From Climate Anxiety to Climate Action: An Existential Perspective on Climate Change Concerns Within Psychotherapy

Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Ahead of Print. With the growing body of knowledge climate change stands out as one of the most important contemporary problems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms the urgent necessity to reduce greenhouse gases emission, as the window to address the problem is becoming narrow. Rising temperatures and bushfires, melting glaciers and droughts make the acceleration of climate change evident, and citizens around the globe are increasingly worried about the magnitude of the problem. In this article, we propose an existential perspective on climate change-related concerns. Although environmental worries are legitimate, they sometimes cause severe anxiety and distress so aggravated as to be discussed within the framework of psychotherapy. In the course of this research, we examine the experiences of 10 Swedish psychotherapy clients addressing their climate concerns within treatment. We engage them into in-depth conversations about the experience of climate anxiety and inquire about the individual pathways toward recovery. Moreover, we propose the existential perspective as a tool to understand such experiences. We aim to address all existential concerns, as described in Ernesto Spinelli’s themes of existence framework: death anxiety, spatiality, temporality, meaning, relatedness, authenticity, freedom, and responsibility. All of the above are present in participants’ reports of climate anxiety. In conclusion, we emphasize the value of introducing existential perspective to practitioners working with clients experiencing climate distress.