Community Focus: Interview with Reverand Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 4:46 PM | Anonymous

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Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, yoga & meditation teacher, Ecotherapist, Interfaith Minister, and author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life. Over the last 28 years, she has helped hundreds of students and clients overcome stress, anxiety, depression, and spiritually awaken. Rev. Connie is committed to nurturing a heart-centered spiritual community. She leads online programs worldwide, as well as retreats, workshops, Ecotherapy sessions, and yoga teacher trainings in the San Francisco Bay Area. Discover more at her website: or on Facebook

Would you like to tell us about your practice and where you graduated from?

The whole journey started at JFK; I took an extra year to finish my master’s while I was working, and then had my traineeship with JFK at their Transpersonal/Holistic Counseling Center, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, but was an amazing place. I was fortunate to have a number of excellent internships, from grief support services to an alternative high school, and eventually private practice. I was licensed in January 1999 and have been in private practice since then in Menlo Park and Redwood City. Right now I’m online and outdoors.

What made you decide to become a therapist?

Probably similar to many other therapists: I wanted to heal myself. I wanted to understand what caused people’s suffering and what would help them find happiness, overcome depression or fear, anxiety. I didn’t have any idea I would be a therapist. I thought ‘no, I definitely don’t want to be a marriage and family therapist’ [laughs heartily]. And then life happens and you end up doing that! I knew I wanted to touch people in a deep and meaningful way. I was a spiritually oriented person as well back then, so I knew I wanted that to be incorporated into the work that I’d do: that we’re not just physical and mental beings but we’re spiritual beings too.

What came first? Being a Reverend or being a therapist?

Therapist came first although right at the time I was starting to do my first traineeship, I began to teach yoga. The more I dove into yoga and yoga philosophy, the spiritual aspect of the practice and life became more important to me. So I attended an Interfaith Seminary and became ordained in 2012.

How do these two disciplines interweave in your practice?

It absolutely comes into play every day of my life. First of all, Interfaith Ministry is really honoring the many different paths that one can take to connect to something greater than them, whatever we call that God, Spirit, the Creator… I call it the Divine. I studied many different spiritual traditions; part of what I do is I support what resonates with the client, what their spiritual path is. There’s also the aspect of my own inner work as a therapist, that I deeply trust in higher guidance for the client especially, and for myself, to help me be more effective, to connect more deeply and meaningfully with the client.

What do you like most about your job?

I love being fully present with someone, in the moment, and in that simple and yet challenging practice of being really here, right now, beyond our thoughts and reactions there’s so much depth and there’s so much connection. When we’re fully present with one another, love is naturally there. Aliveness is naturally there. Peace is naturally there. And what needs to arise spontaneously arises in that moment.

What do you specialize in? I know you’ve written a book, or more maybe?

Certainly spiritually-oriented clients. I work a lot with stress, anxiety, and worry. That’s the topic of my book, but the book is also about awakening through that, through these very challenges. I also work with people who are very connected with nature. And that’s partly why I do ecotherapy or how I got into that a couple of years ago.

Yes, so tell me about ecotherapy. I’m very, very curious.

I see ecotherapy as the process of healing and growing with and through the support of nature. You can actually do ecotherapy online but of course it’s most potent, powerful right out there in the beautiful redwoods where we live, or the oaks, or the parks.

What brought you to ecotherapy?

About 7 or 8 years ago, I wanted to connect more deeply to nature, also to overcome some of my fears about nature. There’s this deep attraction to being out there and then—fear for safety, of what could happen, right? It’s wild. So I started taking courses with an organization called 8 Shields as the beginning of my deep nature connection journey, and realized the power and necessity of nature in our healing: we have become a society disconnected from the planet that we not only live on but also depend on, that it is our source of sustenance and life in a body here.

As I explored and journeyed into it further, I realized the many gifts and blessings that doing work in nature gives us. There’s a lot of scientific research about forest bathing and about the benefits of being outdoors in nature to our immune system, to our emotional and mental well-being. It reduces stress, alleviates depression, and creates a sense of happiness and well-being.

There are a lot of powerful metaphors in nature: what better teacher to be able to really feel solid in and centered in yourself than a boulder or to be able to really stand in your strength next to a redwood or an oak tree? Or to be able to appreciate every moment when there’s always something happening.

We incorporate magical synchronicities and metaphors into the work which becomes very alive, rich. I like being out in the fresh air and in the beauty more than in the confines of an office. An office can be a very sacred space, but to me there’s nothing that compares to being outdoors, even in the rain: it can be magical and revealing and different animals show up in the rain than when it’s not raining.

You can also do art out in nature, very readily. Leaves and twigs and all kinds of things that you find there: the ground, flowers (I try to not pick things that are still living) to create a work of art that’s meaningful in the moment. I think it connects us in our sense of oneness, that we’re not separate from nature, from this planet, that we’re part of it. And when you immerse for a while, you begin to feel that in your bones.

Do clients come to you for talk therapy and you introduce ecotherapy? Or do they seek you out only for ecotherapy?

It’s been both. Some people find my website or are on my email list and they find out I’m offering an outdoor group. Other clients have been coming to me for a little while and I say ‘you know, I have a feeling that today it might be really helpful and reveling to step outside the office into the garden outside the office and see what might arise from that’ and I explain a little bit what ecotherapy is. The latter have been very profound sessions.

Have you had clients say ‘no, it’s really not my thing’?

I’ve had clients say ‘not yet’, like they’ve been intrigued by it but ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet’ and that’s fine, you know, they don’t have to do it, but I let them know that it’s an option. Usually, I’ll offer it to those from whom I get a sense that they connect with nature and that it’s important to them.

You said you do groups? Do you use specific rituals or do they have themes?

Yes, sometimes they do. I do retreats: one day and weekend retreats. Currently, I’m doing a monthly morning in nature that I call the “divine nature community”. Usually we start out with a circle of gratitude: we share our name, what we’re grateful for, we have a few minutes to connect to the land around us, and to give thanks for it. To honor the ancestors before us and to just take in what we’re experiencing through our senses. They’re practices of mindfulness: I call them presence. I introduce a bit of yoga and then we all go out on the land, on a moderate hike, deep nature connection practices, and exploration. I encourage a sense of community and that what each person receives from that day can benefit all the others.

How long roughly is a day or morning.

Those are 2.5 to 2.75 hours but then I do day longs where we’ll do more yoga and more time out on the land and some solo time as well as time with the group. Same with the weekend retreats. We’ll have circles in the evening where we’ll share and deepen together as a group with all kinds of exercises outdoors and indoors.

What do you think of ecotherapy in post-COVID times?

I think it’s vital. I think it can deeply heal us from this sense of isolation, disconnection, and anxiety. I mentioned earlier some of the scientific studies: there are microorganisms in the forest that increase a sense of wellbeing, so you don’t have to deeply reflect, you can just sit out in nature twenty, thirty minutes and feel a sense a renewal. It’s part of my daily practice: every morning, I go outside, I sit maybe for 5 minutes on days I’m very busy, and close to 20 to 30 on days when I have more time. Just sit and be present with everything happening.

Is that your self care?

That is definitely part of my self-care and in the afternoons if I have time, I’ll just go and lie down out there. And then, I like to go on hikes and into the various forests that we have around here: we’re so blessed to live in the area we do. I could spend the rest of my life exploring them here.

Yes, it may sound corny but it’s like going to visit a friend. I take my dog for daily walks in my neighborhood and it’s fascinating to see how almost overnight, the trees are blooming. By going there every day, I definitely witness consciously or not, the changes that are happening.

It’s delightful. It awakens delight within us, to see that life comes forth every spring, right? And aliveness. Every time I notice new things, there’s always something to explore, to see, to hear, to learn, of the different birds I’m hearing. Who are they? Where do they live? And what are their behaviors. It’s just like cultivating relationships: when you get to know people, you find out all these amazing things about them.

Do you know this book titled The Spell of the Sensuous”? It’s a beautiful ode to nature.

No, but you’ll have to tell me about it. I’m currently reading Forest Bathing by one of the first proponents of forest bathing in Japan, Dr. Qing Li. So, yeah, there are so many amazing and wonderful books out there to read about it. Another one I’m reading, called Adventures in Opting Out, is about opting out from the traditional lifestyle to a path that you feel called to. Her first book was The Year of Less, and it was all about how she gave away 75% of her possessions, lived really simply, and went through a personal healing process. It was fascinating.

Is there a quote that you think of that you like in particular? That is really with you…

Trust the process. That is the mantra for my life and my work with my clients. They hear me say a lot that I trust the process of therapy, I trust the process of my life, and the process of what I would call the Divine. Of course, [laughs] it’s easy to trust the process when it’s smooth, but sometimes, you know, when we’re hitting the speed bumps, turns in the road that take us in directions we didn’t expect, things might be scary or challenging. But I really trust the process that everything is happening for our highest good, ultimately, eventually and/or, however you want to look at it, everything is a gift, everything is an opportunity.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s very Jungian! You’re speaking my language!

Ecotherapy is so perfect for Jungian-oriented work because everything is a symbol, something showing up from your unconscious, or from the collective unconscious, that’s emerging from the earth there. Jung spent a lot of time out in nature. So yes, it goes very well with that orientation.

Is there an author or someone in particular who has been very influential in your professional or personal life?

There are many. I’ve had a number of influences in my life over the years. I think Leonard Jacobson is a great teacher of presence. He’s who I learned this from and his books, particularly his book Journey into Now, have been impactful for me. I love that it’s clear and it’s simple, and yet very profound. He likes to say ‘you’re either present in the moment, which means no thoughts, here, or you’re dealing with what’s getting in the way of being present’.

Fully present to me is fully living our lives, you know, this is what we have now… we don’t have the future right now, and you can’t go back to the past, so let’s make the most of what is now.

Thank you, Connie, for your time and for opening a window onto the practice of soulful ecotherapy.

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