Ecotherapy for Health and Cultural Sustainability: Q&A with The Graduate Institute’s, Ed O’Malley
The Graduate Institute (TGI in Bethany is celebrating Earth Day with the launch of its new 12-credit graduate certificate program in Ecotherapy and Cultural Sustainability. Below is an interview with Dr. Ed O’Malley, naturalist, neurobiologist and shaman, who serves as the program’s new Academic Director.
First of all, what is ecotherapy?
Ecotherapy is about re-establishing connection with Mother Earth. This involves cultivating a very personal relationship with nature, something that we seem to have lost over the years. In the process, we come to appreciate how all life is sacred, which propels our own healing process. Ecotherapy teaches how to facilitate this reconnection, sharing it with others so they may heal as well.
Why do we need a certificate program in ecotherapy?
There are so many complex factors that influence our relationship with nature. In order to make informed decisions about environmental practices that affect the health and well-being of our society, we need to employ a systemic approach that addresses the deeper issues. A program like this allows us to consider all of the big questions, as well as our personal involvement in each. On the West Coast and in Europe, a number of programs have already been created to meet this need. But, at present, there isn’t anything on the East Coast… The Graduate Institute’s will be the first.
What benefits does ecotherapy offer our society?
There’s a great deal of research that substantiates the incredible healing power of being in nature – from planting and growing a garden, to working with animals, wilderness therapy, hiking or simply walking in the woods. Re-attuning ourselves to the natural rhythms and cycles of the seasons directly impacts our mental and physical health. It’s clear we don’t need more psychotherapists today, but we do need people who are in touch with the entire natural world and can guide us out of our cubicles and return us to the source of all healing.
What research has been done to verify the effectiveness of ecotherapy?
In Western Europe, it is common for medical practitioners to refer patients to ecotherapists and prescribe time in nature. In Japan, there’s a practice called forest therapy, in which people utilize the woods for healing. In America, wilderness therapy has been shown to benefit at-risk adolescents. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have responded to plant and animal-assisted therapies with heightened awareness and focus.
What is your vision for the ecotherapy program at TGI?
The majority of the program is experiential, and students will be fully immersed in nature. We will learn the wisdom of Indigenous elders, explore plant growth and their medicines, study permaculture principles and other aspects of sustainable agriculture and develop native skills. The curriculum offers a broad landscape, both for students who are already therapists or those planning to start a practice. We will meet you where you are and allow you to benefit from the full array of offerings while simultaneously carving out a niche for yourself in any area of ecotherapy that you are passionate about.
To learn more, attend a monthly Ecotherapy Interest Group at TGI that is free and open to all. The next meeting is March 31 at 6pm and includes a talk on Transformational Healing through Nature. On April 21 at 6pm, a discussion on Ecological Gastronomy will be included.