Vegans Are Traumatised and Need Help, Says Vegan Psychologist
We spoke to vegan psychologist Clare Mann about the problems facing plant-based people.
PETA activists on World Vegan Day. Photo: Bettina Strenske/Alamy Live News
We are in the midst of the Great Vegan Awakening. One in eight Brits now identifies as vegan or vegetarian; supermarkets have started toeing the line (from today, you can buy those "bleeding" vegan burgers in Tesco); your dad, reluctantly, knows what a "plant-based lifestyle" is; a man recently resigned from his job after joking about hunting vegans for sport: a timelessly shit joke, but one that a couple of years ago likely wouldn't have even made the news, let alone spawned an entire news cycle, a job loss and a public apology.
While being vegan might be increasingly mainstream, the journey there is apparently not so palatable for some. Learning about the impact of animal farming and hanging around people who don't share your new values can be a challenge, and there's not much support available for people who find themselves in this situation, says "vegan psychologist" Clare Mann.
To find out some more, I called Clare for a chat.
VICE: How did you end up being a vegan psychologist?
Clare Mann: I've been a psychologist for 30 years, but I retrained from an organisational psychologist to psychotherapist to try to understand the human condition and have conversations that matter, about the purpose of life. And I became vegan ten years ago and started speaking out on animal rights at speaking rallies and festivals.
When did you realise you could put the two together?
When I started speaking publicly, people around the world contacted me about the challenges of being vegan. When they find out what happens to animals in slaughterhouses they're horrified. People said they needed to talk to someone, so I started offering face-to-face counselling in Sydney, Australia, and on Skype to people all over world.
What are the most common issues people come to you with?
I see the typical signs of trauma. People have a hatred of the world because they've found out about the ubiquitous cruelty of animals all over the world, and they can't believe humans are doing this.
Some relationships can break down, too, when people find it too much when their husband eats meat or their friends put milk in cups of tea. With veganism, if another person doesn't change, they can't not be part of the problem. You can't wash your hands in a bathroom or put on a jumper without contributing to animal cruelty, unless you actively take steps to not be a part of it. This is a challenge for vegans.
I also see people who've been working in animal activism, who may have been to slaughterhouses or done undercover camera work, and who witness cruelty to animals firsthand.
That sounds pretty traumatic. So how do you help people get through this?
If people come to me depressed or anxious, I'll dig around to find out exactly why, and often other problems come out, such as self-esteem or work problems. I'll go down the normal routes of dealing with grief and depression, helping people to increase their self-awareness and releasing they're not at the mercy of the world. They've reacted to what they've seen, and they can choose to decide how to respond. They can be more empowered.
I tell them that, if you can become an exquisite communicator instead of preaching, most people are pretty reasonable and you will come away from every conversation knowing you've extended compassion to other people.
How serious can this anxiety and depression be?
It often turns into misanthropy. I've conducted around 1,300 interviews with vegans around world and, honestly, I'm surprised there isn't more suicide. I've heard a lot of vegans say they want to kill themselves, but they can't leave animals behind.
How would you advise people who go vegan to talk to their friends and family, especially if their continued consumption of meat is upsetting them?
I advise people to develop their communication skills to a level where they invite conversation, so that people understand how much they've been lied to about what goes on in animal farming. If you can start a conversation and see what people are interested in and what they have concerns about, then you can tease the message in through use of videos and documentaries – they do all the work for you. People will often resist and ask for evidence.
So what makes some people go vegan and others not, if we can assume we're all relatively informed of what goes on at industrial farms?
It takes a robust person to live with existential angst, knowing they can't trust the organisations we hold to higher order, so a lot people resist the message of veganism. And some people are more in touch with their emotions – vegans tend to be more "feeling" types who perceive the world and make decisions through values and meaning and how they feel, as opposed to "thinking" types, whose preference for making decisions is more logical. The vast majority of people know something is going on, but their threshold to feel the pain is too much.
Since more of us are becoming vegan than ever before, why there so few vegan therapists?
There are a lot of vegan psychologists out there, but they don't call themselves that. Some are too afraid of their professional body thinking they're giving their ethics away, even though you get Christian counsellors, for example. The difference with me is that I'm high-profile in the speaking area and I'm clear about my values, whereas vegan councillors tend to be younger and not in a private practice, so they're afraid of losing their jobs.
Do you wish there were more of you?
Yes – my aim is to get more people doing this, because vegans don't want to see a non-vegan counsellor. If someone goes to a normal psychologist they wouldn't expect the person to become gay in order to understand them, but with veganism it's different; they feel that the person's inaction contributes to problem.