We are currently approaching a number of universities in Australia and India to explore possibilities of developing an accredited training program in counselling and sustainable living. We believe that a time of increasing environmental deterioration and social fragmentation there is a strong need for training programs that address the psychosocial and physio-emotional underpinnings of our ecological problems rather than relying on technological, managerial, and purely educational approaches to change. 

The text below outlines some of the features of this training program. Additional information can be downloaded by clicking on the links at the bottom of this page. We will also shortly provide a form that you can use to register your interest in this training program.


Bachelor of Counselling and Sustainable Living - Draft Program Proposal -  October 2016

Is there a need for a counselling training program with an ecological, psychosomatic and spiritual focus?

In 1993, James Hillman and Michael Ventura published their book ‘We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World Is Getting Worse’. In the book the authors challenged psychotherapists to critically examine their theories and practices. According to these and other authors most current approaches to psychotherapy lack an understanding of sustainable living and a potential to contribute to ecological change because they:

  • are driven by theory rather than by experience
  • often operate from a mono-causal aetiology (for example, all problems are caused by the oedipal conflict)
  • widely fail to conceptualise the influence of the natural environment upon people’s wellbeing
  • except for the Neo-Reichian ones, they fail to assist people in enhancing their ability to experience body-mind and person-planet unity
  • have a limited understanding of the ways in which our egocentric consciousness manifests as symptoms of our ecological crises
  • often regard people caring for the environment and experiencing pain about natural disasters and the killing of animals and people, as creating distractions from the real issue, which they believe has to be about personal pain exclusively stemming from historic, personal traumatic experiences, and
  • usually discourage people from taking political action on the grounds that people’s feelings are highly symbolic and therefore not also grounded in real and present experiences. 

A sizeable number of professionals rose to the challenge and published books and articles on the then emerging field of ecotherapy, ecologically aware counselling and psychotherapy, green therapy, and ecopsychology (Buzzell, 2009; Clinebell, 1996; Devall & Sessions, 1985; Sattmann-Frese & Hill, 2008; Scull, 1999; Sewall, 1995; Werner, 1999; Winter, 1996). Key features of these approaches to assisting individuals and groups in working with their emotional and relational difficulties typically include the following:

  • an awareness of the influences of the natural environment on human development and self-formation
  • an awareness of the influences of present environmental influences, social pressures, and lifestyle practices on health and well-being
  • a focus on psychosomatic (body-mind), relational, and spiritual literacy.

Programs thus often include courses such as eastern philosophy, transpersonal psychology, ecology, ecofeminism and deep and social ecology. Training organisations such as the Prescott College and the Pacifica Graduate Institute have been offering programs for some time. A list of ecology-related training programs is available at http://www.apadivisions.org/division-34/about/resources/graduate-programs.aspx

The proposed Bachelor of Counselling and Sustainable Living Program expands on a stream of three electives currently taught by the author of this text in a Master of Counselling and Applied Psychotherapy program at the Jansen Newman Institute in Sydney – Australia. This stream includes a course on somatic psychotherapy, a course on working with psychosomatic signs and symptoms, and a course on ecologically aware counselling and psychotherapy. 

The choice of these courses reflects the conviction that sustainable living for individuals and the consequently ensuing reduction of the pressure on our ecosystems need to be underpinned by a high level of ecological, emotional, psychosomatic and spiritual literacy and an advanced understanding of the effects of lifestyle choices on our physical and emotional health and well-being. In other words, the thinking underpinning the proposed program is based on the now widely supported belief that many unsustainable perceptions and behaviours are emotional coping mechanisms and unconscious attempts to shore up a deficient sense of self. Retail therapy, a term often used for distress-related compensatory consumption, is still, possibly even more than ever, a key driver of the continuing ecological deterioration. From this vantage point, assisting individual and groups of people in embarking on eco-inclusive healing journeys appears to be a highly effective and sustainable way of reducing our ecological footprint.

Employability

It is considered that graduates from this training program will be able to make significant contributions to positive environmental and social change when working with individuals and in particular with groups. The exploration of ecological, social, psychosomatic, and emotional issues in structured ways and the development of group facilitation skills are therefore key aspects of the curriculum. With an increasing number of organisations and individuals seeking to contribute to ecological sustainability, graduates of this program should be able to find employment at NGOs, at council level, and in private practice. 

Program structure

The proposed program consists of 24 courses that focus on the following disciplines:

  • Ecophilosophy
  • Ecopsychology
  • Ecospirituality
  • Social and environmental problems and solutions
  • Somatics and psychosomatic medicine
  • Communication and counselling skills
  • Contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Neuroscience and trauma research
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Group facilitation skills

Fieldwork and clinic subjects will ensure that students have relevant practice experiences before they join the world of professionals. Learning will be cohort based to ensure that students deepen their relationship skills, and the courses will be offered in blended learning mode. Students will be able to have access to lecturers online and during residentials. Students are required to work with their own emotional difficulties and sustainability issues in the courses and in 24 individual counselling sessions. An online learning environment to support this program is currently being developed at www.lfsl.info

References

Buzzell, L & Chalquist, C 2009, Ecotherapy, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Clinebell, H 1996, Ecotherapy, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Devall, B & Sessions, G 1985, Deep Ecology, Peregrine Books, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
Hillman, J & Ventura, M 1993, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World Is Getting Worse, Harper, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Sattmann-Frese, WJ & Hill, SB 2007, Psychology of Ecological Crises and Eco-Self Transformation: A Guide to the Psychology of Sustainable Living, Lulu.com.
Scull, J 1999, Ecopsychology: Where Does It Fit in Psychology? viewed 5 October 2004, <http://members.shaw.ca/jscull/ECOINTRO.pdf>.  
Sewall, L 1995, ‘The Skill of Ecological Perception’, in T Roszak, ME Gomes & AD Kanner (eds.) Ecopsychology, Sierra Club, San Francisco, CA, USA, pp. 201–215.
Werner, CM 1999, ‘Psychological Perspectives on Sustainability’, in E Becker, & T Jahn (eds.)  Sustainability and the Social Sciences, Zed Books, London, pp. 233–42.
Winter, DD  1996, Ecological Psychology: Healing the Split between Planet and Self, Harper Collins Publishers, New York.

http://www.apadivisions.org/division-34/about/resources/graduate-programs.aspx
http://www.ecotherapy.org.uk/page.php?pageid=home
http://www.pacifica.edu/pp-previous-public-programs-final/item/ecotherapy-nature-reconnection-as-a-powerful-transformational-healing-practice
http://www.prescott.edu/academics/concentrations/ecotherapy