Susan Pearson, an ecopsychologist, psychotherapist, writer, storyteller, and a beloved faculty member in the Goddard Graduate Institute, is retiring as of January of 2016 after nine years teaching at the college in the Health Arts and Sciences BA, MA, and GGI programs. She says of Goddard: “It’s a beautiful community, and the process of being involved with students in their passions and discoveries has always been the highlight for me. I have been moved and inspired by their earnest devotion, vision, and the unique voices they bring to crucial issues of our time.” In her faculty profile, she elaborated: “This is a place of deep honoring, curiosity, engaged conversation, mindful interaction, and commitment to collective well-being and transformation. Each of us participates as both learner and teacher.”
Susan grew up in a small town near Albany, NY, attended Northwestern University, where she earned a BA in Art History and Sociology, then served as a VISTA volunteer in New Mexico, worked as a photographer with activists on the Navajo Nation, and, with her husband at the time, moved into a school bus to find a home and community in the back-to-the-land movement. They ended up in Maine where they lived in a tight-knit community focused on organic gardening, rethinking community and social structures, building connection, and creative expression for social change in education and with a puppet theater, an outgrowth of the Bread and Puppet Theater. Through practicing co-counseling in her community, Susan realized she wanted to become a therapist, so she pursued MA studies in psychology at Goddard, a college which was legendary in her community.
From there, Susan worked as a therapist, teacher, and community organizer for decades in the Boston area–in contexts that include a prison, a community-based substance abuse treatment center, and a family therapy clinic–and participated in the development of co-housing communities. Moved by a need to understand human cruelty and explore sources of hope, resiliency, and transformation, she earned a MTS in Religion and Culture from Harvard Divinity School engaging in cross-cultural, interdisciplinary studies of the Holocaust, lifespan and faith development, and ethics and meaning making in medical practice, public health, education, sacred ritual, and death and dying.
Susan became concerned about the direction the practice of psychotherapy was taking and entered Union Institute to pursue doctoral studies in clinical psychology, with attention to the ethical dimensions of this cultural shift. In the course of her studies, she discovered the emerging field of ecopsychology, participated in a working group giving it form at the (then) Center for Psychology and Social Change at Harvard Medical School, and she received her doctorate in this field. “Restoration of the human connection and identification with the natural world of which we’re an integral part have been long-standing passions for me,” she says.
She taught developmental psychology, counseling and expressive arts therapy at Lesley University and the University of Maine at Farmington and began teaching at Goddard in 2005, first in the Health Arts and Sciences BA and MA programs and then in GGI. She says a thread running through all her work “….is a profound concern with cultivating peace within and among us; grappling with questions about human nature, cruelty, suffering, and life-affirming response to them; examining the assumptions and dilemmas built into our social structures toward rethinking and transforming them; and restoring deep connection, wonder, and reverence in relationship with all of life.”
Susan also brought to her work at Goddard a love of storytelling. Her interest was awakened while attending gatherings of a Maine storytelling guild and a workshop on inviting stories to arrive. She said, “I used to have a tradition of walking up the mountain I lived on. As I was reviewing a story I had come up with on one such walk, the forest lit up, as if it was participating. I kept walking and imaging and being present and the stories kept flowing in.” Storytelling on behalf of the Earth and fostering the narrative voice in students’ inquiries found prominence in her work.
In her retirement, Susan will take to the open road again, this time in a camper van, heading first to the southern U.S. and eventually to California, where her daughter lives. She looks forward to immersing herself in contemplative, phenomenological studies of place, continuing to write, meditate, dance, and explore, “following the movements of the sun through the day and the changing luminescence of light on the waters, and sitting under the stars at night. I’m anticipating the this simplicity will allow for a richer presence to experiencing various landscapes, feeling their resonances in my body, and writing from that awareness.”
We who have worked with Susan are deeply grateful for her service, storytelling, presence, and guidance over her years at Goddard. She leaves a lasting legacy in her students and colleagues.