Claire Harris

My Therapist Marginalized My Climate Anxiety, so I Quit Therapy

(Photo by Jake Noren on Unsplash)

My therapist’s approach to anxiety is to help me accept things the way they are, instead of letting them stress me out. That doesn’t transfer to today.

 

I recently broke up with my therapist.

I’d been seeing her for about four years, so it was pretty much the most serious relationship of my life. I went through a few therapists before her, and I was never able to commit to any of the others.

There was the guy who used to tell me about his marriage problems, and said that my boyfriend at the time was a “being a shit” — which was true, but I’m pretty sure that’s against the rules.

There was the woman who made me sit and write for most of the hour while she put on music and probably played solitaire on her computer. The writing was fine, but I didn’t need to go into a therapist’s office each fortnight to do that.

Then, there was the young psychologist who used to give me exercises to do with my eyes closed. The best one was to imagine myself sitting by the river, and then to visualize leaves floating down that river and to put my worries on the leaves and watch them float away.

At the time, I was having recurring nightmares about ISIS — as my anxiety tends to be focused on global issues. “Put ISIS on the leaf,” she kept insisting. “Put ISIS on the leaf and just float them away!” She also suggested that I try not to think about all the problems in the world, as though it were really that simple.

I stopped telling her about my ISIS dreams and just started telling her jokes instead, setting myself the challenge of making her laugh. At least one of us should come out of the session feeling better, I reasoned. It was a nonsense way to spend the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

The therapy relationship is an incredibly odd one. You go in there and talk about yourself for an hour, and never once ask the person listening anything about themselves. It sort of feels at odds with the way human interactions are supposed to operate (unless you’re a guy on a first date, in which case that’s your M.O.)

I always thought it would be good to have therapy on tap rather than an hour of pain that’s scheduled weeks in advance. I mean, some days I’m feeling quite all right and don’t particularly feel like talking through all life’s problems — but there’s a cancellation fee if I don’t turn up.

 

Climate anxiety is a growing phenomenon, particularly among young people, and one that therapists aren’t equipped to deal with. I have always had a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, but in this case the catastrophe is real.

 

A good therapist makes you feel like you could be friends in real life, outside of that little sanctuary with the comfy couch and the box of tissues — if you weren’t paying her $200 an hour. But I’m not sure that any therapist in the world is good enough to fix my climate anxiety.

Climate anxiety is a growing phenomenon, particularly among young people, and one that therapists aren’t equipped to deal with. I have always had a tendency towards catastrophic thinking, but in this case the catastrophe is real.

My therapist’s approach to anxiety (as with most therapists) is to help me accept things the way they are, instead of letting them stress me out.

The problem is that this can’t be applied to the climate emergency. It’s like telling me to put global heating on a leaf and float it down the river.

Acceptance is complacency. What we need is rage.

I think about climate change every time I see someone use a plastic bag or straw. I take out my own rubbish and think about climate change. I sit in the sunshine on an unseasonably warm day and think about climate change.

I think about it every time I read the news and another landmark report has been released about the extinction of yet another species, or images of fires flash across my screen and it’s not even summer yet.

Since the Australian election in May and the return of our coal-loving, climate-change-denying government for three more years, my anxiety has accelerated.

When I think about looking for another therapist, it feels as overwhelming as starting a new relationship: how long will it take for me to explain myself from beginning to end with another person? How long will it take before they tell me I need to accept the things I cannot change?

 

Claire Harris

Claire Harris is a writer in exile who has spent the last decade traveling and working around the world. This is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds and usually involves scraping by on a diet of muesli and cheap wine. Occasionally together.

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