In this issue
APA Convention Sessions
By Christine Manning
Brady Wiggins, recent graduate from the Clinical Psychology doctoral program of Brigham Young University presented a theoretical paper co-authored by Dr. Joseph Ostenson (Visiting Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University) titled The Relational Foundations of Conservation Psychology. In order for ecopsychologists to take relationships between humans and nature seriously, a different approach to science is necessary. Wendell Berry offers us a starting point, arguing that we should avoid oversimplification of nature when seeking to conserve it. Care, love and intimacy for a specific place can form the foundation of our research, as we nurture the strong relationships which are immediate to us and make those the focus of our science. This means that our science ought to first begin in the communities in which we reside, where that intimacy is easier and stronger, and our sensitivity to community should then extend to all that we study.
Rupanwita Gupta (Rupu), who recently defended her doctoral dissertation at Claremont Graduate University, presented Normative Considerations for Environmentally Appropriate Residential Landscaping. The study was one of the first to integrate a personal and social normative framework to study the influences on sustainable residential landscaping. Results from a sample in southern California indicated that a personal norm to use native plants positively predicted use of environmentally friendly features in the residential landscape. The personal norm was related to a self-transcending value orientation, beliefs about the environmental benefits of native plants, and feeling responsible for local water use. The social norm approving native plants weakly and positively predicted use of sustainable landscaping. While interventions emphasizing the personal norm may have limited appeal, those highlighting the social norm may be a more useful approach to encourage greater use of sustainable residential landscaping.
There was one SEPCP sponsored session that was devoted to teaching: Greening Your Classes: Incorporating Environmental Sustainability across the Psychology Curriculum. This session was organized and chaired by Dr. Amara Brook.
The session began with Dr. Britain Scott of St. Thomas University. Her presentation highlighted resources for psychology instructors who wish to include environmental issues in their teaching: diffused throughout traditional psychology courses; as a special unit added to an existing course; or in the form of a fully integrated class. She demonstrated some of the resources that can be found at Teaching Psychology for Sustainability, a website that includes lecture and discussion topics, class activities, multimedia materials, and suggested readings for students organized by traditional sub-disciplines of psychology (e.g., developmental, cognitive, social).
Dr. Christie Manning from Macalester College reflected on her teaching sustainability as part of General Psychology. Her "green" version of General Psych had a "Conservation Theme" throughout the semester. The class featured conservation and sustainability examples in lectures, had regular class activities that integrated sustainability and conservation with the psychological concepts being learned, and also required a semester-long student project on a conservation or sustainability topic selected by each individual student.
Dr. Amara Brook of Santa Clara University discussed her experience teaching sustainability concepts in several different courses. Incorporating sustainability into are not explicitly billed as environmental, such as introductory psychology, research methods, and social psychology, can be a challenge, yet is feasible with certain strategies. Ease of incorporating sustainability into these classes varies across classes, but some common barriers include students not expecting sustainability content, students resenting over-emphasis on sustainability at the expense of other applied topics, lack of appropriate texts, and lack of time. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these barriers, including preparing the students to expect the sustainability content and justifying its inclusion in the class, balancing coverage of sustainability with other applied topics, substituting sustainability examples or activities for others rather than adding in order to allow time, and where possible, finding appropriate texts or supplements.
Dr. Thomas Doherty described three ways to integrate environmentally-focused psychology into the curriculum, including his experiences creating a 10-credit Ecopsychology in Counseling Certificate for mental health counseling students at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, the creation of an Environmental Psychology course for undergraduates at Lewis & Clark's College of Arts and Sciences, and his collaboration with Carol Saunders to create a week-long Summer Conservation Psychology Institute (CPI) that had convened at Antioch University New England a week prior to the APA Convention. Thomas described creative ways to integrate an environmental health and sustainability focus into required counseling coursework in theory, practice and ethics. He recognized the challenges of fostering new and interdisciplinary course offerings within established academic communities and departments. He also shared anecdotes from the recent CPI which was a great success and brought together academics, students and conservation professionals to explore how the tools of psychology can be used in effective conservation programs. Takeaways from Thomas's talk included the importance of perseverance in creating these courses – the Ecopsychology in Counseling Certificate took five years from its first incarnation as an elective course to its acceptance as a – and the importance of creatively presenting courses (e.g., as free-standing short summer institutes that allow instructors from different universities to collaborate and reach diverse students and professionals).
Finally, Dr. Elise Amel, an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist at the University of St. Thomas, discussed how dealing with environmental issues (talking and thinking about the non-human environment, increasing the sustainability of our decisions, mourning the loss of natural environments around us, etc.) means a change in orientation for most people and organizations. Change is difficult and, to effectively influence change in organizations, one must understand and cultivate organizational culture. This is relevant to how we teach our courses since each of our classes develops a unique culture. We can influence that culture by articulating values (abstract, guiding principles), developing and enforcing norms (expectations about appropriate behavior), cultivating myths & stories (historical occasions, customs, rituals), and providing symbols & artifacts (concrete representation of culture) that validate the environment as relevant to discussions of human behavior and mental health.