Australian Bushfires

This article was contributed by Tina Habota, an APPCIOS member living in Australia. 

Library Classification:
Articles by Members
Library Shelf:
Climate Change

Authored on :
28/01/2020by :

Containing Groups

Understanding the Impact

Below, I share some brief views on my reflections following the recent bushfire crisis in Australia and I welcome your comments and thoughts. 

External trauma of any kind has ability to result in persistent distress to the inner world of direct sufferers, as well as to those who have vicariously experienced a tragedy. As wildfires continue blazing around the Australian coastline, millions of acres of destruction and devastation are left behind. Throughout this crisis we have seen the people of Australia and countries around the world coming together to offer support. The Australian nation have, however, been outraged by the apparent absence of containment provided by the government – a government that was described as “disconnected” from the extent of the devastation caused by current bushfires. 

I recently came across a document published by the Australian Psychological Society on 'psychological first aid' and found it a helpful resource in thinking about the current events. In the immediate future, those affected by the bushfires are likely to benefit from psychological first aid by promoting a sense of safety, calm, and connectedness. These elements of one’s internal world, however, appear to have been unmet by the government’s response to the current bushfire crisis. In a sense, one might consider these elements of psychological first aid as being parallel to the psychoanalytic view of ‘containment’; both seek to provide a sense of comfort where one’s needs and feelings can be thought about and responded to in a meaningful way. 

A second point I have reflected on is that, together, we need to keep thinking about how best to support those affected by the current crisis in Australia in the long-term. An article published in 2014 found that about three years after the Black Saturday bushfires that killed 173 people and destroyed acres of land, more than 15% of respondents in heavily affected areas experienced PTSD symptoms, 13% reported depressive symptoms, and another 25% were drinking heavily. These figures are an important reminder that reconstruction of the Australian nation following the current bushfire crisis will be a lengthy process, not just months, but years – both in physical terms and in psychological recovery. We are likely to see a continued rise in eco-anxiety, which I would encourage us to keep in mind and keep thinking about in our work. 

Tina Habota 


Joan Herrmann


Dear Tina Habota

Thank you for your description and reflections on the fires in your homeland. The first thing I want to say is that I am deeply sorry for you and your compatriots, who are witness to this devastation, of people’s lives and also and equally of the marvellous natural world that is your home. I am attaching a link from the NY Times by Richard Flanagan. You will know him as one of your most wonderful writers and may know the article. * 

I would count myself as one of the many who have, as you describe it, vicariously experienced the trauma of the bushfires, although I live thousands of miles away, in Scotland. It is so good to read something about this by a person who attends to the reality of the internal world. It is important to understand that the anxiety we feel challenges the resilience of the most vulnerable among us (e.g. children) but also the healthiest, - the latter perhaps because of the ability to experience the pain of a pretty dire scenario. It is indeed sometimes hard to think at all, and at times I fear that thinking is more painful than helpful, but these are passing moments of panic. 

It may be appropriate to panic when the house is on fire, rather than sit quietly as smoke infiltrates one’s home. This is a wry observation made by a Buddhist writer* in a book which outlines a way of working with each other to help keep thinking and acting, when one is quite scared. I hope we can use this space on the APPCIOS site to continue this conversation. I would like to hear how the reality of the climate emergency is emerging in clinical work and in work related situations. I would like to hear more of your observations about how those in power are not only not helpful to the victims of the fires, but in collusion with the industries which enable it and seem to lead us, as the pied piper, ever close to the cliff edge (taking our children with him). 

You have begun this discussion, and I hope it can be a lively discussion with opportunity to throw out ideas, to debate, change our minds or enrich the conversation with poetry, essays, news articles etc. -  and to support each other in ways only available to a community, in this case our online APPCIOS community. I believe that psychoanalytic insights are of practical use – this is the foundation for APPCIOS. 

We are planning a conference in Glasgow, about ways of talking and thinking with children about climate change. This would be in part with contributors from child psychotherapists, but if any are reading this with some ideas, please do contact me. We are in the early planning stages and hope to have this event in association with the COP26.

*Joanne Macy – Active HopeNew World Library 2012

* Richard Fanagan; Australia is going up in flames, and its government calls for resilience while planning for more coal mines. NY Times 3 Jan 2010 (I can’t work out how to send the article, but I do have a copy of it if you have any difficulty accessing it)

Joan Herrmann

Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist (retired)




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Thank you, Joan - and thank you, Tina, for giving us your insight into this catastrophic event. 

I wonder if we should provide a dedicated Discussion Group where people can continue this conversation, and think together about the climate emergency and related social and environmental issues?   Please add your comments here - we think this is such an important topic for us all to address.