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From Coronavirus to Climate Change: Helping Clients Navigate the Overwhelming Nature of our World as a Counselling Therapist

We live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle where we must process constant information about difficult current events. Opinions flow into our view from multiple sources. For many, the headlines, events, and their accompanying comment threads can be anything from saddening to overwhelming to paralyzing.

These feelings are so common that psychologist Steven Stosny coined the term ‘headline stress disorder’ (CBC 2019). Keep reading for a guide to supporting clients who are feeling overwhelmed with everything.

Make Space for Grief

As figures like Greta Thunberg have risen in prominence, so has anxiety about climate change. Christine Ro explains, “even people whose lives and livelihoods don’t depend directly on the climate can feel the psychological strain” (Ro 2019). This is sometimes referred to as “climate grief” (Allen 2020) and researchers suggest that “one of the routes through the anxiety is to engage with your grief and sense of loss” (Hickman in Ro 2019).

As a counselling therapist you can provide great comfort to your clients by making space for them to acknowledge the immense difficulty of climate change and other big issues affecting the world today. Practical solutions are important, but it is also important to have a “safe, shame-free mental space” to express anxiety (Ro 2020).

Make a safe space for clients to express worries and fears

Help Clients Set Boundaries with Counsellor Training Skills

Whether at work, social gatherings, or online, controversial and troubling current events are likely topics of conversation that can make clients feel trapped (Spector 2017). With your counsellor training skills, you can encourage clients to set boundaries in these conversations.  Consider the following situation:

The outbreak of COVID-19, popularly referred to as coronavirus, was first reported at the end of December (WHO 2019). Since then, fears have been stoked by the spread of the virus, as well as by the spread of information and misinformation (Shimerling 2020). There has also been an uptick in racist behaviours against Chinese people around the world (Campbell 2020 and Burton 2020).

This situation shows that current events affect everyone on many levels. As a counsellor it is useful to make an effort to understand the personal impact of news events on individuals. How do you support clients in setting boundaries and protecting their wellness when these conversations are everywhere? Remind them “you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to” (Spector 2017).

Daily Routines and More

After you make space for grief and encourage clients to limit conversations that increase anxiety, there are a few more little things you can suggest. For example, help your clients develop a daily routine that begins and ends with something other than the news. One counsellor likes to tell clients “if something significant happens in the world, you will still hear about it” (Lowenthal in Specto 2017) even if you don’t read the news first thing in the morning.

Encourage clients to “unplug” before they go to bed

More support may include helping clients create action plans. According to Dr Stosny, “creating change comes about when you focus on the kind of world you want to see, and then consider what you can do to bring it about” (CBC 2016). This may mean keeping a diary of hopes for the future, volunteering at a community centre, or something else.

This will help your clients prioritize positive actions and alleviate the negative feelings that can come from the overwhelming news we face every day.

Are you ready to nurture your wellness and support others?

Contact Rhodes Wellness College about counsellor therapist training today!

Works Cited

Allen, Summer 2020. Is climate grief something new? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/members/content/climate-grief

Burton, Nylah 2020. The coronavirus exposes the history of racism and “cleanliness.” Vox. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/2020/2/7/21126758/coronavirus-xenophobia-racism-china-asians

Campbell, Lucy 2020. Chinese in UK report ‘shocking’ levels of racism after cornavirus outbreak. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/09/chinese-in-uk-report-shocking-levels-of-racism-after-coronavirus-outbreak

CBC Radio 2016. News headlines getting you down? Here’s how to protect your mental health. CBC. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/headlines-and-rejection-1.5291275/news-headlines-getting-you-down-here-s-how-to-protect-your-mental-health-1.5291287

Ro, Christine. The harm from worrying about climate change. BBC. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191010-how-to-beat-anxiety-about-climate-change-and-eco-awareness

Shimerling, Robert H. 2020. Be careful where you get your news about coronavirus. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/be-careful-where-you-get-your-news-about-coronavirus-2020020118801

Spector, Nicole 2017. ‘Headline stress disorder’: How to cope with the anxiety caused by the 24/7 news cycle. NBC. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-headline-stress-disorder-do-you-have-it-ncna830141

World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Retrieved from:https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Wright, Robin. The Global Panic Over Coronavirus. The New Yorker. Retrieved from: https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-coronavirus-is-causing-a-global-panic-but-thats-a-good-thing

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