The online classroom experience of the Animal Being Internship covers concepts and methods from neurosciences and psychology to explore how animals think, feel, and experience consciousness. Historically, ethology (also called animal behavior) has been used to study nonhuman animals with psychology being reserved for humans. However, the discovery of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in free-living elephants has brought all vertebrates including some invertebrates under a single conceptual umbrella, trans-species psychology.
We will use this new cross-species lens to explore animal cognition, emotions, and experience and associated philosophical underpinnings, points of debate, ethics, and future directions for the field. Illustrated with a diversity of species, including elephants, great apes, orcas, parrots, reptiles, fish, and farmed animals, the course draws from primary and secondary literature, presentations, and video lectures to explore animal sentience. Course material and discussion with instructor are intended to inform your practicum that follows course completion.
Information concerning registration and enrollment fees can be found here.
Course Structure and Process
The online portion of the Animal Being Internship is asynchronous (self-paced), and can be started immediately after registration. There are two main themes, the mind and the effects of stress on the mind. These themes are addressed in Part I: The Science of Sentience and Part II: The Science of Suffering, respectively. In addition to the fundamentals of trans-species psychology, Part I discusses the perceptual, linguistic, and ethical implications that accompany the scientific union of psychology and animal behavior. Part II brings in perspectives from traumatology to explore psychological trauma.
The course is divided into eight lessons:
PART 1: THE SCIENCE OF SENTIENCE
Lesson 1 – Introduction: How Elephants Broke the Species Barrier
Lesson 2 – What is Trans-species Psychology?
Lesson 3 – How the Brain and Mind Develop
Lesson 4 – The Neurobiology of Attachment and Models of Self
PART 2: THE SCIENCE OF SUFFERING
Lesson 5 – The Neuropsychology of Trauma
Lesson 6 – Collective Trauma and Trauma Transmission
Lesson 7 – Methods of Individual Trauma Recovery
Lesson 8 – Collective Trauma Recovery and Future Implications
Each lesson is comprised of a video lecture with companion exercises, readings, study questions, and links. We recommend that you start by watching the video lecture, then continue to complete readings, other videos, and supplemental materials. When assignments are completed, send as Word documents to the instructor via the Upload Assignments section at the end of each lesson. After receipt, the instructor will send comments to you for discussion in a followup meeting together.
We also suggest that you make a set schedule and fixed meeting day and time with the instructor. For example, study and complete one lesson every two weeks and meet with instructor on intervening day. As questions or new articles, videos, or other links are encountered, jot them down to discuss.
Approach, Philosophy, and Goals
Approach and Philosophy
Because modern ways of thinking, acting, and speaking have been defined by difference from other species, the shift to a trans-species, species-common view implicitly involves a metamorphosis of identity, perception, and culture. As past assumptions are shed, new insights will accrue and so will our understanding of other animals as well as ourselves. Learning in this course is dynamic, balancing an established body of knowledge with new insights and revelation. As such, the course requires rigor and attention to detail while at the same time encouraging you to be open to any new perspectives and ideas that may generate.
Material in the course may prove challenging intellectually and, at times, emotionally. It is the purpose of the study questions, exercises, and journal to review, reflect and process material covered in the lectures, videos, and readings. Course material functions as conceptual “handrails” to guide thought and discussion. A diversity of media and perspectives are offered for this purpose. Beyond the usual accountability that attends formal study, this course requires a special commitment because of its subject matter: nonhuman animal minds and lives. It is therefore critical to be able to understand and articulate the material accurately and be mindful of any projections or assumptions.
After this course, students should be able to:
- Describe the series of scientific discoveries and principles that prompted a species-common approach to the study of human and animal minds and emotions (i.e., how and why trans-species psychology was established).
- Identify and explain the fundamentals of current models of neuropsychological development (the development of the brain and mind).
- Explain how psychological and ethological approaches to the study of animals differ in terms of method and underlying assumptions.
- Using both formal scientific and in your own, informal language, define and explain trauma, stress, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bi-directional inference, and other concepts covered in the course.
- Identify and describe the main philosophical, political, social, ethical, and psychological issues that have emerged with trans-species psychology.
- Explain why trans-species psychology is part of a broader paradigm shift.
- Relate what scientific acceptance of animal sentience (trans-species psychology) implies for ethics, practices, and law and how it has, or has not, affected your personal views, lifestyle, and life choices.
- Apply scientific concepts and findings in all course collaboration, discussion and written work with examples for humans and animals and be able to illustrate using specific examples.
Course Resources, Requirements, and Evaluation
In addition to required readings and videos, there are three assignments per lesson: Animal Accompaniment (field work and journal), an experiential Exercise, and Study Questions. Completed assignments should be submitted to the instructor in the Upload Assignment section at the end of each lesson.
There are two exams, one after Part I: The Science of Sentience is completed, and the second at course completion, after Part II: Science of Suffering. The latter is comprehensive covering all course material.
There is one required text, Elephants on the Edge: What Animal Teach Us About Humanity (Yale 2009, referred to hereafter as “EE”). In addition to chapters from EE, each lesson includes journal articles that fortify lecture topics with more examples, specificity, and greater detail. You are expected to spend three to four hours reading weekly. Readings provide source material referred to in lectures and will be useful in your assignments. If you wish to read other, related articles, please let me know and I will do my best to provide additional resources and citations.
Begin listening to the main, first video lecture. These video lectures orient you to the subject matter covered in the lesson by introducing key concepts and theories that are discussed in more detail in the Readings or other supportive videos. Most lecture videos begin with a review from past lectures. Additional videos are provided that expand on subjects introduced in the lectures in more detail. With the exception of Lessons 6 and 7, required video watching time weekly is approximately 60-90 minutes. Lessons 6 and 7 include lengthy films which are required to illustrate concepts that will inform study questions. However, they are less technical than others. Some lessons provide optional (not required but recommended) videos which are intended to enhance and deepen your study into the subject matter. Note that Lesson 8 does not include a lecture video but others.
3. Animal Accompaniment
This portion of the course provides you with an opportunity to relate course material to concrete experience and observation by volunteering in an animal rescue, shelter, or sanctuary. It is also a medium that you can use to inform your practicum. This work is inspired and informed by the concept of accompaniment that is described in the Animal Accompaniment article. There are two components to this assignment, Fieldwork: A Personal Experience (10 hours) and Animal Accompaniment Journal.
Fieldwork: A Personal Experience
This course requirement asks that you volunteer in service for a minimum of ten hours at an animal shelter, rescue or sanctuary. You will meet with your instructor to discuss and identify an organization that is located conveniently so that you can readily visit. After you have identified possible sites which includes your contacting the organizations to confirm that they will agree to your volunteering there, you will need to confirm with your instructor to ascertain that the site is appropriate. Selection and written approval are required. Upon completion of your volunteer hours, please submit to instructor a signed letter from the animal organization confirming that you successfully completed your volunteering.
Evaluation — The following criteria must be met: (1) selection of appropriate fieldwork site, approval by instructor, and written approval by the site stating that the organization approves of your volunteership; (2) professional, respectful, and timely attendance and behavior at the organization; (3) submission to instructor at course completion of signed letter from the organization confirming your successful attendance as volunteer.
Animal Accompaniment Journal
You will be asked to regularly reflect on the readings, discussions, and your personal fieldwork for every lesson in your journal. The Animal Accompaniment Journal is a medium for your reflection about the course materials as it relates to your fieldwork experience. It is intended to act as an on-going conversation. Its philosophy and purpose is described in the article, Accompaniment: Psychosocial, Environmental, Trans-Species, by Mary Watkins.
Journal entries should reflect your engagement with the course materials and share what you have learned about your fieldwork experience and course material. If your journal takes the form of an online blog or other social media, it should not report on or discuss the organization with whom you are volunteering, nor the animals or humans associated with the organization. If your journal is available via social media, you must inform the organization of your intentions to make sure that they are comfortable about it, and let them know that the content will relate to your own reflections. You are not required to divulge anything personal that may make you feel uncomfortable.
Evaluation — Evaluation of journal entries will be based on the following criteria. These criteria will be used in a holistic manner, as you may not have the opportunity to address all criteria in any one assignment:
- Posts that show evidence of one or more of the following:
- Build on, synthesize, or compare existing ideas by quoting, paraphrasing, synthesizing course material
- Support statements, arguments or disagreements with evidence
- Respond to questions posed by instructor
- Ask questions or raise new questions
- Follow assignment instructions
- Contribute in ways that show your understanding of course concepts
- Contribute in ways that exhibit respectful, in-depth thinking including analysis or synthesis of ideas as appropriate
- Use scientific course terminology accurately
4. Study Questions
In each lesson you will be asked to answer five associated study questions. The interdisciplinary nature of the course material means that you will need to learn and integrate concepts and language from neurosciences, psychology, and animal behavior. At times, you may be asked to research a topic via the internet and library. Always include formal references (i.e., book or journal article title, author(s), date of publication, pages, and if a reference is sourced from the internet, you are required to provide some information including link address and the date you retrieved the article).
You will also be asked to share and communicate these ideas in diverse contexts. For these reasons, you will be asked to answer each question in two ways: (1) a strict scientific definition or formal answer with citation; (2) the same answer written in your own words as if you were trying to explain the concept to someone sitting next to you on the plane or bus who has no prior knowledge of the subject. For example:
Question: Define attachment.
Formal scientific answer: Attachment is early, first stage socialization that occurs between an infant and his/her caregiver/parent and is responsible for key neuropsychological development. (page 428, Bradshaw, G.A. & A.N. Schore. 2007. How elephants are opening doors: developmental neuroethology, attachment, and social context. Ethology, 113: 426–436.
Informal answer: Attachment is the bond between a parent and baby that shapes how the brain and minds develop.
Evaluation — Evaluation of these assignments will be based on the following criteria. The criteria will be used in a holistic manner, as some may apply only to some of the questions each week:
- Follow assignment instructions
- Define terminology accurately and clearly
- Answer questions accurately and clearly
- Use scientific course terminology accurately
- Use references appropriately
Each lesson is accompanied by an exercise that is intended to give you time and space for experiential reflection on concepts from course materials and explore how your learning translates to personal life and goals. More specifically, the exercises:
- Help you connect your personal experience with the course learning goals and content
- Offer an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills to authentic learning experiences.
- Facilitate connection with the animal world in intentional ways.
- Increase/extend your awareness of, and relationship to animal cognition
Evaluation — Evaluation of exercise assignments will be based on the following criteria. The criteria will be used in a holistic manner, as you may not have the opportunity to address all criteria in any one assignment:
- Follow assignment instructions
- Complete and submit exercise on time
- Use knowledge, language, and skills from course in these reflective, applied exercises.
- Answers that demonstrate that you have engaged in the exercise with sincerity and seriousness.