I launched a year-long ecopsychology training program in the spring of 2017. The training group meets four times, one weekend per season over the yearly cycle. Beyond the obvious relevance of the seasons, I chose this format in order to make the training do-able for those living a little farther afield. We meet at the Sumac Centre, a wilderness retreat centre near my home in eastern Ontario. The course is designed for 8 - 12 people.
Registration for the 2018-2019 training is now open.
This training program is probably the most satisfying exercise in ecopsychology I have undertaken, as it combines the soft, experiential side of ecopsychology with its tough, intellectual side. For me, there is no conflict between these two dimensions. Indeed, I aim to show how each is incomplete without the other—this is part of what is unique about my “radical” approach to ecopsychology. Be prepared, then, on the one hand, to enter the felt depths of your body, lie down on the soft earth at dawn, and recite some soulful poetry, and, on the other hand, to think about the unsettling times we live in, have difficult conversations about politically-charged topics, and read some challenging, head-scratching articles. We will clap these two hands together.
Another important aspect of the training is the process of coming together as a unique group of people. There is something magical that happens when learners meet regularly in a wild place and have heart-filled experiences together. Indeed, the teachings come as much from what we create as a community over four seasons on the land as from anything I introduce. Part of my idea for the training is simply to provide a retreat space for those with an ecopsychology-sensibility to meet fellow-travellers and share this important work. It is through the friction and connection that happens in being together that we grow into the new kind of psychologically, ecologically, and politically literate beings that ecopsychology stands for.
Who is the training for? The main prerequisites are a strong desire to understand the complexities of the psyche-nature crossroads at this moment in history and a true openness to transformative dialogue. My approach to ecopsychology breaks down the wall between conventional academic learning and the kind of learning that happens in personal growth settings. This is not just a matter of my own personal agenda but is about staying true to the holistic drive of ecopsychology. So, if you are a scholarly or academic type who is open to more experiential or soulful modes of learning then you would be most welcome. You would be equally welcome if you are a personal growth type who is open to more conceptual and critical ways of knowing. And if you identify with neither of these types then the main thing to consider is whether you want to be challenged into a fuller, edgier way of being on this earth.
The training is also designed for those working in the “psy” professions (psychology, psychotherapy, psychiatry, social work, etc.) who want to be stretched in the direction of the natural world. And it is designed for environmentalists or ecologists who want to be stretched in the direction of the psyche. Indeed, one of the goals of ecopsychology was originally to offer a more comprehensive or holistic story to these two groups of people, freeing both up to some rich, new possibilities for their work.
The seasonal structure for the training will allow us to match the topics of each meeting to the rhythms of the year.* Here’s a rough sketch of each session:
Spring (late April): The Vision of Ecopsychology
The training starts with the inspiration of spring-time and the vision of ecopsychology. How do we stay inspired—as we must—at this epochal moment in history? I believe one of the great gifts of a mature ecopsychology is that it helps us to see very deeply into this historical moment and to find meaning and purpose despite all the dire news. This first session, then, will include a number of maps or perspectives for understanding just how radically different ecopsychology is from psychology as we have come to know it. While we will have to wrestle with the intellectual challenges that a truly ecological reworking of psychology demands, we will also get underway with group experiential processes that bring ecopsychology down into the body. My aim is for all participants to “get the hang” of ecopsychology as a radical project by the end of this spring meeting.
Summer (late August): The Body of Ecopsychology
Summer is a time of aliveness and earthiness. The land is a riot of growing things. During this summer meeting we will therefore focus on the sensory, bodily-engaged, out-of-doors side of life. Without a direct relationship with the more-than-human world it ain’t ecopsychology. This is ecopsychology as a form of remembering—of recalling how we too are nature, how we are kin to Blue Jay and Black Bear, and how the human psyche emerged from all these earthly relations that it still hungers for. This is also ecopsychology as a recollecting of the wild wisdom of our bodies, bringing the deep voice of our own close-in nature into the conversation, thereby healing the mind/body separation, the most basic form of alienation from nature. This, finally, is ecopsychology as whole-person psychology, recalling those vitally-human modes of experiencing that have historically been repressed in our nature-dominating, rationalized society.
Autumn (late October): The Soul of Ecopsychology
The nights are getting longer, the leaves are falling, the land is turning inward. Autumn is a time for entering into the depths of life, into the soul of the world; a time for dream work, poetry, and storytelling. It is also a time for asking the deepest questions. Who are we? How have we arrived here on this land? What is the call of our times? What are our gifts, our work? In this darkening place, we discover the fullness of our emotional lives. We contact old traumas, including the traumas of history and ancestry. We touch into our pain for the world, our grief over the violence and losses of our age. And so this autumnal time is a moment for skillfully holding and grounding all that we find in these depths, for making beauty and wisdom out of our most deep-boned experiences. By deepening ourselves in this way, making ourselves competent to those felt realities that fatefully threaten our current identities, we become people capable of keeping a creative and alive connection to the world as it undergoes a profoundly uncertain passage.
Winter (late January): The Work of Ecopsychology
The final meeting takes place in winter, completing the circle of the seasons. With ice on the lake (bring your skates), we will turn to the topic of ecopsychology’s work in the larger world. Winter requires true adults committed to getting their people through the cold, hard times. How can ecopsychology be adequate to these times? How can it be mature and honest enough as a field to play a role—perhaps a crucial one—in the transformation of society? For a radical ecopsychology, it is not enough to be a form of therapy. Ecopsychology must be therapeutic, yes, but not in the individualistic manner that fits too easily within the anti-ecological patterns of our culture, themselves tied up with a long history of oppressive social relations. So ecopsychology must be political, concerned with what poet William Stafford called “the parade of our mutual life.” But political in a specifically ecopsychological form, incorporating the therapeutics, earthy soulfulness, and ecological sensibility that are essential to the field. By carefully holding the tensions among the terrains of psyche, society, and nature, we will imagine new modes of creative social engagement.
* With a nod to Steven Foster and Meredith Little, whose 4-Shields Teaching has inspired this structure.
What to Expect
The dates for the 2018-2019 training are as follows:
April 20-22, 2018
August 24-26, 2018
October 19-21, 2018
January 25-27, 2019
Prior to each session, you will be required to complete a number of readings (6 - 8 articles/chapters), videos, and specific exercises related to the upcoming session. The exercises will vary from written reflections to outdoor practices to a bit of research of interest. The amount of time you spend on these will be largely up to you. I also suggest you keep a reflection journal on the readings and exercises.
For each session, plan to arrive on the Friday sometime after 4 pm. We eat dinner at 6 pm and then have an evening session starting around 7 pm. The weekend wraps up after lunch on the Sunday.
The schedule for each weekend will vary depending on the season, but in general it will include intellectual/didactic and experiential activities, and solo and group exercises. The weekends will be full but there will also be time for reflection and informal learning with one another. Maybe even some late nights around the fire circle.
Because each person will have their own reasons for doing this training, I am happy to help tailor the experience to your individual goals or interests. This includes being available between sessions to assist or mentor you along. If you are a student and wish to do the training for credit then I am willing to play a course director role (assuming that you can arrange that). Overall, you can expect me to give you the best support I can in having a life-changing experience, whatever your life may look like.
Cost and Registration
The tuition for the year-long (4-session) training is $1,250 plus HST (13%). A deposit of half the amount, $706.25 ($625 + HST), holds you a spot. You then pay the balance ($706.25) prior to our first meeting in April. This fee does not include a copy of my book Radical Ecopsychology (2nd ed.), which you will need to pick up, nor any other books or resources you may need in order to fine-tune your particular learning path.
Each weekend, you will also need to pay a fee of $190 for 2 nights of lodging and 6 vegetarian meals.
I have aimed to make the fee reasonable for all involved. If, however, you have a strong interest in this training and your financial situation is stopping you, then please send me a note, as some scholarship funding is available.
To register, please email me with a bit about your background and interest in the training. I can then send you the registration form. If you have any questions after receiving the form then feel free to send me a note.
For Canadians, you can pay your deposit by cheque or e-transfer. For those living outside of Canada, you will need to send me a money order to register and then pay the rest in person by money order or Canadian cash.