We are increasingly being encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle and be mindful of the impact our activities have on the environment. In deciding to make changes to their lives, many people question their own place in consumer culture, the way they are living and their relationships to others.
How can talk therapy and counselling respond to concerns about waste and sustainability?
Sustainability and Personal Therapy
We are always hearing how the environment is in crisis. But when we are in our own crises – when a relationship ends, we think we have an addiction, or a midlife crisis for example – looking after the planet might not even come to mind.
Many of the the people who consult me are longing to make profound changes to their lives to have better relationships with others. Often they tell me they want to live a more integrated life or find ways of letting go of some behaviour or obsession with success. For some this means talking about a drinking problem or what they describe as an addiction to porn or sex or wanting to change their relationship with food or drugs. For others it is dealing with a past trauma that has affected how they relate to family members or their partner. Still others are questioning the purpose of life or looking for new meaning perhaps through a new job or a different expression of their sexuality.
In these conversations, we are often talking about the way people relate to each other or what is around them. How do I make better connections? How can I be less controlling of others? What will give me more control in my own life? These intentions to change also have us looking at the impact of our actions and a lot of people tell me they want to have a better relationship with their world and live more sustainably.
Online Therapy: Environmentally Friendly Counselling over the Internet
The implications of counselling and psychotherapy on the environment and energy use might not seem so obvious but let’s look at what is used and consumed in a typical therapy appointment. Firstly, if you need to travel to see the counsellor, whether you drive or take public transport, there is the fuel and maintenance of the vehicle that transports you. When a couple is involved, this might be doubled, particularly if you are coming from different workplaces or directions. And lets not forget that it’s not just ‘clients’ or ‘patients’ who commute to a therapy practice, it’s also the therapist.
Then there is the energy required to light, heat or cool the premises where the sessions take place as well as the equipment required by the therapist – printer, copier, coffee machine, refrigerator, telephone etc – which all require manufacturing and energy. Even the paper used for writing session notes has to be produced and, eventually, disposed of somehow.
One way in which psychology and therapy services have responded to these questions about sustainability has been the online shift to Internet counselling. At Forward Therapy, I work over webcam and instant message and offer to send you session notes electronically over email. This is not only a way of increasing the effectiveness of therapy it is also more private and environmentally friendly. When you start thinking about how many therapy practices there are and how many people commute to and from them every day, it gives an impression of how much impact our psychological therapies might be having on the planet.
Webcam Psychotherapy: A Green Solution to Isolation
But it goes further than that. Consider the effort many people take in preparing for a therapy appointment. Ironing clothes, showering, make up… just because they need to leave home and travel through public space. Now I am not suggesting that the people who meet with me online have stopped showering or that all my clients wear their pyjamas to our appointments (although some do!), but many rightly do not have to go to the same lengths and use the same energy to get ready for a webcam appointment that they would if they were travelling across the city to an office consult.
Some of the people who consult me would actually have to fly out of small, isolated towns to attend a therapy session if it was not for webcam and the Internet. That’s not only because they do not have the same access to counselling services that people in big cities enjoy, they also benefit from a greater level of privacy online and do not have to meet with a therapist who might also be their neighbour.
Professionals living in remote mining towns such as Karratha or Moranbah in Australia as well as English speaking expats working in Beijing, Tianjin, Abu Dhabi or Bangkok, tell me that online counselling is a ‘no-brainer’. And for those working long hours who don’t want to lose travel time, it can often be the best solution.
Private Therapy, Globalisation and Counselling Relationships
To find a private therapist is to be in a privileged position. Most people in the world, particularly those living in countries where there are bigger differences between the rich and the poor, do not have the opportunity to have regular psychotherapy or counselling. But online therapy is a practical way to acknowledge that we are part of the web of life. Our relationship to energy, technology and the natural environment is important and so is the way we are connected to others.
Perhaps these connections between ecology and psychotherapy do not seem so visible until we scrutinise them. Globalisation is putting massive environmental pressure on our planet but technology and the Internet is making it possible for people in distant places to get help while minimising their own ecological impact. It is not for everyone and there will be times and occasions when people feel that that travelling to see a counsellor or therapist is in itself part of the therapy. However meeting with a therapist or counsellor online can also be an effective way of responding to the disconnected, alienating experiences of contemporary life and making profound changes.
Contact me now and ask me any questions you have. If you are interested in a Skype appointment over webcam or instant message, I would be happy to send you further details of how the appointments work, my fees and availability for your location. Please let me know your nearest large town and country so I can provide the fees in the appropriate currency and availability for your timezone.
How green is your therapy?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Ash Rehn BSocWk, MA, MAASW (acc.)
online counsellor and webcam therapist
accredited mental health social worker