The emotional impact of climate change work

What is it like working in organisations that engage the public on climate change? What are the dynamics that leaders experience? This is the focus of my doctoral research at the Tavistock Centre/University of Essex. Working within a psychoanalytically-informed framework known as systems-psychodynamics, I’m exploring the extent to which the difficult feelings associated with the climate and ecological crisis affect organisational culture and working practices, how leaders experience these cultural effects, and how they think about their experience.

What I’m finding is a difficult emotional experience that goes to the heart of identity and our human vulnerability. The polarities and tensions around optimism and despair, urgency and depth of thinking, rage and hope that we see in public discourse on climate change are present in the organisational experience and they make this work very tough indeed. I wrote about this for New Associations, the membership magazine of the British Psychoanalytic Council, in 2019 and the article is available on their website (or an easier-to-read electronic version is on the Climate Psychology Alliance website).

Image of New Associations article

I’m currently in the throes of analysis and writing up, and looking for evidence of the precise ways in which the emotional experience of climate change – as described by Rosemary RandallRenée LertzmanPaul HoggettCaroline Hickman and others – ‘gets into’ the working experience of leaders in climate change organisations, and how their work engaging with the public is (and is not) affected by it.

I am so grateful to the climate change leaders who took part in the co-operative inquiry group I convened to look into these questions. Our discussions were honest, difficult and often painful, bringing the hard feelings to the surface in a way that the group members said helped them to manage their experiences by seeing that they were shared by others.