Psychological insights on discussing societal disruption and collapse

  • Jem Bendell
Keywords: climate anxiety, eco-anxiety, eco-distress, societal collapse, deep adaptation, authoritarianism, activism, doomism


As the impacts of climate change grow in number and severity, so climate distress is increasing around the world and becoming a major issue for psychologists, as both individuals and professionals. Increasing numbers of people assess that the damage that is forthcoming because of existing trajectories of atmospheric heating will lead to massive disruption and ultimate collapse of societies around the world. Some such people have been grouping together to share ideas on the implications for the rest of their lives. Many are using the concept and framework of “Deep Adaptation” to organise their sense making and actions. Their existence and ideas have led to strong criticisms from some commentators and scientists, who argue it is not correct or helpful to discuss collapse risk and readiness. This paper explores the reasons why publicly discussing anticipation of collapse has become helpful, and how criticisms of it are likely involving forms of ‘experiential avoidance’. The problematic objectification of people for ‘doomism’ is explained, as well as the antecedents of authoritarianism that may be emerging in the criticisms of Deep Adaptation. Therefore, a case is made for how psychotherapists and psychologists can help people, including scholars, understand how their aversion to the topic of collapse — and the emotions associated with it — could be preventing dialogue and wise action at this crucial time for humanity.

Author Biography

Jem Bendell

Jem Bendell is a Professor of Sustainability Leadership with the University of Cumbria, founder of the Deep Adaptation Forum, and strategist for Scholars Warning. He works as a researcher, educator, and advisor on social and organisational change, with over 25 years’ experience in sustainable development initiatives in over 20 countries. In 2018, he authored the viral “Deep Adaptation” paper, downloaded around a million times. Since then he works on helping people to understand and collaborate on how to reduce harm, save

more of the natural world, and find meaning from the catastrophic impacts of the global ecological and climate disaster.

How to Cite
Bendell, J. (2021). Psychological insights on discussing societal disruption and collapse. Ata: Journal of Psychotherapy Aotearoa New Zealand, 25(1), 35-53.