy 34:34
To that point. I think there’s kind of an implied knowledge that I don’t know that I have exactly, and maybe you can direct me specifically to some reputable resources. But as far as you know, kind of the basic sustainability those types of things are there go to resources that you would recommend to make sure to kind of do a self assessment around basic sustainability.
Dr. Thomas Doherty 35:01
That’s a good question. The first place I think about in broad terms is Project Drawdown, which is a organization and an linkages of a bunch of people that are really working on, you know, a comprehensive approach to climate change. And the Drawdown website is just a wealth of information, it can be a bit, you know, there’s a lot of different areas there. But if you really want to kind of see a comprehensive approach to climate change across society, in different areas, and styles, that’s, that’s the kind of the place to go. And it’s also can be actually inspiring to see all the things that people are doing, I think, each state, if you look at each, each state, I mean, in terms of state departments, you know, the sustainability county, city, I think that’s also a good place, you know, check out what’s happening in your region, because then it makes it more local. So whatever town like, you know, because I think that’s, that’s a place where you can start say, Oh, wow, this is my, my territory, and people are working. So that’s, that has a social aspect to it as well.
Curt Widhalm 36:06
Any last suggestions as far as ways that therapists can incorporate more climate awareness in their practices with their clients?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 36:16
Yeah, I think as therapists, again, all of you, you’ve both been therapists, for all the people that are listening, you know, if you’ve practiced enough new things come onto the scene, and we learn about them, you learn about new therapy modalities, you learn about how to do how to work with different kinds of clients. And so I would encourage therapists to just make space in their repertoire, to start bringing these and just experiment with it. It’s not, it’s okay to ask some of these questions and do some learning and practice. And so I think that’s probably the as therapist, I think, are careful. And they don’t want to work outside of their comfort zone or outside of their competency. And so that sometimes holds the field back, I think, from doing innovative things. And so I would encourage therapists to surface some of these questions in their work and share selectively maybe some self disclosure about what they’re doing. And just experiment and just see which clients it lands for. Because it could open up some, it could open up some interesting conversations, you’d be surprised. And if people have other things they’re focused on, and this, you know, environmental climate isn’t the thing, that’s perfectly fine, too. But I’d encourage people to experiment with this, because therapists have all these tools to bear, they don’t have to learn a lot of new stuff. If you already know how to help people with anxiety about work and social anxiety you can, you can also help people with their anxiety around environmental and climate issues as well. So I’d encourage people to just to add, add a line in their repertoire about this and to see, see what happens.
Curt Widhalm 37:46
This doesn’t have to be in your face sort of stuff. One of the things that I appreciate from your website is even putting things like bus lines that are close enough to your office that are accessible for people that can be front of mind sort of things that this does not have to be necessarily explicitly thrown at every single client. But even just kind of when you’re considering this. I mean, no, not every office location is going to have these kinds of things. But ways of just kind of also leading by example seems to be right.
Dr. Thomas Doherty 38:19
Yeah. And Curt, that you’re speaking to sort of like a green business, and so we can think about our practices as a business. And is it? Is it a sustainable business? Is that a green business? And so that’s another angle for therapists, even if they’re, even if they’re dealing with another specialty, you know, maybe they’re dealing with pediatric mental health issues, or ADHD or whatever that isn’t it is, but doesn’t, it doesn’t mean they still can’t think of their life, their own lifestyle, their own practice in a sustainable manner as well.
Katie Vernoy 38:50
Thank you so much. This has been really, really helpful, a great conversation that I feel like we’ve just started, where can people find you and learn more about the work that you’re doing?
Dr. Thomas Doherty 38:59
Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Katie. I really appreciate the conversation too. Well, people can find me, my my website, selfsustained.com. And my podcast is climatechangeandhappiness.com. And if therapists are interested in some of the training that I’m doing, you can find information about my consultation groups at selfsustained.com. This is an adventure things are going to be growing and changing. Even this year, I’m looking at the different writing and different kinds of ways to maybe do groups that can reach people outside of my region. So yeah, please seek me out and I’d be happy to happy to chat with people.
Curt Widhalm 39:40
And we will include links to those in our show notes. You can find those over at mtsgpodcast.com. And please also follow us on our social media, join our Facebook group, The Modern Therapist Group to continue this conversation and share ways that you are addressing this in your practices as well, and until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy and Dr. Thomas Doherty.
Katie Vernoy 40:05
Thanks again to our sponsor Thrizer.
Curt Widhalm 40:07
Thrizer is a new billing platform for therapists that was built on the belief that therapy should be accessible and clinicians should earn what they are worth every time you build a client through Thrizer. An insurance claim is automatically generated and sent directly to the clients insurance from their Thrizer provides concierge support to ensure clients get their reimbursements quickly directly into their bank account. By eliminating reimbursement by cheque confusion around benefits and obscurity with reimbursement status. They allow your clients to focus on what actually matters rather than worrying about their money. It’s very quick to get set up and it works great in complement with EHR systems.
Katie Vernoy 40:47
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Curt Widhalm 41:22
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Katie Vernoy 41:28
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Curt Widhalm 41:56
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