Life behind the scenes at Ascend continues to be a fascinating journey for all of us, but it’s time parents and potential clients also got a sneak peek at all the hard work we do. In this month’s Staff Spotlight, we’re putting Nicole on the spot with a look into a day in her life at Ascend. Nicole is our residential ecopsychologist. But what does that title mean, and how does she make a difference in the lives of our clients? You’ll have to read on to find out more!
What Is An Ecopsychologist?
While you may never have heard of an ecopsychologist before, the origins of this field date back to the 1920s. Many psychologists explored the emotional connection between humans and their environment. Instead of probing personal pain only in the context of the individual or their family, ecopsychologists analyze a broader range of bonds between people and the world. Psychologists like Freud, Greenway, Roszak, and our own Nicole, focus on the synthesis between ecology and psychology.
As an ecopsychologist, Nicole strives to treat people psychologically through a closer bond with nature. She facilitates our eco-therapy and equine therapy sessions for the clients at both Santa Clarita houses: Trails and Canyons.
We’re Not Just Horsing Around!
As a group facilitator, Nicole’s responsibilities include exploring attachment issues and relationship problems through connecting with animals. Whether it’s horses or goats, many concerns come to the surface as our clients learn how to bond with and care for our animals. In addition to experiential therapy with animals, other eco-therapy activities include gardening to grow food and hiking. During each activity, Nicole encourages clients to practice mindfulness and seek to build or rebuild a connection to the natural world.
When our clients learn about their relationship with nature, they know how to place themselves within their own ecological system and family structure. We expose problems with our social norms that could lead to isolation and depression, like excessive screen time and lack of regular exercise, and challenge our ignorance around the source of our foods and the effects our everyday lives have on the planet.
Where Nicole Got Her Start
Before becoming a psychologist, Nicole was a trail guide. During her time with the horses, she saw the positive emotional effects these animals had on the people in her tour groups. Curious about this change, she sought to learn more through a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis on Ecopsychology. After completing her degree, Nicole dove into the world of ecopsychology as an equine therapist, and we’re excited she decided to join our team at Ascend.
Nicole has worked at other treatment centers, but Ascend holds a special place in her heart. Here, she can connect with a younger generation who has either never experienced nature or lost touch with the natural world as they grew older. As clients discover (or rediscover) the beauty of the planet around them, she watches their inner world grow and expand. As a result, nature becomes a mental health resource they can turn to for many years in the future!
In addition to exposing young people to nature, Nicole also loves working with the rest of our team. She finds that everyone on our staff is so sincere in their care and compassion for our clients that the resulting programs often produce astounding successes. Through our treatment programs, many clients who were terrified of animals or completely uninterested in the world around them have established and developed meaningful new relationships that have helped them navigate other life struggles.
A Typical Day for Nicole
After collaborating with other key clinicians and administrators on our eco-program, Nicole was able to ease into a more regular routine with our clients. Each session, she runs a few minutes of meditation for the clients to center themselves and focus on their work with the animals. Next, they might walk the horses, cuddle them, and talk to them – whatever it takes to process their journey. Then, they move on from the animals to other eco-projects, like gardening or hiking.
Eventually, Nicole hopes to learn more about local foraging and medicinal plant utilization – topics that we can’t wait to add to our residential treatment curriculum.
Why We Love Nicole
While Nicole’s knowledge of horses, goats, and nature has been a huge contribution to our program, her passion for the healing power of the natural world is most encouraging and motivating for so many of our clients. In addition, her belief that even the most challenging clients can be reached through consistent support is an inspiring message that keeps staff, parents, and kids going through the toughest times.
Everyone Makes a Difference
At Ascend, everyone on our team makes a difference. From mentors to clinicians, we’re all here to help our clients thrive. You can learn more about the different roles at Ascend when you keep an eye out for the newest Spotlight Articles on our blog!