Existential Psychotherapy Perspective

The Denial of the Apocalypse – Dealing with the Climate Crisis from the Perspective of Existential Psychotherapy

English translation of: Chmielewski, F. (2019). Die Verleugnung der Apokalypse – der Umgang mit der Klimakrise aus der Perspektive der existenziellen Psychotherapie. Psychotherapeutenjournal, S. 253–260

Summary: A broad consensus of reliable research warns against the scenario of a soon unavoidable spiral of man-made climate change. Nevertheless, both large parts of population and decision makers do not seem to be interested in the threat of destruction of the world as we know it. The gloomy prophecies of climate scientists are downplayed or even denied, necessary climate policy steps are not taken. The article looks at these phenomena from the perspective of existential psychotherapy and tries to point out possible causes and mechanisms of its repression as well as deduce concrete psychotherapeutic “interventions”. There is also a plea for an active participation of psychotherapists in health campaigns against this widespread “existential neurosis”.


A broad consensus of reliable research warns against the scenario of a threatening and perhaps soon unavoidable spiral of man-made climate change (e.g., Figueres et al., 2017; Cook et al., 2013). Currently, a movement of engaged young students as part of “Fridays for Future” strikes and demonstrations points to the impending doomsday scenario in the most visible and media-effective way. The movement calls for the implementation of drastic climate policy measures demanded by science. Both physicians and psychologists warn of the health consequences of climate change and give it top priority: The Marburg Confederation demands at its Annual General Meeting: “The stop of man-made climate change and its consequences on human health needs to become an absolute priority in health policy “(Marburger Bund, 2019). Already in 2008, the American Psychological Association launched a Climate Change Task Force (Swim et al., 2009) and warns against profound psychosocial upheavals caused by climate change. More recently, various psychologists and psychotherapists around the world have positioned themselves, in line with the protests of the youth, with the “Psychologists / Psychotherapists for Future” initiative, labeling climate change as an “existential threat” (Psychologists for Future, 2019).

Nevertheless, key decision-makers either completely deny man-made climate change or undermine it and the urgency of the pressure to act. Paradoxically, on the one hand, students’ demands and scientific consensus go hand in hand, but on the other hand, even politically moderate politicians suggest that students engage with school rather than climate change – activist Greta Thunberg explains the dubious nature of this proposal in a nutshell: “Why should I study for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future?” Absurdly, there is an upholding of school education against the backdrop of a world of adults that does not care about the long-term survival of their offspring.

A large part of the population does not seem to be adequately interested in the threatening destruction of the world as we know it, and – as Brick and van der Linden (2018) put it – responds only with a lethargic “yawn” for the apocalypse. Even more questionable is the motivation of people who dismiss the human cause of climate change as a lie – sometimes with astonishing aggressiveness and with reference to untenable conspiracy theories.

How can we explain this denial of reality? Acting against your own long-term interest and against your own rationality? Certainly, financial interests play an important role for some decision-makers: there are people who willingly sacrifice the well-being of many for their individual material enrichment. A prominent example is the approach of the Exxon group examined in a Harvard study, which since the 1980s deliberately misled the public about the dangers of man-made climate change, targeting the so-called climate denouncers and deliberately distributing soothing misinformation – although its own internal research purportedly demonstrated the dangers and confirmed the link between climate change and CO2 emissions (Der Spiegel, 2017).

But using financial interests as the sole explanation for so much denial in large parts of the world’s population is not enough: why are conscientious and educated people affected by these repressions who think they consider the long-term well-being of the many? Why do people shut themselves down to the scientific consensus and its consequences with regard to this topic? Is it not about life or death? Is not our individual and human existence at stake? It is. And maybe that’s the psychological root of the evil.

Existential psychotherapy (Yalom, 2005, van Deurzen, 2009, Cooper, 2016) focuses on how people deal with existential borderline situations and describes functional and dysfunctional “answers” to the big questions raised by existence (Chmielewski, 2018 ) – and can therefore contribute to the understanding of why people deny that the measurable climate changes are influenced by humans. Many of the theories of existential psychotherapy are supported by recent empirical research (eg, Schnell, 2016). In particular, the Terror Management Theory (TMT, Greenberg, Solomon & Pyszczynski, 2015), which is thematically closely related to existential psychotherapy, is described by Wolfe and Tubi (2019) as a “missing link” to interpret the denial of the climate crisis threat: TMT sees the awareness of one’s own mortality as the trigger of the central human conflict. Like all living beings, we want to ensure our survival – but we know that one day we will inevitably die. This knowledge represents for us an unsustainable “terror”, which must be “managed” by suppression, so that a normal functioning is still possible. The TMT describes various coping strategies, some can be highly dysfunctional, as shown in various experiments. In particular, the maintenance of values and group affiliation, as well as the attempt to increase self-esteem should be mentioned. From the theories and findings of the existentially oriented directions, interventions can be deduced, which could be used against such denial processes.

Psychotherapists are naturally reluctant – and rightly – to impose a particular point of view on people. They try to keep their own values out of the therapy as much as possible in order to enable patients to make self-determined decisions. But this concerns their behavior inside the therapy room. If there is a public health problem for the whole society, are we not committed to help with our psychological tools in the fight against it – of course outside of the therapy room? Should we not try to counteract “therapeutically” the problems of our society – and not just stand with “equanimous attention” with a mere diagnosis?

Our particular responsibility as psychotherapists is twofold: despite our professional analytical view of people and the society that shapes them, we ourselves are human and part of this society. On the one hand, in this same role as citizens, the contribution of our theoretical and practical expertise is a duty. On the other hand, as members of a medical profession, we have a special professional ethical responsibility to protect people who harm themselves or others. The objection to the duty of abstinence is only of limited use here, since, as Dohm (2016) wrote in a previous issue of this journal, it refers to “the psychotherapeutic context in the narrower sense, not to us as citizens” (page 263). Incidentally, this article is not intended to pathologize certain political views or exclusively the so-called climate deniers – the diagnosis is more comprehensive: the patients – that’s all of us.

I do not exclude myself here, on the contrary: One of the impulses for this article was the appalling realization of how strongly I am myself influenced by many of the described ways of avoiding climate change. So I see myself as part of the problem that I want to understand and solve.

Of course, the climate crisis cannot (only) be explained on an individual level, let alone solved. Here, as psychotherapists, we have to leave our usual “default” attitude, which focuses on the well-being of the individual sitting in front of us, and take a “cosmic perspective”. Political decisions and educating the whole population are needed to initiate the necessary vital changes. The individualising perspective is not sufficient – Grunwald (2011) even speaks of a “collective self-deception”, if we think that big social changes in sustainability can only be achieved through engagement in the private sphere. He compares the worried and private person with a “hamster in the wheel, running diligently – and yet its real contribution solving the problems would be minimal.” Sustainability was “not just a private matter, but a matter for the polis”. The responsibility of the individual lies not only in self-optimization, but also in “demanding or advocating sustainable action and the setting of sustainable rules at all possible political levels”.

Different answers to existential threats – diagnostics

The urge of survival is the driving force of our nature as creatures, it is the motor of our evolution (Dawkins, 2014). Accordingly, death, the extinction of our existence, is our greatest threat (Becker, 1973). Acute life threat therefore triggers extreme (death) anxiety. Our threat system activates and prepares us for fight-flight-freeze reactions (Gray, 1988): we can flee, fight or freeze and kill ourselves. In threat scenarios where we face a predator, these automated behaviors can be highly functional and vital. Regarding the climate catastrophe, however, our fight-flight-freeze reactions may prove highly dysfunctional and even endanger our lives – they are not made for the long-term battle with an invisible opponent.

However, the denial mentioned in the article occurs in different forms. The root of denying and trivializing is the same for us all – the fear of annihilation. Due to our different personalities and temperaments, however, we respond to this threat with individual coping styles, different “existential answers” (Chmielewski, 2018). According to the schema therapeutic nomenclature (Roediger, 2016; Young et al., 2003), these individual coping styles can be categorized into three categories: surrender, avoidance, (over-)compensation. As a result, “soft”, “peaceful” avoidance strategies with regard to the necessary fight for climate protection are not to be rated as “better” than the “combative”, aggressive, overcompensating ones. In the end, all three strategies are non-adaptive behaviors: not enough steps are taken to tackle a threat that needs to be averted.

If we were to respond rationally to the threat of climate change, we would take scientific findings seriously, as in other areas. We would prioritize the prevention of the destruction of the world as we know it and take timely action. However, activating our archaic threat system does not allow us to react rationally: if we surrender to the fear associated with the apocalyptic notions of climate change, and thus perceive the horror in its entirety, we will be inundated with dread and helplessness. The “surrendering” treatment of the climate crisis is not functional: the consequence of this attitude is rather an impotent submission to a seemingly hopeless fate. This perception of oneself as helpless punching ball does not motivate to an active change of behavior. This attitude corresponds to the “learned helplessness” (Seligman, Petermann & Rockstroh, 1999), the perception that there are no options for avoiding a problematic situation. It could be hypothesized that the “surrender” reaction to the climate crisis aggravates or even causes mental illnesses – especially anxiety disorders (e.g. generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder) and depression (Hayes et al., 2018)). “Surrender” can be associated with a cynical, passive-aggressive stance and quickly blur into “blame-shifting” where people transfer responsibility from themselves to others (Washington, 2013). You can then say, “He also has …”, “They’re doing a lot worse than us …”. In particular, China is often used as a scapegoat here in terms of climate. Crompton and Kasser (2009) report that people are more prone to this “blame-shifting” when they are made aware of their mortality.

In order to “avoid” the fear of our annihilation, various mechanisms can be imagined: analogous to the schema therapeutic concept of the “distanced self-calmer” (Roediger, 2016) we can try to avoid our anxiety behaviorally; we can avoid messages and conversations on the topic at the behavioral level (Crompton & Kasser, 2009). Similarly, we can try to numb the oppressive reality with short-term hedonism, superficialities or “urgent activities”.

A “detached protector” (Roediger, 2016) – in regard to climate change – is activated when we use thought avoidance strategies: humans can – in the framework of TMT (Greenberg et al., 2015) – “proximally” avoid the mentalisation of the impending extinction or be “existentially indifferent” towards the threat (Schnell, 2016): “Maybe climate change will affect some far away island people, personally I will not be affected.” Through an intellectualizing treatment of the existential threat, the problem is acknowledged abstractly – but the personal/individual concern is denied. Another way of denial is the belief in an “ultimate rescuer” (Yalom, 2005): I can console myself with the expectation of someone else coming to solve the problem. This rescuer may be expected – paradoxically – to come from the field of (the now suddenly/conveniently appreciated) science: “Some clever scientist will find a way to suck the CO2 from the air in time”. In this line of thinking, an economically liberal politician suggested leaving the climate crisis to “professionals” (Der Spiegel, 2019) – without specifying whom he actually meant. The belief in an omnipotent “ultimate rescuer” frees us from the responsibility of having to change something. The irrationality of such a belief becomes apparent when the actual “professionals”, namely climatologists, warn against the irreversibility of the climate process (Der Spiegel, 2019) and do any positive prognosis about timely technological solutions.

Since we are dealing with a (still) changeable situation in the treatment of man-made climate change, an activist approach towards this goal is functional here. We can secure our survival (and that of our great-grandchildren) through timely fighting in the sense of the fight system. In this framework, the group of demonstrating adolescents could be diagnosed as existentially healthy. Schema-therapeutically speaking, the people who are in the “healthy adult” mode (Roediger, 2016) are not the adults at the moment, but the adolescents.

Paradoxically, the confrontation with the threatening extinction of our world can also lead to an opposing militant attitude – in the sense of overcompensation: the “Crusade” (Yalom, 2005) against climate protection, promoting the active and aggressive denial of the existential threat. An explanation for this peculiar existential reaction formation is described in detail by Becker (1973) and empirically demonstrated by the TMT (Greenberg et al., 2015): Given the inevitability of death, we can also regulate fear of death by trying to secure our “symbolic immortality”. The TMT authors describe two strategies used for this “distal avoidance”: we can avoid distally by a) strengthening our identification with a group and their world view that we consider valuable, b) trying to increase our individual self-esteem. In both cases, either a) my group and their values, or b) I personally achieve “symbolic immortality”: the idea “Even if I am dead, my group / my values / the memory of myself will live on” gives me security.

It seems absurd to put “symbolic survival” above actual survival. In the context of the TMT theory, however, such a mechanism becomes psychologically comprehensible: the symbolic safeguarding of survival enables a rapid reduction of (death-) anxiety. Countless experiments by TMT confirm this mechanism (Greenberg et al., 2015). The experiments are usually carried out in such a way that the death awareness of subjects is made salient. After a distracting task, the different experimental variations take place. The function of the distraction task is to ensure that in the further course of the experiment the fear of death is to operate unconsciously so that the unconscious, distal avoidance strategies are being activated. Time and time again, the TMT experiments show that people in the face of death try to regulate their fear of death sometimes by, paradoxically, doing potentially dangerous, survival-promoting things. The results suggest that, in some situations, people are more concerned about increasing their “symbolic immortality” or their “symbolic self” than paying attention to their actual survival: the experimental awareness of mortality may thus lead to that smokers inhale more deeply and people drive their car more recklessly – provided these things are central to the identity of the person and therefore self-relevant. It has been shown experimentally that under certain circumstances, awareness of death makes people more greedy and more ruthless while managing natural resources (in a forest-management game) (Kasser & Sheldon, 2000).

These mechanisms can have very different effects in respect to climate change – depending on which values are defended to protect against fear of death – if people defend themselves against fear of death by upholding the values of environmental awareness and generativity, this may have a positive effect – but if people defend values such as growth and profit orientation to shield themselves against dread, climate damaging behavior can result (Barth et al., 2018). Landau et al. (2009) show that awareness of death makes the self-concept clearer: it makes our individual values more salient – in the face of Apocalypse we learn who we really are. Fritsche and colleagues (2012) point out that the challenge posed by the global ecological crisis can lead to authoritarian and socially exclusive tendencies: They showed that the awareness of the threat posed by the climate crisis can influence people to prefer an authoritarian style of leadership and to derogate outgroup-members.

From understanding to change – from diagnostics to therapy

Which “therapeutic steps” can be derived? Climate activist Greta Thunberg says “I want you to panic” (Thunberg, 2019). With the scale of the threat growing, panic may be the appropriate emotional response. Unfortunately, this panic does not necessarily lead many people into a constructive problem-solving process. Fear is not the broad-spectrum antibiotic against the denial of the climate crisis (see O’Neill & Nicholson-Cole, 2009): Differential interventions have to be tailored to the various avoidance styles to reach people with different coping mechanisms.

How could people be reached in the “surrender”- mode?

People who are overwhelmed by fear have to be confronted with achievable partial goals, formulated as concrete as possible. Achieving these sub-goals could increase confidence in being able to make a difference (“How to engage in climate change today – in 10 simple steps”) – instead of inducing powerlessness, beliefs in self-efficacy need to be strengthened. Feinberg and Willer (2010) show that “dire messages” can reduce environmentally friendly behavior: apocalyptically formulated statements on the seriousness of the situation can therefore reduce the willingness to act. However, Witte and Allan (2010) can show that this effect can be reversed by providing possibilities for action and signaling self-efficacy – presented in addition to the grim news. Becoming active and regaining control proves to be a highly effective intervention against depressive symptoms (Jacobson, Martell & Dimidjian, 2001). For people who have resignated or have a passive-aggressive attitude (“politicians of all parties are always corrupt.”) one would have to problematize these generalizations and use appropriate counterexamples to mobilize them back towards action.

How could people be reached in avoidance mode?

In schema therapy, avoidance modes are therapeutically addressed by trying to put people into a meta-perspective concerning their own strategies (Roediger, 2016). On the one hand, this way people learn to understand the anxiety-reducing function of their avoidance strategies. On the other hand, this perspective can be the basis for understanding the high costs of their emotion-regulating avoidance strategies and the basis for a motivation to reduce them. This procedure provides an inspiration for interventions for people in the avoidance mode concerning climate change: One could imagine campaigns that reach the audience with empathic understanding of their avoidance strategies – “Do you know that, too? If you come home from a hard day’s work, you do not want to deal with the climate. That’s just stressful. We know that … “. After this introduction, the long-term costs of this avoidance behavior could be demonstrated.

Ultimately, we need to build up a sense of accountability (in the sense of existential responsibility) for people in the avoidance mode – a responsibility which also includes not-knowing about climate change and its causation (Washington, 2015). Feelings of guilt can be functional if we become unfaithful to our ideal self (Higgins, 1987) and if we judge our behavior negatively and not ourselves (Tangney, 1991).
This guilt can lead to a motivation to change. The shame affect, on the other hand, tempts us to engage with ourselves, to become less empathic with others (Tangney, 1991), and more likely to show withdrawal- and avoidance-motivation (Lammers & Ohls, 2017). So it helps more to stress responsibility and criticize behavior than to make people condemn their failures and be ashamed of what they have done. Harrison and Mallett (2013) explain the relationship between “eco-guilt,” death awareness, environmental values, and people’s behavior. They describe that death awareness lets people act in accordance with social values and make them feel guilty if they find themselves acting discrepantly with these values.

With people that avoid one would have to make their avoidance difficult via campaigns, which undermine the emotional avoidance by activating emotions. So a “more panic”-approach could actually be useful and rattle the avoiding ones. In order to prevent an overtly intellectualizing approach, it is important to choose personal fates and methods that appeal to emotions. In order to undermine the “proximal avoidance” (Greenberg et al., 2015), which denies the personal involvement, interventions must be chosen that help people understand: This also concerns me. One could think of a video that initially depicts the conventional perception: Apparently the inhabitant of a faraway country is afflicted by a climate-related catastrophe, but in the further course of the video it is clearly shown: The scene takes place in the country of the viewer.

It is also important to not attribute the use of denial strategies to personality traits in a generalizing way. Some climate change campaigners derogate their opponents by implying financial and selfish motives as a reason for their behavior. It is important for climate change activists to be aware that there are also many “avoiders” and “skeptics” who act illogically as a result of their fear and not out of evil motives. If bad intent and immorality are assumed, this in turn will attack the self-esteem of the person concerned and this likely will not lead to a change, but rather to defensive reactions.

With all these strategies, it should be noted: if we undermine avoidance mechanisms, we must at the same time formulate concrete instructions on how to act and offer self-efficacy statements. Otherwise, there is a danger that people who abandon the strategy of avoidance will be flooded with fear and switch from the avoidance-mode to the surrender-mode. Only by communicating great fear and high efficacy expectations at the same time, people become capable of action (see Witte & Allan, 2010).

How can people be reached in “fighter mode”?

Unfortunately, it will be difficult to win back people who are offensively fighting against a perceived “climate hysteria”. In no case should this be attempted by an increase of (death) anxiety – according to current findings, this would have to cause these people to slip even deeper into their overcompensation mode. Also, a devaluation of their respective symbolic immortality ideologies (Becker, 1973), which may include values such as “economic growth” or “international competitiveness”, will rather lead to a stronger negative reaction.

A basic psychological need, that is particularly important from the point of view of existential psychotherapeutic perspective, which is central in this context, is self-determination respectively autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1993). If you try to talk people out of their identity-creating values, this need is frustrated – and they respond defensively. In this way, the perspective of a certain politician can be understood who calls the steps demanded by climate activists “eco-dirigisme”. He sees these steps as limitations of personal freedom: In his opinion, environmentalists want to “take the car off the petrol heads and the steak off meat lovers” (Die Welt, 2019). In the same vein, the rebranding of fossile fuels by the US energy department as ‘molecules of freedom’ can be understood as an act of pure reactance.

The chance of dealing with people in the overcompensating mode would be to appeal to their hierarchically higher values such as caring for future generations. The overcompensating person should therefore understand: Currently, I am sacrificing my self-determination concerning my most significant values (“for my descendants”) for my self-determination on a small scale (“drive as much as I want”). In order to meet the need for self-determination, campaigns cannot and should not try to persuade people to form new values, but address and activate existing, higher-level values.

Approach goals instead of avoidance goals – alternatives to fear

The described strategies “surrender”, “avoidance” and “(over)compensation” are anxiety reactions. Consequently, within these avoidance modes, we are dealing with the motivational orientation of avoidance motivation – all strategies attempt to minimize fear and threat. In the long term, it is more functional to build up an approach-motivation for climate protection: What is the (positive) point of dealing with fear? Why are the necessary restrictions in everyday life worthwhile? Campaigns should therefore also offer approach goals.

At this point, three particularly important approximation goals from an existential-psychotherapeutic perspective will be discussed: Meaningfulness, Belonging, Self-Worth.

A first approach can be the promise of the goal of meaningfulness. Well-Being as well as mental and physical health are further goals enhanced by meaningfulness (Kleiman & Beaver, 2013). Combating climate change is particularly suitable as a meaningful goal because it involves self-transcendence: A goal outside the individual is being pursued. This self-transcendence proves to be a meaningful factor in studies, especially in connection with the goals of “care” and “generativity” (Schnell, 2016). “Saving the world” can therefore also be advertised as a meaningful project.

A second goal can be the promised feeling of belonging. The existential psychotherapist Yalom stresses the importance of the realization of the “universality of suffering” and also proves this realization as an important effective factor of group therapies (1985). We are all in the same boat. The painful fact that it is the Titanic can satisfy people’s deep need for belonging (Deci & Ryan, 1993) at a global level. Belonging helps us to better cope with our existential isolation. Fromm (1992) also describes a vision of a global sense of belonging. Instead of trying in vain to eliminate the human desire to belong to a valuable group (he calls this “group narcissism”), he suggests gradually enlarging the particular “in-group”: from a group of valuable small-town inhabitants to a group of earthlings.

Pyszczynski and colleagues (2012) can indeed empirically demonstrate that making people aware of climate change can reduce their perception of differences between groups and peoples and increase their willingness to cooperate and to decrease their willingness to engage in conflict. Climate change here is a suitable “superordinate goal” (Sherif, 1966). Combined with a narrative of the union of all peoples against a common enemy – popular in Hollywood blockbusters such as “Independence Day” and “Pacific Rim”, in which people have to unite worldwide due to alien invasions – averting an ecological disaster could become an international project that can satisfy the need for belonging on a global scale.

A third approach could be to increase self-esteem.

Theory and findings of TMT show us that people have a central motive to maintain or increase their self-esteem – especially when they are confronted with their mortality (Greenberg et al., 2015; Pyszczynski et al., 2004). These findings could be used for climate protection campaigns.

When people are confronted with catastrophic facts, they should at the same time be offered functional opportunities to increase their self-esteem. If the option of being a “hero” is opened up at the same time as the dark truths (Wolfe & Tubi, 2019), a constructive straw is directly available to buffer fear, which people can clutch at. This, however, has been experimentally proven to work only with people who already regard environmentally conscious behavior as positive self-esteem-related behavior (Vess & Arndt, 2008). Against the background of the major goal, a reframing of many small or large activities as “heroic deeds” would be conceivable: from participation in a demonstration to “immortalization” as a donor. If one takes Becker’s (1973) thesis seriously that the striving for self-esteem represents the striving for “symbolic immortality”, there should also be concrete possibilities in connection with the ecological crisis to redirect a heroic need for self-esteem as a “cosmic hero” into other paths.


The consequences of man-made climate change are a problem that concerns us all. The symptoms of this “existential neurosis” (Maddi, 1967) vary according to individual constitution. Existential psychotherapy and the research associated with it can help to understand the reasons for these denial strategies, to classify the different responses to the threat, and to provide ideas for tailored counter-strategies.

From psychoanalysis we have learned that on the path to insight, disavowal must be reduced; cognitive therapy teaches us that a rational view of reality can be healthy. Behavioral therapy advises us: everyone must do their homework and translate the valuable insights into concrete behavior. So what can we do concretely? Here are a few, certainly not exhaustive, suggestions:

  1. The German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, or similar institutions, should publish a statement from which it becomes clear that the vast majority of psychotherapists agrees with the scientific consensus on man-made climate change and hence, also agrees with the suggestions of climate researchers. Thus, the chambers should also support the “Psychologists/Psychotherapists for Future” campaign.
  2. As psychotherapists, we should work together with other professional groups that are currently committed to climate protection: In particular, we can cooperate with the active members of “Scientists for future”. Climate researchers are the content experts on climate change. However, they often lack the tools to communicate their vital findings to the population and decision-makers in such a way that they can understand them appropriately. Our specific expertise as relationship and communication experts could be helpful here.
  3. We should do public relations work (e.g. in the form of brochures), in which we explain the known psychological denial mechanisms in relation to climate change in layman’s terms and provide information on how they can be modified by ourselves and others.
  4. We should sensitize ourselves to the issue and take patients seriously for whom interpretations of the climate crisis could play a causal or perpetuating (partial) role in their psychological problems. An “outreaching” about the theme in the sense of missionary work of patients of course ought to be omitted due to the abstinence requirement. To not politically manipulate the patient does not mean, however, that we must not or should not have our own stance about this subject. Fiedler (2018) only recently stated that a therapist’s value-free “neutrality” is an illusion, that it is rather problematic for the therapeutic relationship to negate the therapist’s partiality, to disguise one’s own positions and to claim to be neutral – the therapist’s world view influences the way of consciousness formation of the patient in one way or another (p. 123). In order to be authentic in conversations on this subject, we must know our own opinion, our own priorities of values, but also our own strategies of denial through introspection.
  5. Low self-care in the fight for climate protection can (co-)create psychological problems. We are also looking for psychologists/psychotherapists who can advise activists on their health behavior (Psychologists/Psychotherapists for Future, personal communication, 2019) – we could also do this personally and/or in the form of brochures.
  6. The first and easiest step: deal with the concerns and goals of the “Psychologists/Psychotherapists for Future” petition launched by your colleagues and support it: https://psychologistsforfuture.org/en/


Barth, M., Masson, T., Fritsche, I. & Ziemer, C. T. (2018). Closing ranks: Ingroup norm conformity as a subtle response to threatening climate change. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 21(3), 497–512.

Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: Free Press.Brick, C. & van der Linden, S. (2018). Yawning at the apocalypse. The Psychologist, 30–35.

Chmielewski, F. (2017). Die Scrooge-Therapie. Verhaltenstherapie & Verhaltensmedizin,38 (3), 233–246.

Chmielewski, F. (2018). Antworten auf die Fragen der Existenz –Ein Vorschlag zur Integration existenzieller Themen in die Schematherapie. Verhaltenstherapie & Verhaltensmedizin, 39 (4), 421–441.

Coats, E. J., Janoff-Bulman, R. & Alpert, N. (1996). Approach versus avoidance goals: Differences in self-evaluation and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(10), 1057–1067.

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., Way, R., Jacobs,P. & Skuce, A. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental research letters, 8(2), 024024.

Cooper, M. (2016). Existential therapies. London: Sage.Crompton, T. & Kasser, T. (2009). Meeting environmental challenges: The role of human identity. Surrey, United Kingdom: World Wildlife Fund UK.

Dawkins, R. (2014). Das egoistische Gen. Heidelberg, Berlin, New York: Springer.Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1993). Die Selbstbestimmungstheorie der Motivation und ihre Bedeutung für die Pädagogik. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, 39(2), 223–238.

Dickens, C. (2013). Der Weihnachtsabend. Leipzig: WBG.Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2011). Apocalypse soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just-world beliefs. Psychological science, 22(1),34–38.

Fiedler, P. (2018). Existenzielle Psychotherapie. Die Gestaltung der therapeutischen Beziehung in der Behandlung von existenziell bedeutsamen Problem-und Lebenslagen. Verhaltenstherapie & Verhaltensmedizin,39 (1), 114–131.

Figueres, C., Schellnhuber, H. J., Whiteman, G., Rockström, J., Hobley, A. & Rahmstorf, S. (2017). Three years to safeguard our climate. Nature News, 546(7660), 593.

Franziskus(2016). Botschaft auf dem Weltgebetstag. Verfügbar unter: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2016/09/01/0608/01352.html#TED .

Fritsche, I., Cohrs, J. C., Kessler, T. & Bauer, J. (2012). Global warming is breeding social conflict: The subtle impact of climate change threat on authoritarian tendencies. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(1), 1-10.

Fromm, E. (1992). Die Seele des Menschen. Ihre Fähigkeit zum Guten und zum Bösen. München: dtv.

Goldenberg, J. L., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Kluck, B. &Cornwell, R. (2001). I am not an animal: mortality salience, disgust, and the denial of human creatureliness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(3), 427.

Gray, J. A. (1988). The neuropsychological basis of anxiety. Handbook of anxiety disorders, 151, 10–37.

Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T. (2015): Der Wurm in unserem Herzen. Wie das Wissen um die Sterblichkeit unser Leben beeinflusst. München: DVA.

Grunwald, A. (2011). Der kollektive Selbstbetrug. Warum es ein Irrglaube ist, dass bewusste Konsumenten Nachhaltigkeit erzwingen können.Verfügbar unter: https://www.geo.de/natur/nachhaltigkeit/4467-rtkl-umweltpolitik-der-kollektive-selbstbetrug.

Hamilton, C., & Kasser, T. (2009). Psychological adaptation to the threats and stresses of a four degree world. A paper for “Four Degrees and Beyond” conference, Oxford University.

Harrison, P. R. & Mallett, R. K. (2013). Mortality salience motivates the defense of environmental values and increases collective ecoguilt. Ecopsychology, 5(1), 36–43.

Hayes, K., Blashki, G., Wiseman, J., Burke, S. & Reifels, L. (2018). Climate change and mental health: Risks, impacts and priority actions. International journal of mental health systems, 12(1), 28.

Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: a theory relating self and affect. Psychological review, 94(3), 319.

Jacobson, N. S., Martell, C. R. & Dimidjian, S. (2001). Behavioral activation treatment for depression: Returning to contextual roots. Clinical Psychology: science and practice, 8(3), 255–270.

Jonas, E., Schimel, J., Greenberg, J. & Pyszczynski, T. (2002). The Scrooge effect: Evidence that mortality salience increases prosocial attitudes and behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(10), 1342–1353.

Kasser, T. & Sheldon, K. M. (2000). Of wealth and death: Materialism, mortality salience, and consumption behavior. Psychological science, 11(4), 348–351.

Kleiman, E. M., & Beaver, J. K. (2013). A meaningful life is worth living: Meaning in life as a suicide resiliency factor. Psychiatry research, 210(3), 934–939.

Lammers, M. & Ohls, I. (2017). Mit Schuld, Scham und Methode. Köln: Psychiatrie-Verlag.

Landau, M. J., Greenberg, J., Sullivan, D., Routledge, C. & Arndt, J. (2009). The protective identity: Evidence that mortality salience heightens the clarity and coherence of the self-concept. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 796–807.

Maddi, S. R. (1967). The existential neurosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 72(4), 311–325.

Marburger Bund (2019). Stellungnahme auf der 135. Hauptversammlung, Münster.

O’Neill, S. & Nicholson-Cole, S. (2009). “Fear won’t do it”promoting positive engagement with climate change through visual and iconic representations. Science Communication, 30(3), 355–379.

Psychologists for Future (2019). Stellungnahme. Verfügbar unter: https://psychologistsforfuture.org/de/ .

Pyszczynski, Tom; Greenberg, Jeff; Solomon, Sheldon; Arndt, Jamie; Schimel, Jeff (2004):Why Do People Need Self-Esteem? A Theoretical and Empirical Review. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 435–468.

Pyszczynski, T., Motyl, M., Vail III, K. E., Hirschberger, G., Arndt, J. & Kesebir, P. (2012). Drawing attention to global climate change decreases support for war. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 18(4), 354.

Roediger, E. (2016). Schematherapie: Grundlagen, Modell und Praxis. Stuttgart: Schattauer.

Schnell, T. (2016). Psychologie des Lebenssinns. Heidelberg, Berlin, New York: Springer.

Seligman, M. E., Petermann, F. & Rockstroh, B. (1999). Erlernte Hilflosigkeit(Bd.16). Weinheim: Beltz.

Sherif, M.(1966). In Common Predicament.Social Psychology of Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp.24–61.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J.&Pyszczynski, T. (2016). Der Wurm in unserem Herzen. München: DVA.DER SPIEGEL.(2017). Wie ExxonMobil Zweifel an Klima-Forschung streute. Verfügbar unter: https://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/studie-exxonmobil-soll-oeffentlichkeit-beim-klimawandel-irregefuehrt-haben-a-1164218.html

DER SPIEGEL.(2019). Eine Sache für Profis.Verfügbar unter: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/christian-lindner-schueler-sollen-in-freizeit-fuer-klimaschutz-demonstrieren-a-1257086.html

Swim, J., Clayton, S., Doherty, T., Gifford, R., Howard, G., Reser, J., Stern, P. & Weber, E. (2009). Psychology and global climate change: Addressing a multi-faceted phenomenon and set of challenges. A report by the American Psychological Association’s task force on the interface between psychology and global climate change. American Psychological Association, Washington.

Tangney, J. P. (1991). Moral affect: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(4), 598–607.

Thunberg, G. (2019). Rede auf der Jahrestagung des Weltwirtschaftsforums, Davos.

Vail III, K. & Juhl, J. (2015). An appreciative view of the brighter side of terror management processes. Social Sciences, 4(4), 1020–1045.

Van Deurzen, E. (2009). Everyday mysteries: A handbook of existential psychotherapy. Abingdon:Routledge.

Vess, M. & Arndt, J. (2008). The nature of death and the death of nature: The impact of mortality salience on environmental concern. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(5), 1376–1380.

Washington, H. (2013). Climate change denial: Heads in the sand. London: Routledge.

Washington, H. (2015). Demystifying sustainability: Towards real solutions. London: Routledge.

DIE WELT. (2019). Robert Habeck träumt von Deutschland als einem fleischlosen Land. Verfügbarunter:https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/plus194355191/FDP-Chef-Christian-Lindner-Robert-Habeck-traeumt-von-Deutschland-als-einem-fleischlosen-Land.html .

Witte, K. & Allen, M. (2000). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for effective public health campaigns. Health education & behavior, 27(5), 591–615.

Wolfe, S. E. & Tubi, A. (2019). Terror Management Theory and mortality awareness: A missing link in climate response studies?Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 10(2), e566.

Yalom, I. D. (1985).The theory and practice of group psychotherapy(3. Aufl.). New York: Basic Books.

Yalom,I. D. (2005). Existenzielle Psychotherapie. Bergisch Gladbach: Kohlhage.

Young, J.E., Klosko, J.S., Weishaar, M.E. (2003). Schema therapy: a practitioner’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.