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25 January 2024
BABCP recognises that we are in a climate and ecological emergency. The health of the planet is inextricably linked to human health and wellbeing.
As scientist practitioners and members of the Lead Organisation for CBT in the UK and Ireland, we believe that we can and must take action on climate change. Whether this is within management, leadership, research, training or the clinic, it is within our professional remit to apply our skills and knowledge to what is clearly an existential threat to humanity.
Importantly, all of us, our friends and families, are already experiencing the effects of climate change. While we can see both a global and local impact on our environment, some of us may experience eco-concern and distress, while others may be more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. While cognitive behavioural psychotherapists have clinical tools to help alleviate some of this suffering and are developing new approaches, eco-distress is grounded in rational responses to global societal ills, which require collective global solutions. The BABCP as an organisation is committed to playing its part by showing leadership in this area, in reducing its own carbon footprint wherever possible as well as furthering research in this area and providing guidance for therapists who encounter eco-distress in their work.
The climate and ecological crises pose a threat to humanity, and to ecosystems. The United Nations has declared that ‘Climate Change is the defining crisis of our time, but we are far from powerless to act’. There is undisputed evidence for climate change and its physical and mental health consequences. Declaring a climate and ecological emergency is in line with position statements taken by other professional bodies such as the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Association of Clinical Psychologists, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and many other professional bodies. The government document 'Applying All Our Health: Climate Change' (May 2022) informs health practitioners of how they can and must take action on climate change at work.
The health sector, whose mission is protecting and promoting health, contributes over 4% of the UK’s total carbon footprint and must therefore play their part in resolving it. Public and private health and social care providers, and educational bodies can have a significant influence in driving changes to help us practise, work and live in more sustainable ways.
Millions are already exposed to the direct impacts of climate change and eco destruction, such as extreme weather events. Direct exposure has psychological effects (e.g. loss, trauma). This is not limited to countries in more vulnerable parts of the world: flooding is the most common disaster in the UK and is associated with anxiety, depression and PTSD. Indirect exposure through the growing awareness of these crises is increasingly seen as a psychological burden for people around the world, particularly younger people. This 'eco-distress' (also known as eco-anxiety, climate anxiety, ecological grief) may, for some, be a significant issue for which they seek support. Others may experience this as one challenge amongst many, or an issue that interacts with existing mental health problems. Importantly, practitioners are also affected by these global crises and as such may also experience eco concern and distress themselves.
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy and science have important contributions to make to meet the challenge of eco-distress, with its expertise in research and evidence-based therapy.
A number of existing cognitive-behaviourally informed models can offer helpful understandings and formulations for eco-distress. New theoretical models and protocols are emerging to understand these complex and multifaceted experiences. It is important to understand the wider systems and context within which distress is experienced, including the role of intersectionality, for example between climate change, age, poverty, geographical location, neurodiversity, violence against women and girls (VAWG) and racism. New models will also consider the ways in which climate injustice and the inaction of those in power contribute to distress.
BABCP recognises that the climate and ecological crises are health crises, and therefore that climate and ecological work is a core part of its members’ professional responsibilities.
We would like to acknowledge the work and support of Amanda Cole, Dr Liz Marks, Dr Stirling Moorey and Colin Hughes.
BABCP members can join the Climate Change Special Interest Group here.