Behind the News: David Staunton, ecopsychotherapist
A series of Climate Conversations began at Dublin Climate Gathering this week. One of the attendees explains why ‘ecopsychology’ is part of the solution to climate-change denial
David Staunton: “Ecotherapy takes into account the feelings of loss, hopelessness and denial that many of us are living with due to the gross injustices – climate change, pollution, the mass extinction of birds, animals and plants – that nature and our planet experience”
‘Ecopsychology” is part of the solution to climate-change denial and inaction on global warming, according to David Staunton, an “ecopsychologist” who offers his clients outdoor counselling. He was at the first Climate Conversation this week, at Liberty Hall in Dublin, as he believes that acknowledging we are part of the natural world is the obvious first step to action on climate change.
“I agree with Mark Patrick Hederman” – abbot of Glenstal Abbey – “that the cues will come from the cultural world, but I also think counsellors and psychotherapists have a role to play,” says Staunton, who trained in ecopsychology with Dr Martin Jordan at the University of Brighton.
Staunton is not a member of a political party and is not aligned to the Climate Gathering alliance of Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Trócaire, the Environmental Pillar and the business group Ibec.
He says that by putting climate change at arm’s length we are denying an element of ourselves. “We are part of nature. We came out of this world. Depression, low mood, addictions, distractions, poor physical health can all be symptoms of our disconnection with the natural world. Ecotherapy takes into account the feelings of loss, hopelessness and denial that many of us are living with due to the gross injustices – climate change, pollution, the mass extinction of birds, animals and plants – that nature and our planet experience.”
Staunton offers clients counselling psychotherapy in outdoor settings of their choice. “It’s not just a walk in the park. It’s a highly effective form of growth, healing and learning in nature,” says Staunton. Staunton also runs a hedge school in ecotherapy (walkinniu.ie). “Nature-based therapies are not new and could well be described as the earliest form of healing,” says Staunton, who says his goal is to explore and restore the human-to-nature connection as well as the human-to-human relationship.
The Climate Conversation “Communicating the Challenge” this week included contributions from David Begg, the recently retired general secretary of Ictu, Claire O’Connor, the former international director of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, Oisín Coughlan, of Friends of the Earth, Terry Prone, the communications consultant, and Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party. “There is a moral, economic and political imperative to transition to a low-carbon economy,” said Begg.
Ryan said, “At our first Climate Gathering event, in the Burren, we realised we were getting it wrong by making people feel guilty about the problem. We need to start listening to farmers, builders, students, and ask them for help rather than tell them what to do.”
O’Connor said, “We need to make the message self-transcendent – culturally, spiritually and in terms of our wellbeing. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Prone said, “You have to be more interesting than the naysayers and never try to convert them.
The Climate Conversations continue on March 26th at Trinity College Dublin; climategathering.org