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.

Future Time Perspective as an Operationalization of Existential Concerns Related to Time

Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Ahead of Print. Psychologists and other clinical therapists often focus on the psychological processes that result from the fact that human beings will one day die, not death anxiety/afterlife anxiety itself. Nevertheless, existential concerns are death concerns, and any anxiety associated with death should be understood through that lens—as resulting from concerns about death. Understanding how one views the amount of time left to live, and how this perception influences motives, goal cognitions, mood, and well-being, is of great importance from a humanistic–existential perspective. Socioemotional selectivity theory and the concept of future time perspective (FTP) capture these phenomena and have the potential to operationalize perspectives of time constraints within existential psychology. The present work attempts to show how FTP may be used to operationalize the problem of time from an existential perspective, specifically targeting the existential themes of death, meaning, isolation, and freedom. Clinical implications of considering FTP as an existential construct are discussed, as are limitations and future directions.

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