Presentation Abstract for the AAFT 41st National (Virtual) Conference: D_ISTANCES Generational Impacts of Displacement and Resettlement

Our Distance from Nature: Attending to the Human-Natural World Relationship. 

Artwork by Steven Falco @procreativ

Since colonisation and the introduction of dominant political, economic and social systems, the human-natural world relationship has been disrupted from one of connection and balance to one of distance. Modern life separates humans from nature. The generational impacts of this distance created by power-over hierarchies are harmful to all beings, including humans, but they are also repairable. Systemic family therapists are trained to apply a contextual and relational lens in their work and are well-equipped to tend the human-natural world relationship. An ecoinformed approach to family therapy is guided by the principles of general system theory and cybernetics: the Batesonian notion that “all living beings are inextricably connected to each other and their environment in a holistic way” (Laszloffy, 2009, p. 223). A truth that Indigenous cultures have honoured and lived by for millennia.

The act of displacement, whether forcibly (through removal, war, or climate migration) or by choice, involves the loss of relationship to the spaces that locate us and define our sense of place – the loss of animals, plants as well as land, sea and skyscapes with whom we are in relationship. Alongside these losses, families carry stories of healing with nature. My maternal grandfather, Orfeo Michieletto, was a mounted policeman for the Arma dei Carabinieri, stationed in Rome. In September 1942, he was ordered to leave his homeland to fight in the Battle of Stalingrad in southern Russia. Bloodshed ended after a few months when Italy surrendered and troops were withdrawn from the Eastern Front without food, water or transport. Orfeo walked through winter from Russia to Rome, dodging bombs by diving into protective burrows blasted out of the earth. By the time he returned, Orfeo was covered in lice, emaciated and barely alive. Seven years later, ahead of his wife and daughter – my mother – Orfeo made his final journey, this time by ship, to Australia. He would grieve and recover with the companionship of an old draft horse and sinking his hands in the soil of a suburban one-acre patch in Inala, Brisbane – raising uva, fagoli, pomodori, piselli and radicchio – that rooted and resettled him in this new country he was to call home.

I have pondered: What nuances and themes might a systemic lens capture when we view the ways in which colonisation and dominant social structures have interrupted our belonging to nature? And further, would a return to a deepening of the human-natural world relationship change our climate crisis? An ecoinformed practice acknowledges the loss of country and homelands, as well as animals and plants that are left behind or, become extinct disappearing altogether. A biocentric view considers the generational impacts for not only humans but all life. And, perhaps a lens that values this relationship will help us in our work with client populations such as environmental scientists, climate activists and young people. This presentation explores the ways in which systemically trained therapists have the knowledge to attend to the human-natural world relationship in the therapy room – holding the both/and of destruction and beauty. The presentation will include facilitating the sharing of stories of connection with the natural world and experiential exercises that can be used with clients.

Laszloffy, T. A. (2009). Remembering the pattern that connects: Toward and eco-informed MFT. Contemporary Family Therapy, 31, 222-236.


The abstract for my presentation at the 41th National Conference of the Australian Association of Family Therapy.