Linking Personal Health to the Health of the Planet

If you ask Thomas Doherty, PsyD ’02, about sustainability, you’ll get an answer that encompasses more than environmental or systems concerns. Individual health and behavior are the necessary primary considerations without which discussions of these broader issues will be incomplete. Thomas’s career path has led him back to an earlier focus on the individual and the environment, and he now manages Sustainable Self, a therapy practice in Portland, Oregon, helping clients integrate environmental values into their personal health. Psychologists are experts in moods and emotions, in identity, and in changing behaviors; environmental issues affect people on just those levels.

Thomas was working as a wilderness therapy guide, leading groups of teens into the backcountry as part of a treatment routine, and he met dynamic counselors who inspired him to go back to graduate school to pursue a counseling degree himself. He enrolled in a master’s program at Antioch University Seattle, where he was first exposed to ideas about ecopsychology. He came to realize that a master’s degree wasn’t going to take him where he wanted his career to go and started looking into doctoral programs. He came to visit AUNE to explore where his environmental interest might fit into the ES PhD program. While here, he met Roger Peterson, chair of the Department of Clinical Psychology. Thomas enrolled in the PsyD program and received his degree in 2002.

Bringing It All Together

With his practice, he is bringing it all together. He recently moved his office to a newly renovated LEED gold-certified building in a neighborhood of Portland that is being revitalized by such efforts. The new space is close enough to home that he can either bike or walk to work. It also underscores his commitment to green practices, to sustainable practice. Thomas and his wife, Chelsea Harper, DMT ’03, who has her own dance/movement therapy practice, Moving to Balance, are busy raising their nine-month-old daughter.

In addition to his practice, he teaches classes at Lewis & Clark College, and at Pacific University, both in Portland. At Lewis and Clark he has been instrumental in organizing the Psychology, Ecology and Sustainability Conference, for which he brought in Steve Chase, director of AUNE’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing program, as keynote speaker. Steve and Thomas had first worked together at a conference at AUNE in 2001. Thomas Doherty is committed to helping people live better lives. As a psychologist, he says, my mission is to promote health, and we are increasingly realizing that our personal health is linked to the health of the planet.

“I chose to name my business Sustainable Self because I believe that sustainability is a key aspect of health. This goes beyond issues like global warming to how we achieve balance and happiness in our lives.”

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