A New Psychotherapy Practice

In July 2017, after a year of living in the Wild Dog Valley, I will be starting a new psychotherapy practice in Melbourne.  I thought I'd take the opportunity to reflect on how I work and why...


 

Wild Mind Psychotherapy 

Q&A with Sean O'Carroll

What do you do?

I am a psychotherapist.  I work with individuals to help them live more choice-fully, ethically, and wholeheartedly. 

What kind of people do you work with?

I work with a wide array of people, from all walks of life.  I do not currently work with children.  

Psychotherapy does different things for different people.  More often than not, clients who come to address a particular issue, persist with sessions after that issue has been resolved, as they find it a great way to improve their lives. Some people engage in psychotherapy as a practice, much like yoga or meditation - a way of working with the body, mind, and soul to find greater psychological flexibility, strength, adaptability, and insight.  People often come to me wanting to work on some specific area of their experience, such as feeling lowly or depressed, improving relationships, exploring family issues, spiritual issues, work issues, or anxiety. Others come wanting to gain deeper self-knowledge, and to understand better some of the forces and events that give shape to their lives. 

How do you work as a psychotherapist?

I work solely with individuals.  I work holistically, which means that I see individual health as something that incorporates body, mind, soul, other people, community, and the planet.  My work is informed by depth psychology, eco-psychology, existential therapy, relational therapies and arts-based therapies.  In my work as a therapist I see myself as an ally to my clients as they make their way through life.  I am someone who will listen and respond authentically and wholeheartedly. I help my clients to explore and understand their experience in greater depth, and ultimately work with them to create more fulfilled, authentic, and joyful lives. 

The way the work unfolds is different in every case and depends on the client and our working relationship.  With some clients the work will involve the use of art materials and other modalities in which I have trained. I do not diagnose mental illnesses.  In general I find mental health labels unhelpful except in extreme cases.  Most of the issues that most people bring to therapy are issues that all people will face in some form or other, at some point in their lives.

What is Wild Mind?

Wild Mind is the name I give to my work as a whole.  The name Wild Mind is informed by the recognition that our minds have evolved in intimate relationship with the wild earth, and that a healthy and whole mind is one that is not cut off from the wilderness – within or without – but actively engages with that wilderness. Under this banner I also organise eco-psychology conferences, offer embodiment/movement workshops in Melbourne, and work in various ways to bring people and nature into deeper connection.  

What is your background?

I have been studying and working in the field of psychotherapy since 2010.  I have trained in many modalities including Gestalt Psychotherapy, Transpersonal Psychotherapy, Art Therapy and Experiential Therapy.  I recently completed my Masters by Research in the field of eco-experiential therapy.  My thesis was topic was: an inquiry into the experience of being alone with nature.   I have lectured in both counselling and art therapy, and currently teach in the Bachelor of Arts Psychotherapy at the Ikon Institute.

I have two young sons and live with my partner and her two daughters.  We divide our time between our home in Northcote and our block Wild Dog Valley, where we are working to re-wild sixty-five acres of pasture. 

The Gift of a Year Without School

Don’t let school interfere with your education

— Mark Twain

2016 was the year we left the city to live with nature, untethered from schedules of work, school, or study.  With my young sons, their mother, and a group of other adults and children, we did what so many people dream about and headed for the hills.  It is the best thing I’ve ever done.

My sons attend a pretty wonderful primary school – Fitzroy Community School in Melbourne – perhaps as good as it gets.  And yet, over the years a feeling had begun to gnaw at me.  While their days were filled with good people, and enlivening activities, their days were still…filled.  I was happy with what they were learning in terms of curriculum, but ever more concerned about the invisible lessons being learned – the hidden curriculum, if you like.  I’m talking about the implicit lessons ingested over years of waking up to an alarm clock, going to an institution, spending time in a space with four walls, and having entire days mapped out.

What does it do to a little human to be weaned onto a life that consists of managed time, and tasks to be completed?  

 

We’d had our block of land for six years, and I already knew something of what happened to them when we stayed out there for a week or two.  I’d seen the kids move through the same process again and again.  On day one they’d often move around looking a little lost, occasionally saying, “I’m bored” or “I don’t know what to do.”  By day two and three, I’d see less of them as they found things to entertain themselves, and ventured further from the barn where we had our meals.  By day four and five they’d be gone for hours at a time, returning with stories of encountering wallabies, digging holes, building bases, and running from snakes.  After a week they’d be writing plays for days on end, with characters for all of the children present, and the odd cameo – usually involving being killed – for one or more of the adults. 

I became convinced that the “I’m bored/I don’t know what to do” phase was born of having come from their city lives, devoid of long stretches of empty space in which they were thrust back upon themselves and their own interests.  The prospect of my sons spending their entire childhoods not intimately knowing the itch and burn of their own desire and interest terrified me.  What does it do to a little human to be weaned onto a life that consists of managed time, and tasks to be completed?   

It was the horror of this vision – the long term impact of marching to the beat of someone else’s drum – combined with my sheer delight in seeing them encounter and run with their own curiosity, that gave me the motivation I needed to dismantle a life in full swing: to wind-down my psychotherapy practice, take the kids out of school, pack up the house, and head for the hills of Wild Dog Valley.  And so it was that we left the city at the end of 2015, armed with little more than a deep curiosity and enthusiasm about what might happen to kids left to their own devices for the better part of a year in the woods.

Fast-forward eight months, and I’m standing at the door of the barn.  It’s dinner-time and the sun is going down.  We haven’t seen the five kids for over four hours.  I ‘cooee!’ a couple of times, and then eventually hear their voices – their tinkling conversation.   I walk towards the sound and wait.  Coming around the bend of the creek about eighty metres away I am met with a vision that fills my heart with joy.  The five of them are walking fully clothed, backpacks on, in the creek, water up their belly buttons.  In little five-year-old Ilaria’s case, the water is up to her neck. Their faces are sunburnt red and ruddy beneath a layer of dirt.  Their smiles are broad as they greet me. 

So much that was good about our year away is captured in those full smiles and that hearty greeting.  Their faces and voices are bright, proud, unconcerned, and responsible.  They are not school children, managed and corralled day after day, looking to me for instruction, praise or censure.  They are at ease, quietly confident, carrying themselves with self-knowledge and self-assurance.  This is the gift of a year without school.

 We have returned to the city now, and that is another story altogether.  But whatever happens from here on out, I feel at peace knowing that their little bodies and bones know the taste of freedom and self-determination.  They know that there is life beyond externally imposed schedules.  They know that beneath all of the noise and activity that fills their days, is a burning curiosity and desire that is all their own. 

Every child ought spend a year in the woods.

Ayahuasca Is My Therapist - Or Is It?

An article I wrote on the relationship between ayahuasca and therapy recently appeared on psychotherapy.net.  You can view the whole article here: Ayahuasca is my therapist - or is it?


"It was about 4am, and the ceremony had concluded. People were making their way from the jungle marquee towards the “temple” and kitchen where hot soup was waiting. Some walked in silence, while others began to talk of their experience. I sat in the circle longer than most, taking in the scene. I had drunk 4 times in total. Each drink taken in an effort to catalyze some sort of non-ordinary experience. The Peruvian curandero chuckling mischievously each time I returned, tapping his head and saying “stubborn, like a donkey,” before offering me another cup of the sacred brew. Despite my four cups, I had sat through the night fairly uneventfully, watching as people sat in silence, moaned, sang, cried, and laughed their way though 6 hours of “medicine” journey." 

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