Epilogue Gestalt therapy of environmental destruction

Let us face it: there is no denying any more that climate change is not a future scenario but is a reality here and now; it is worldwide, it is at once measurable and unpredictable in its details, it will bring unimaginable misery to a large number of human beings living now and to be born in future - and it is human-made!

How much of the environmental catastrophe enters our daily working life? What role does the threat to our world play in our therapies? I suspect very little. Silently, the threat remains in the background, but the concerns of one’s life take up the foreground, that has been conquered by the sudden advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the fear of its terrible economic consequences, giving many politicians an excuse to deny it. Yet the dragon is dormant at best. And everybody knows it. Just before the coronavirus hit us, there was a brief moment, when climate issues seemed to come more to the foreground of public and political attention. But the newly elected Donald Trump lost little time in taking the United States out of the Paris Agreement and adjusting his policies accordingly. Only in the very last years as unusual weather patterns worldwide have drawn increasingly the attention of a larger public does climate change seem to be coming slowly into the foreground of media reports and worries of politicians. Now the debate follows simultaneously two paths: one is a growing debate about how each of us could contribute to minimize the so called individual “ecological footprint” we leave by producing the CO2 that causes climate change simply by our lifestyle - currently 20 tons in the United States and 10 tons in Germany according to J. S. Foer, whose new book, full of valuable and well researched facts, also describes how very difficult he discovered to be his own attempts in this direction (Foer, 2019).

The other path is focused on the question of how we could survive what is already going on, mostly by looking for technological solutions. But one of the principles of Gestalt therapy is that the shackles limiting our clients’ ability to form appropriate Gestalts should always be looked for in the background, and it is the therapist’s task to bring this disturbed background into the foreground! The question is how? For we may safely assume that for most of our clients climate change still rests in the background of their awareness where it is blocked by feelings of helplessness, resignation and anxiety. Thus these feelings have to be brought into the foreground there to be changed into fear of concrete dangers, rage against the passivity of most industrials and politicians, and as a result motivation for action.

For only on rare occasions - and mostly in unexpected ways - does this background anxiety become topical. In Europe, for two or three months after an explosion in a nuclear processing plant at Chernobyl in Russia the situation was - briefly - different; everybody tended to react by amplifying their most familiar neurotic patterns. Depressives became even more downcast, hysterics even more hectic and schizoids even more absent. And everybody felt vindicated. 1 will never forget the undisguised pleasure of a client, who as a pastor had been active in the peace movement for some twenty years: now, finally his colleagues in the church would wake up -catastrophe as a learning experience (Chu, 1991). In contrast, the more recent destruction of the nuclear plant at Fukushima in Japan did not shock as deeply, probably because it was geographically too far away. The German Chancellor was exceptional in that, to everybody’s surprise, she was motivated to make a complete about-turn in her energy policy by deciding to shut off all German nuclear power. But by now even she has come back to “business as usual”. For the moment only the children of the movement “Fridays for Future” in their astonishing alliance with thousands of scientists worldwide seem to be seriously concerned - a fabulous coalition of motivating fear with concerned rational thought! How serious the reality of climate change and other forms of pollution today is might be learned from some recent literature (United Nations, 2019 I Wallace-Wells, 2019 I Rich, 2019 / Foer 2019; Scheffler, 2013).

From the range of Gestalt therapeutic ideas of growth, and those of similar approaches, 1 will distil five tenets which might help to orient our therapeutic actions in the context of ongoing environmental destruction and politically endangered democracy:

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