Emotional Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change: A Clinician’s Guide

book review by Quentin Dunne

Over the past quarter century, the issue of global warming has steadily come to be seen less as a problem and more as a crisis. International scientists and climatologists alike have written countless peer-reviewed articles and research papers demonstrating the present environmental damage caused by increasingly rising temperatures and warning of future dangers if significant countermeasures are not taken. While we may tend to think of traumatic events primarily in terms of warfare and physical assault, licensed marriage and family therapist Leslie Davenport argues, articulately and convincingly, in Emotional Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change: A Clinician’s Guide that climate change poses uniquely distressing, even traumatic, mental health challenges as well. She also argues that mental health professionals can help people both deal with and heal from these challenges and offers thoughtful and compelling suggestions on how to do so.

The book is crisply structured into two parts, the first of which is titled “Clinical Themes in the Era of Climate Change” and is broken into seven subject-specific chapters and the second of which is titled “Vitalization of an Ecoharmonious Life: Twelve Body, Heart/Mind, and World Wise Practices.” The first chapter of Part I proves both unexpected and inspired: “The Psychology of Climate Change Denial” is an illuminating look at why, despite a plethora of empirically validated scientific studies attesting to the destructive effects of human-caused climate change and such tragedies as Hurricane Katrina, people still find it so easy to shrug off the devastating combination of rising temperatures and rising water levels as a “hoax.”

While every chapter offers both valuable philosophical insights and pragmatic psychological interventions for helping ecominded clients develop effective coping skills in response to our rapidly changing biosphere, the second and fifth chapters, “Climate Change Grief” and “Long-Term and Complex Clinical Themes” respectively, are particularly intriguing and impressive. Davenport’s suggestions, however are not limited to assisting clients. As she writes on page 44, “While the focus of this book is to offer methods and frameworks for helping clients with climate change issues, all of these approaches are valuable, perhaps essential, for us as therapists to experience as well. This is our human dilemma: we are all in this together.”

We are all in this together. Those six words characterize the spirit of the text. Although the fairly straightforward issue of climate change has recently, and unfortunately, become yet another polarizing political issue, the book avoids finger wagging and cheap shots at climate change deniers in favor of sometimes psychological, occasionally spiritual, always constructive methods to promote healing, renewal, and (true to its title) resiliency for those who need it. In particular, the worksheets at the end of each chapter in Part I are valuable maps which clinicians can use to guide them in working with clients with relevant issues. Clinicians who are passionate about the effects of nature and ecology on mental health would, in this reviewer’s opinion, be wise to complete the worksheet exercises on their own in order to fully understand the benefit they may serve to their clients.

Just as global warming is relatively recent as a scientific concern, ecopsychology is fairly new as a formal therapeutic practice. (Informally, the practice of having an attentive and engaged connection with nature for the sake of nourishing one’s life and even healing one’s wounds stretches back to the life and teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, as well the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.) With Emotional Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change, Ms. Davenport has made a valuable contribution to the emerging literature on ecopsychology, one that deserves its place on the bookshelf of any mental health professional who believes our relationship to the land, air, and water around us is ignored both at the peril of ourselves and our planet.