In graduate school, we would-be therapists talked about family dynamics, negative self-talk, adverse childhood experiences, and faulty neurons as the sources of our clients’ distress. We learned to focus quickly and intently in sessions on the inner challenges they faced, and to avoid time-wasting discussions of everyday life, especially anything mundane, like the weather. No, we were never to talk of the weather!
Fast-forward to today, and we find the world consumed in previously unimaginable ways with the shifting climate and the ways it’s threatening the world’s ecosystems and societies. Therapists the world over are contending with the best ways to make room for our clients’ climate anxieties.
For decades, Elizabeth Allured, who grew up in the smog-filled Los Angeles of the ’60s, has been helping people face the mental health implications of the climate crisis head-on. A psychologist teaching at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute and cofounder of the Climate Psychology Alliance–North America, she works to address the psychological dimensions of the crisis, not only with clients, but with fellow therapists.
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Ryan Howes: How did the specialty of climate psychology begin?
Elizabeth Allured: Harold Searles, a psychiatrist in the 1960s, started to look at how we’re affected by what he called the “nonhuman world.” Thirty years ago, around the time of the first Earth Day, he wrote a paper about…