Ecotherapy Cultural Sustainability

Develop a deeper connection to self, community, and the larger ecosystem.


CoHort Start Date
Dates: Oct 18th, 2019

Contact Us


What is Ecotherapy?

Ecotherapy is an emerging idea that is predicated on this simple philosophy, that the presence or absence of nature is directly connected to individual and communal health. “Eco” is derived from the Greek word “oikos,” meaning “home.” The word “therapy” can be translated into “that which restores wholeness.” So in this sense, Ecotherapy is all about coming home into the natural world, recovering what the Indigenous have known and practiced for thousands of years. It is here that we find our innate wellness.

The Ecotherapy Certificate Program

The connection between the environment and our health cannot be overstated. Recent research indicates that interaction with nature can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, improve memory and moods, and contribute overall to greater psychological and physical well-being. Simply taking someone into a garden or park can accomplish far more than an anti-depressant, and modern medicine is finally starting to prove it.

In Western Europe, Ecotherapy is already integrated into the healthcare system. Here in the U.S., it is now recognized by the Department of Labor as a viable occupation. On a very practical level, Ecotherapy and this growing profession has everything to do with our health and the way we choose to treat and sustain it.

The certificate program in Ecotherapy and Cultural Sustainability is dedicated to empowering students to find their place in the natural world, while activating their ability to help others do the same. Throughout a nine-month program of study, participants engage in a variety of activities that enhance their self-sufficiency and capacity for creating sustainable cultures.

These practices include:

  • Woodland and essential survival skills,

  • Permaculture,

  • Animal-assisted therapies,

  • Holistic gardening,

  • Social/environmental/food justice

  • Natural healing

  • and more

By accessing the balance and sustenance inherent in nature and reflected in indigenous ways of knowing, students will emerge from the program with a deeper connection to self, community, and to the larger ecosystem.


ET 581 The Land Teaches: The Experience of Nature (2 credits)

The Sources and Foundations of Ecotherapy:

The content and practice of what Ecotherapy is all about cannot be taught... it can only be Learned!  And it can only be learned in Context!  Being in Nature, and experiencing all that that means is basic to understanding the origins of Ecotherapy.   We will endeavor to know the land as the first natives did; that is, by the style of learning that was carried on across time, and as it is grounded in direct experiences.  We will become ‘collegial’ in learning to live together in the other-than-human world.  Perspective will arise from practicing being stewards of the land, and by embracing the principle of Reciprocity by which Nature cares for us. Nature teaches that all the plants, the animals, the weather conditions, the rivers, streams, mountains and fields have important lessons to teach. These are coupled with learning skills necessary for thriving in the Natural World. Using only Native technology we will make fire, find food and water, and build shelter in several different environments. This course enables each Ecotherapist to “make-their-own” ability to listen deeply to Nature.

ET 582 Nature-Based Spirituality and Contemplative Practices: Ecological Meditation in the Natural World (2 credits)

Healing from the deepest sources:

Facilitating personal transformation in the natural world, immersing one’s self in contemplative practices and ceremonial rituals, and integrating all aspects of natural systems is the grounding of this course. A variety of somatic and contemplative practices, implemented deep within Nature, are explored for their impact on psychological wellness: these include stillness practices (e.g., silence, centering prayer, insight meditation, etc.), movement practices (e.g., wide-angle visioning, fox-walking, tracking, chi gong, tai chi chuan, labyrinth walking, yoga, etc.), creative process practices (e.g., channeling, journaling, contemplative art, calligraphy, etc.), ritual/ cyclical practices (e.g., calling in the directions, ceremonial fire, vision quest, attunement to seasons, full and new moons, etc.), and relational practices, (e.g., dialogue, deep listening, storytelling). These approaches to knowing reconnect the self with nature, promote psycho-spiritual-physical awareness and well-being, and engender awareness, communion, and connection to nature. Participants will foster an intuitive understanding of humankind and nature, transforming the objectification of nature to an appreciation of its presence, beauty and powers of healing.

ET 583 Holistic Sustainability: Whole Ecosystems and Nature as Cultural Process (2 credits)

Nature processes as People/Culture processes:

Explored here are the societal, economic, educational and political implications of ecotherapy from an Ecoliteracy perspective. Ecoliteracy, a term coined by academician David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra in 1992, refers to the ability to understand the principles of organization of natural ecosystems, and applies those principles to create ecologically sustainable human communities. The operational construct of Ecoliteracy is presented as a new educational paradigm that integrates the concepts of holism, systems thinking, sustainability, and complexity theory. Program participants examine how natural systems showcase strategies for the integration of land, water, and living systems that promote sustainable use in a manner that is equitable to each component of, and the whole of ecosystem.

ET 584 The Fine Print: Natural Rights (2 Credits)

Enveloping Ecotherapy in communities of support, within society constraints:

The Environmental Justice Movement (EJM) is central in this course. It focuses on the social and political aspects of disparity of environments burdens; on equalizing the opportunities afforded by nature; embracing all people regardless of race, gender preference or any other categorizing realms in the outcomes of nature’s largess; and on extending access equally to environmental laws, regulations, and policies.  Also considered are current frameworks and practices for community-level restorative justice in an ecological context; Onondaga Nation’s unique approach to land restoration/stewardship vs. ownership initiative; Joanna Macy’s ideas about a “Great Turning” from the industrial growth model of society to a life-sustaining civilization; and Ecotheologian Thomas Berry’s “Great Work” which will guide human entry into the future. Mentoring for justice and redesigning education is provided to support Thomas Berry’s concepts. Thinking globally but acting locally, requires a review of local current agricultural processes as they involve the production of GMO foods and labeling issues, agribusiness monoculture effects on land fertility, sustainable nutrition, and the Rights of Nature considered in habitat loss.

ET 585 Working with Plants and Animals: Nature as Healer through the Ecotherapeutic Modalities of Animal and Plant-Assisted Therapies (2 credits)

Creating and Developing delivery modalities:

An overview of selected horticultural therapies (e.g., organic food production and the benefits of community-supported agriculture; identifying herbal medicines and wild edibles), and specific animal-assisted therapies enable program participants to serve various clients (individuals, family units, community-based organizations, and corporate/ business enterprises) using ecotherapeutic-based modalities, strategies, protocols, and plans of action to foster wellness. Participants learn how to facilitate the balance of sustainable living using the aforementioned therapies. Cohort members design and construct strategic plans of action for implementing therapeutic “green” spaces, ecosystem restoration, teach nature awareness to children, balance human nutritional needs with land use needs, initiate animal-assisted therapeutic programs at local clinical care facilities, and galvanize communities to develop collective agriculture initiatives.

ET 586 EcoCommunity Practicum: putting it all together, in practice, in community, on the land (2 credits)

Coalescing the art and delivery of Ecotherapy:

The practicum opens opportunities to delve deeply into the experiences and knowledge of Natural systems that this certificate program has fostered. It places theory and learning into practice, assists in determining what works for each individual (and what doesn’t work).  Program participants complete a field-based, forty-six (46) hour Ecotherapy Practicum in which self-selected, well defined field placements offer opportunities to apply learning.  Self instruments are employed; ecotherapeutic practices and policies are compared and evaluated.  Program faculty supervise and evaluate in order to provide formative, embedded, and summative assessment feedback during the 5-7 day Practicum. Participants are empowered to select various practicum settings that may directly contribute to 1) the green economy (e.g., farm, community-based agricultural sites, mentoring communities on sustainable systems, etc.), and 2) identify specific ecotherapeutic modalities (e.g., Horticultural Therapy, Animal-Assisted Therapy, Environmental Justice Advocacy, Wilderness Excursions, etc.).   The Practicum provides a venue for program participants to demonstrate their skills, achieve prescribed proficiency levels of performance, and document field-based experiences in the application of designated ecotherapeutic modalities, policies, practices, and protocols. Participants are encouraged to begin this course early on in the program to help design and test various approaches to ecotherapeutic practices. The ongoing practicum affords a unique opportunity to continually modify, hone, synthesize and develop the very ideas and methods generated throughout the program, in hands-on, real-life activities.


The faculty for the Ecotherapy and Cultural Sustainability Certificate program is comprised of many pioneers and visionaries in this emerging field.

Core Faculty

Ed O'Malley, PhD - Academic Director


Dr. Ed O’Malley is a Naturalist and founder of Your Optimal Nature, an education and consulting company created to bring optimal states of awareness to people through programs designed to foster direct experience of spirit, through a deep abiding awareness of the Immensity of the Natural World. Ed earned a PhD in Neurobiology at Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences followed by postdoctoral research in EEG brain-mapping and a clinical fellowship culminating with board certification in Sleep Medicine at NYU School of Medicine Sleep Center. He founded his Optimal Sleep and Optimal Neurofeedback companies to provide these services holistically. In recent years Ed studied with Tom Brown, Jr. noted wilderness expert and founder of the Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School. He also completed teacher certification through The Children of the Earth Foundation and has facilitated Nature Awareness Programs for children and their families. In 2008 Ed completed a two-year program and was ordained as an interfaith minister. To broaden his training in indigenous spirituality and healing he completed shaman training with the Four Winds Light Body School based on the Peruvian Q’ero people, where he continues his energy medicine work. As an ordained Interfaith Minister and Shaman, Ed takes a broad approach to wellness through spirit in nature. Together with his Naturalist training, he brings people to spiritual awareness and health through deep exposure to the natural world.

Visiting Faculty

Gabriele Ganswindt, Ph.D.


Gabriele Ganswindt is an executive coach and leadership consultant located near Boston, MA. As a German native, she partners with leaders of both European and US organizations to support results oriented, life-affirming leadership and sustainable organizational transformation. Gabriele serves her clients as an executive coach, designer and facilitator of a wide range of leadership development programs, as well as large-scale organizational change efforts. For over 20 years, she has worked nationally and internationally and regularly leads workshops and retreats, addressing the strategic-and organizational leadership needs of the client system. She is trained in several large systems change technologies (i.e. Open Space, Future Search, Appreciative Inquiry, World Café Conversations) as well as the art and science of generative thinking (dialogue). Facilitating the transformation of new leaders into savvy leaders producing sustainable results is one of her greatest joys

Mary O'Malley, MD, PhD


Mary O'Malley is a psychiatrist in private practice with specialization in sleep disorders. She is the Distinguished Teaching Professor and Director at the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, author of numerous scientific papers on plant ecology, the Senior Fellow for the Center for Nature and Humans, and the co-founder and past president of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge section the Ecological Society of America.

Robin Kimmerer, PhD


Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, plant ecologist, writer and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. She serves as the founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability. Her research interests include the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration and the ecology of mosses. In collaboration with tribal partners, she and her students have an active research program in the ecology and restoration of plants of cultural significance to Native people. She is active in efforts to broaden access to environmental science education for Native students, and to create new models for integration of indigenous philosophy and scientific tools on behalf of land and culture. She is engaged in programs which introduce the benefits of traditional ecological knowledge to the scientific community, in a way that respects and protects indigenous knowledge.

Simon Harrison, MEd


Simon is the author of The Truly Alive Child, a visionary and life-changing book and the founder and director of Wild Earth s Children, a non-profit dedicated to re-connecting people to nature. For the past 15 years Simon has been discovering how to re-connect with nature, and with life, and what this means for you and the world we live in. The results, through his programs and writings are inspiring and empowering, allowing us all to lead lives of love, peace, joy and purpose. Simon began working with children as an elementary school teacher in his native England. After a number of years he came to America to learn from world renowned tracker and survivalist Tom Brown Jr. Simon fell in love with the natural world and never looked back. He worked for Tom Brown s Tracker School before becoming the director of The Children of The Earth Foundation (COTEF), a non-profit that Tom founded to lead children back to the Earth. Simon enjoyed a number of successful years with COTEF, teaching all over North America, including Alaska, New England, and the Cree Nation in Quebec. Simon felt the calling of his vision urging him westwards where he founded Wild Earth s Children and wrote The Truly Alive Child. He lives in Colorado with his wife Katherine.