Changing Reactions to Threats

Recently, I read an article by Eleanor Goldberg, entitled: Climate Change Could Have A Serious Impact On Mental Health. Goldberg wrote this article in the context of the climate discussions that have been taking place in Bonn, Germany these past few weeks.

Goldberg comments that “Climate change threatens our cities, our health and our safety. What many people don’t know is that it also threatens our minds.”  She goes on to list threats such as “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicide and other health issues as a result of climate change”.

This newsletter is my encouragement to you, to explore the threat of climate change from the perspective of a counselling psychologist.  In counselling, the client comes in with a ‘problem’.  As psychologists, we don’t solve problems. We focus instead on exploration.  As the client talks of problems, we get them to explore emotional reactions, because it is these that hit the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers hormonal responses. This is where the damage is done to our bodies.

During my years of teaching effective counselling, students learned to listen to the client’s opinions and emotional reactions to situations.  Students also learned that it was emotional reactions to opinions about a situation, which needed to change.

My own experience with this stems from my childhood. Walking three miles to catch a school bus to high school, I would see the rising sun’s golden light on the blue-white snow.  It was beautiful.  I could sing:  ‘sleigh-bells ring, are you listening?’ and ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’. OK, it was cold but I had no negative opinion to spoil the fun. My brother and I saw golden sun-light on the snow and did not complain about the cold.

Back to counselling, clients talk about issues but we encourage them to change their viewpoint to their emotional reaction, as the problem.  For instance, if the client had trouble in their marriage, we would explore until the client had overcome their emotional reaction to a problem. It was this, and not the actual problem that was destroying their health.  They needed to become confident of their changing emotional reaction.  Their opinion could stay the same but they could ‘live and let live’ by adopting a new emotional reaction.  They could decide on whether or not to do something differently but, more importantly, they protected their health by adopting a changed, wholesome, emotional reaction.

So, thinking again about Goldberg’s article, we are all aware that climate change is happening. There are steps we can take to minimise our contribution to global warming, but as individuals, we can’t change the bigger climate change picture.

What we can change is our emotional reaction.

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