Zoochosis is the disease of captivity, a term coined for nonhuman Animals held captive in zoos, aquaria, and other confinements. Tigers, Elephants, Seals, Parrots, Snakes, Octopuses, and other Animals in these prisons show symptoms of stereotypy, repetitive acts such as head bobbing, swaying, and incessant pacing. Human prisoners show similar symptoms.
In light of trans-species psychology (which names what science documents, but avoids admitting for psychological and economic reasons), brain structures and processes of humans and other Animals are comparable. Animal have the conscious capacities to think, feel, and dream like we do. Zoochosis is a term for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) used to bring attention to the institutions that cause this harm.
But the same holds for modern humans, the majority of whom live unnatural lives and in a form of captivity that bears no resemblance to those of our earthcentric ancestors. Without participating in our own evolved connections with the natural world, we have developed our own abnormal, repetitive, and self-harming behaviors.
In Beyond Zoochosis, we explore the theoretical underpinnings of these ideas and investigate how we can individually, and as a culture, through ecotherapeutic practices, learn to liberate our minds and bodies simultaneously with the liberation of Animal and Plant kin.
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This five-week online course will meet on Saturdays at 2:00 pm (Pacific Time) starting October 2. Each session will begin with a presentation by the instructor engaging the core concepts around the topics of ecopsychology and zoochosis. Students will read and prepare to discuss assigned material prior to each session. Materials draw from texts, articles, and videos. Video recordings will be available as the course progresses.
Session 1 (October 2): Introduction to Ecopsychology. In this first class we introduce and overview the core concepts and lenses of the course. We look more deeply at ecopsychological theory allowing each student to find their own pace within the field. This class sets the groundwork for our understanding of zoochosis across species lines. By the end of this class students will be able to identify the different flavors of ecopsychology, its relevance to our study, and their own positionality.
Session 2 (October 9): Unpacking Zoochosis. In Session 2 we cross over into the world of non-human animals and go into detail on how zoochosis manifests in captive held animals. What are the different theories for its causes and symptoms? Are these same symptoms present in our own lives? Do they have the same underlying cause? By the end of class students will be able to identify the symptoms of zoochosis on sight.
Session 3 (October 16): Environmental Enrichment. In this session we cover healing modalities and treatments used to mitigate the symptoms of zoochosis in captive held animals. Which are the most effective therapies? What are the ethical considerations? Will these same interventions work on humans? By the end of class students will understand how to craft their own enrichment programs for captive held animals.
Session 4 (October 23): Ecotherapy. Here we make an in-depth exploration of applied ecopsychology and ecotherapy. What are the different types of ecotherapy? Which are most effective? By the end of this class students will be able to position themselves within the field of ecotherapy and begin designing their own interventions.
Session 5 (October 30): Applied Ecopsychology Symposium. In this final session, students share their final products at this conference style meeting. Each student will have the opportunity to present and receive feedback on their project. We will close the course with next steps and future directions for our own continued learning and healing.
Vaughan Wilkins, PhD, is an ecopsychologist, applied animal behaviorist, and cultural traumatologist.
A skilled and inventive educator, Wilkins has spent the last decade working with captive and companion animals, families, schools and organizations to incorporate trauma responsive learning. His research focuses on the impacts of the loss of ecological participation across species lines in both humans and non human animals. Specifically, how physical and psychological captivity impact health and wellness at both the personal and planetary levels. From the zoochosis of animals held in captivity to the collective trauma of modern techno-industrial society Wilkins suggests that coming home to our senses may hold the key to unlocking the cage of our shared captivity. This is the first step to once again become mutually beneficent members of the earth community.
He currently serves as department chair at Summit Public Schools and also works directly with parents, educators, trauma specialists, and men’s groups looking to build resilience during uncertain times. Wilkins holds an MA degree in the psychology of animal behavior from Hunter College and a PhD in ecopsychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies.