- Written by Jo Hamilton Jo Hamilton
- Published: 23 February 2017 23 February 2017
Exploring group work methodologies
Hello. I’m Jo, coming towards the end of my first year as a PhD student at the University of Reading, in the School of Geography and Environmental Science.
In a nutshell, my PhD will explore a range of group work methodologies (such as ‘The Work that Reconnects’, and creative approaches) which are aimed at facilitating the acknowledgement, expression, and potential transformation of emotions around climate change. Specifically, I'm wanting to explore what happens in and through these methodologies, what they enable, and what implications this has for taking and sustaining action on climate change.
Coming to terms with the myriad issues relating to climate change (e.g. losses of known environments, species extinctions, a sense of future; frustration at political processes), alongside seemingly insufficient political responses, can trigger emotions such as grief, fear, overwhelm, despair, and guilt (Norgaard 2011, Randall 2009, Head 2016). These emotions can resonate with earlier losses and processes of mourning (Lertzman 2015, Maddrell 2016). Without opportunities to feel, embody or express these emotions, it can be difficult to acknowledge them, particularly when some environments or species are not recognised as ‘grievable’, or interdependence between societies, species and environments is negated (Butler 2009). This can contribute to emotional paralysis and systems of socially organised denial (Weintrobe 2013), which can inhibit capacity for taking effective political action at individual and societal scales.
A range of methods exist to acknowledge, explore and encourage the processing of these complex and often contradictory emotions, which can be identified these as ‘emotional methodologies’ (EMs). These methodologies vary in intensity and accessibility, lie at the interface of psychological and social approaches to climate change. The methods include ‘The Work that Reconnects’ (Hollis-Walker 2012), ‘Inner Transitions’ work of the Transition Network (Banks 2012, Power 2016), ‘Carbon Conversations’ (Randall 2009, Büchs et al. 2015), and creative processes (e.g. Cape Farewell).
Whilst these approaches differ in timescale, intensity and accessibility, they incorporate varying degrees of emotional reflexivity (King 2005) through common elements of a supported reflective space in which to feel, acknowledge and process emotions that arise. The interplay between actions, thoughts and emotions is encouraged, often through the use of creativity, or mindfulness practices. Whilst the practitioner literature reports the type of activities, and some have conducted initial research (e.g. Banks 2013), there is limited academic literature or evaluation about what results from participation. That which exists suggests that engaging in these processes increases participant’s capacity to take action, (Bragg, 1996, Johnstone, 2002, Büchs et al. 2015) but urges the need for more research (Hollis-Walker 2012).
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
My research aims to understand what impacts arise from people’s participation in a range of Emotional methodologies, and the implications for their subsequent involvement in climate change mitigation. My research will identify, map and explore a range of EMs currently used in the UK, asking how they encourage climate change engagement, and the resultant effect. I have four objectives:
i) To identify emotional methodologies currently used to enable expression, processing and transformation of emotions associated with climate change;
ii) To examine the impact of emotional methodologies offered by NGOs on participants;
iii) To investigate whether acknowledgement and processing of emotional responses to climate change enables increased engagement and sustained action on climate change – What works? In what conditions? For whom? To what ends?
iv) To assess the importance of emotion in taking and sustaining climate action, and the implications for action and engagement strategies for wider sectors.
I am currently working on my methodologies, and planning to use psychosocial research methods for interviewing, alongside incorporating elements of action research with existing organisations. I’d be very pleased to hear from anyone who would like to know more about my research, who has general interest in this area, or who has some relevant contacts / experience / information.
• Banks S. 2012. Inner Transition Survey Results [online] Accessed 3rd May 2014
• Büchs M. Hinton E. Smith G. (2015). ‘It helped me sort of face the end of the world’: The role of emotions for third sector climate change engagement initiatives. Environmental Values. , 24, (5), 621-640.
• Butler, J., 2009. Frames of War When is life grievable? London: Verso.
• Head, L., 2016. Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising human–nature relations. London: Routledge.
• Cape Farewell online Accessed 15th Jan 2015.
• Hollis-Walker L. 2012. Change Processes in Emotion-Focused Therapy and the Work That Reconnects. Ecopsychology 4.1 25–36.
• King. D. 2005. Sustaining activism through emotional reflexivity. In Flam, H., and King, D. (eds) Emotions and social movements. Ch 9, pp 150-169. London: Routledge.
• Lertzman, R., 2015. Environmental Melancholia: Psychoanalytic dimensions of engagement. London: Routledge.
• Maddrell, A., 2016. Mapping grief. A conceptual framework for understanding the spatial dimensions of bereavement, mourning and remembrance. Social and Cultural Geography, 17:2, 166-188.
• Norgaard K. 2011. Living in Denial: Climate Change Emotions and Everyday Life. London: MIT
• Power, C., 2016.The Integrity of Process: Is Inner Transition Sufficient? Journal of Social and Political Psychology, Vol. 4(1), 347–363,
• Randall R. 2009. Loss and climate change: the cost of parallel narratives. Eco-psychology 1.3.
• Weintrobe S. (ed) 2013. Engaging with Climate Change Psychoanalytic and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge.