Therapy is Needed for All of the Systemic Challenges We Face

Not Just for Climate Change

Ian Mitroff
3 min readNov 30, 2023

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

An article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine describes in detail how before they could treat the anxieties that their patients were suffering with regard to Climate Change, they first had to acknowledge the reality of it[i]. As a result, it’s thereby forced Therapists to acknowledge their own anxieties with regard to Climate Change.

Although it mentions it only in passing, and thereby does not give it the full attention it warrants, the Threat is much broader than Climate Change alone:

“In June, the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine published a paper cautioning that the world at large is facing ‘a psychological condition of systemic uncertainty,’ in which ‘difficult emotions arise not only from the ecological loss itself’, but also from the fact that our lives are embedded in systems that keep making those losses worse. Climate change, in other words, surrounds us with constant reminders of ‘ethical dilemmas and deep social criticism of modern society. In its essence, climate crisis questions the relationship of humans with nature and the meaning of being human in the Anthropocene.”

In talking with Therapists who are friends of mine, they are greatly saddened to have to acknowledge that their patients are suffering anxieties not just from Climate Change but more broadly from the general chaos in the world. An article in The San Francisco Chronicle is unfortunately one of the more depressing examples one can give[ii].

With less than a 1000-residents, the tiny town of Sunol in rural Alameda County, and not far from the San Francisco Bay, has found itself in constant turmoil. On September 12, the board of trustees voted 2 to 1 to ban Pride flags at Sunol Glen, the one and only school it administers. The decision soon led to a battle over the rights of LGBTQ’s, thereby embroiling Sunol in the National Culture Wars.

Sparsely and rarely attended school board meetings became intense battle grounds with people shouting over one another and even threatening violence. Indeed, some officials received death threats.

In line with similar skirmishes Nationwide, books that discussed Queers and other taboo topics were subject to Bans.

As Liliana Barrajas, a Sunol Glen School alumna, put it, “Sunol has a lot of hidden prejudice.” And, Mary Conant, Minister of the Little Brown Church, put it more starkly, “We have been dragged into the American culture wars”. Indeed, in a recent Sunday sermon where she addressed the horrors in the Middle East alongside what was happening in Sunol, she put it. “What ties these events together is hate…And she’s not sure how her community will get past that”.

Conant, who identifies herself as LGBTQ, also said, “There’s a sense that if you disagree over a bond issue, you can recover from that…But if you look at your neighbor and think ‘this is kind of evil’, that’s different”.

Still, she was willing to wave at a neighbor who she was certain supports the ban on Pride flags.

In these troubled times, we need more like Ms. Conant. Indeed, as much as we ever have.

[i] Brooke Jarvis, Get Help: How Climate Anxiety Is Challenging- And Transforming-The Practice Of Psychotherapy,” The New York Times Magazine, October 29, 2023, PP 51–53, 63.

[ii] Erin Allday, “Pride flag divides a quiet community,” The San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, October 31, 2023, PP A1 and A8.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash