Therapeutic Model

By Tennille Porter

The Good Life Farm therapeutic model, which is currently under development, provides a theoretical basis for our work with ‘at risk’ and ‘extreme at risk’ young people who have been referred to us for the past 10 years. The model has been developed by integrating a number of theories, research and therapeutic approaches.

Below is a short description of each.

Biophilia hypothesis: The Biophilia hypothesis, introduced by Edward Wilson (1984), proposes that humans are innately (or instinctively) drawn to the natural world (all living systems i.e., plants, weather and animals).

It is argued that the urge to connect and interact with nature is a biological need in humans and essential for human development.

Where the need to interact with nature is neglected, particularly in early and middle childhood, the Biophilia hypothesis predicts physical and mental illnesses may result (Kellert & Kahn, 2002).

The Good Life Farm offers children and youth a unique opportunity to fulfil their need to interact with nature through its natural setting on a Permaculture based farm where they have access to an array of animals, living organisms and natural environments.

Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kellert, S. R., & Kahn, P. H. (2002). Children and nature : psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations. Cambridge, Mass. ; London : MIT Press

Attachment theory: This theory suggests humans are driven by a psychobiological system which motivates them to seek proximity to attachment figures (significant others) such as a parent or partner in times of need (Bowlby, 1969).

The process of attachment begins in early infancy when the primary caregiver’s ability to respond appropriately to the infant’s needs is fundamental to that child’s social and emotional development throughout the lifespan (Bretherton, 1997).

Howe (2011) discusses styles of attachment that develop as a result of early interactions. Interactions between the primary caregiver and the infant which result in the infant having its needs met and feelings soothed contribute to positive emotional growth and development where the child is able to trust and relate to others effectively later in life.

In contrast, infants who consistently do not have their needs met develop insecure attachments to their primary caregiver which results in children who are more likely to have difficulties trusting and relating to others throughout their lifespan. That is, an individual’s ability to regulate their own emotions, feelings and behaviour within interactions with others are shaped by the individuals learnt expectations of human interaction.

Often traumatized children did not experience positive attachments early in infancy and childhood leading to the inability to develop healthy relationships later in life (Hardy, 2007).

Levy and Orlans (2014) argue that developing positive and healthy attachments to individuals later in the young person’s life can help the young person learn to trust and relate to people better and overcome some of their disruptive behaviours in relationships.

The Good Life Farm staff aim to develop healthy attachments with the children and youth on the farm to enable them to learn how to behave appropriately in interpersonal interactions as well as reduce disruptive behaviours.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss, Vol 1: Attachment. London: Pimlico
Bretherton, I. (1997). Bowlby’s legacy to developmental psychology. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 28(1), 33-43.
Howe, D. (2011). Attachment across the lifecourse. London: Palgrave
Levy, T. M., & Orlans, M. (2014). Attachment, Trauma, and Healing: Understanding and Treating Attachment Disorder in Children and Families. 2.nd ed. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Object Relations Theory: This theory is closely related to Attachment Theory in that both theories suggests relationships in early life (infancy and childhood) shape the way people behave and interact with others (Winnicott, 1973).

However, Winnicott (1973) explains Object Relations Theory also predicts that individuals develop their sense of self (otherwise known as psyche or identity) in relation to others in their environment during childhood.

Thus, it is predicted that traumatized children and youth who did not develop healthy attachments early in life may have difficulty developing and maintaining healthy relationships with others later in life as well as understanding the self. (Dockar-Drysdale, 1991; Scharff & Scharff, 1991).

The Good Life Farm focuses not only on developing healthy relationships but also self discovery and exploration.

Winnicott, D. W. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 34, 89-97.
Dockar-Drysdale, B. (1991). The provision of primary experience. U.S: Aronson.
Scharff, D. E., & Scharff, J. S. (1991). Object relations therapy of physical and sexual trauma. U.S: Aronson

Neurobiology of Trauma and Attachment Research: There is now a strong body of research that shows trauma, abuse and neglect have a biological effect on the developing brain and consequently on behaviour (Perry, 2006; van der Kolk & McFarlane, 2012).

Van der Kolk & McFarlane (2012) explain trauma, including disrupted attachment, has been shown to change the physical architecture of the developing brain as well as the connectivity between various areas of the brain resulting in reduced capacity of the brain to acquire complex emotion regulation skills.

Understanding the effects of trauma, abuse and neglect as well as attachment styles on the developing brain has led to a more comprehensive understanding of the healing process and informed our GLF therapeutic treatment (van der Kolk & McFarlane, 2012).

van der Kolk, B. A., & McFarlane, A. C., (2012). Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. New York : Guilford Publications
Perry, B. D. (2006). Fear and learning: Trauma-related factors in the adult education process.
New Direction for Adult and Continuing Education, (110), 21-27.

Psychological Wellness Theory: This theory emphasises the importance of a holistic approach to therapy.

Prilleltensky and Nelson (2000) propose that improvement in a young person’s well-being must be approached and nurtured on three levels, the personal (individual), relational (group) and collective (community). It argues that environments which demonstrate support and security at each of these levels are most beneficial to overall psychological wellness (Prilleltensky & Nelson, 2000).

The Good Life Farm attempts to provide children and youth this holistic support through addressing the needs of each client at the individual, group and community level.

Prilleltensky, I., & Nelson, G. (2000). Promoting child and family wellness: Priorities for psychological and social interventions. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 10, 85-105.

Social Cognitive Theory: This theory suggests that human beings can acquire knowledge simply through observing others within the context of social interactions and experiences (Bandura, 1976).

Moreover, Bandura (1976) explains social cognitive theory proposes that an individual’s behaviour can be partly shaped by using information gained through observing an ‘other’s’ behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour. An individual may also be prompted to engage in a previously learnt behaviour by observing an ‘other’ carrying out behaviour.

Social cognitive theory is employed on the farm as evidenced by children and youth learning from observing behaviours and interactions between staff, others, and farm animals.

These observations can help guide children and youth towards more positive and appropriate social behaviour.

Bandura, A. (1976). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Experiential Learning Theory: Experiential learning is simply learning through experience and reflection on that experience.

Hence, learners engaged in experiential learning are active in the process of learning whereas learners engaged in rote or didactic learning play a comparatively passive role (Kolb, 1984).

Children and youth attending programs at The Good Life Farm are engaged in experiential learning about social skills, animal husbandry, building and construction, Permaculture, cooking and diet, and outdoor recreation.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall

Transformative Learning Theory: Taylor and Cranton (2012) explain transformative learning is a type of experiential learning which relates to the transformations of perspectives.

These perspectives can be transformed at three levels: psychological (perspective of the self), convictional (predetermined ideas and belief systems/schemas) and behavioural (lifestyle and ways living) (Mezirow, 1997).

Taylor and Cranton (2012) argue transformative learning explains the shift in perspective/viewpoint through a transformation of a basic worldview and/or a belief about the self.

Transformative learning is facilitated through the presentation of a new perspective or challenge to an old perspective which triggers a consciously directed process within the person to critically evaluate their assumptions and beliefs as well as its underlying premises resulting in a new or altered perspective.

Transformative learning develops autonomous thinking (Mezirow, 1997).

The Good Life Farm encourages transformative learning to take place through opening the minds of children and youth attending the farm to new concepts and perspectives.

This is often done indirectly through learning about the farm animals and their behaviour and interactions with one another.

Taylor, E. W., & Cranton, P. (2012). The Handbook of Transformative Learning : Theory, Research, and Practice. Retrieved from
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74, 5–12

Humanistic perspective: The Good Life Farm adopts a humanistic perspective which suggests that all human beings are innately good (Buhler & Allen, 1972).

Buhler, C., & Allen, M. (1972). Introduction to humanistic psychology. Monterey CA: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co

Client-Centred Approach: Comprehensive research on the benefits of various therapeutic models strongly suggests that regardless of the model being used the relationship between the therapist and the client is the single most important indicatory factor contributing to positive outcomes and behavioural change (Hubble, Duncan & Miller, 1999).

The Good Life Farm focuses on developing quality relationships using Carl Rogers’ client-centred approach. The client-centred approach consists of three core values which govern the client-therapist or young person-worker interaction: genuineness, unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding (Rogers, 1957).

  • 1. Genuineness:

Staff at the Good Life Farm are genuine in their interaction with the children and youth attending the farm. This means that the staff are congruent between their actual self and their helping self and are genuinely interested in the client. There is no acting and the therapist may see it fit to draw upon his or her own experience (self-disclose) to facilitate the relationship.

  • 2. Unconditional positive regard:

Staff at the Good Life Farm accept the children and youth attending the farm unconditionally and without passing judgment. Showing unconditional positive regard for the children and youth helps to improve their acceptance of themselves and one another.

  • 3. Empathic understanding:

Staff at the Good Life Farm experience empathic understanding of the children and youths’ behaviour. The staff aim to show children and youth that they have empathy, accept and understand their behaviour. This helps them believe that staff have unconditional love for them.

Hubble, M.A., Duncan, B.L. & Miller, S. D. (1999). The heart and soul of change:
What works in therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
Rogers, C. (1957). ‘The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change’. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2): 95-103

Mindfulness: Mindfulness refers to a conscious state marked by heightened awareness, a sense of presence to the moment, and acceptance of one’s surroundings, actions, sensations, emotions and thoughts, without judgment or influence from judgment (Bishop, 2002).

Mindfulness originated from Buddhist tradition and primarily focuses on developing skills and techniques aimed at improving quality of life (Bishop, 2002).

Kabat-Zinn et al. (1992) explain meditation techniques designed to develop mindfulness are used to emphasise expanded attention and nonjudgmental observation.

The Good Life Farm incorporates mindfulness techniques such as walking the farm labyrinth and listening to nature and farm noises to help children and youth develop adaptive coping strategies which improve their relaxation and stabilise their emotions.

Bishop, S. (2002). What do we really know about mindfulness-based stress reduction?. Psychosomatic Medicine, 64,71–84.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, D. E., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W. R., & Santorelli, S. F. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149(7), 936– 43.

About the Author:
Tennille Porter is a director of The Good Life Farm. She has a Bachelor of Psychological Science (honours), and is currently undertaking post graduate studies in Psychology.