Episode 137 The Professional Counselors’ Role With Climate Change & The Importance Of Ecowellness: Interview with Lauren Hawkins

Aug 16, 2023

How does climate change impact our mental health? As a counselor, what role do you play in addressing eco-wellness issues with your clients in session? 

MEET Lauren Hawkins

Lauren Hawkins is a Licensed Professional Counselor in both Texas and Colorado. She works primarily with individuals who have experienced trauma and the LGBTQ+ community. Lauren received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Kentucky, and her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Cincinnati. In 2022, Lauren published a manuscript in the Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy titled “Climate Change and mental health: the counseling professional’s Role.” This article provides an overview of the impacts of climate change on mental health and proposes the argument that professional counselors should be on the frontlines of climate advocacy and leadership. Lauren presented on this topic at the 2023 NBCC Bridging the Gap Symposium in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s also spoken on other podcasts about eco-wellness, climate justice, and social justice, and why this is a necessary part of holistic wellness for counselors to pay attention to. 

Find out more at JCLA and Psychology Today and connect with Lauren on, LinkedIn


  • What is eco-wellness? 4:42
  • Where to find resources on climate change  11:47
  • How to begin addressing clients with eco-anxiety  13:20
  • How to bring nature into therapy 17:50

What Is Eco-Wellness?

  • What is eco-anxiety and how does it impact our mental health?
  • The importance of connecting with nature
  • What is the role of counselors in climate change?
  • Who is most impacted by climate change?

Where To Find Resources On Climate Change

  • Finding reputable resources on climate change and eco-wellness
  • Finding resources within the counseling profession

How To Begin Addressing Clients With Eco Anxiety

  • The importance of building a solid relationship with your clients
  • How to create a thorough holistic assessment for your clients
  • What are the Wheels of Wellness?
  • How to recognize mental health issues stemming from eco-anxiety

How To Bring Nature Into Therapy

  • Using your 5 senses when creating ways of integrating nature into session
  • The importance of finding out how your clients prefer to connect with nature 
  • How to bring nature indoors
  • How to empower our clients when dealing with climate change

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Resources Mentioned And Useful Links:

Find out more at JCLA and Psychology Today and connect with Lauren on, LinkedIn

Climate Change Fact Sheet


Chris McDonald: Imagine this scenario. A new client comes in with high anxiety about climate change. In Fears for the Future, they ask you, how do I manage this? And you as the clinician, how do you respond? Climate change can impact our client's mental health. In this episode, we'll be diving into the vital role that counseling professionals play in addressing this issue and why eco wellness is a necessary component of holistic wellness.

We will be unraveling what steps you can take as a mental health professional towards addressing this and how you can successfully bring eco wellness into sessions. Stay tuned for today's episode on the Holistic Counseling Podcast. This is Holistic Counseling, the podcast for mental health therapists who want to deepen their knowledge of holistic modalities and build their practice with confidence.

I'm your host, Chris McDonald, licensed therapist. I am so glad you're here for the journey.

Welcome to today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. Climate change, with its wide reaching impacts on our environment, has far reaching consequences for our mental health. With rising temperatures, extreme weather events, these can all contribute to feelings of anxiety, grief and despair. But amidst these challenges, there's always hope.

While climate change poses immense challenges, it also presents an opportunity for collective action and change. By coming together, raising awareness, and implementing sustainable practices, we can all make a difference. But we must recognize the power of hope, resilience, and community as we navigate these uncharted waters.

In today's episode, we'll be looking deeper into what is the counseling professional's role with this, why eco wellness is a necessary component of holistic wellness. Here to guide us on this journey is Lauren Hawkins. She's an LPC in Texas and Colorado. In 2022, Lauren published a manuscript in the Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy titled Climate Change and Mental Health, Counseling Professionals Role.

This article provides an overview of the impacts of climate change on mental health and proposes the argument that professional counselors should be on the front lines of climate advocacy and leadership. Welcome to the Holistic Counseling Podcast, Lauren.

Lauren Hawkins: Hi, thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Chris McDonald: Can we jump right in?

I wanted to ask you if you could tell my listeners how you developed this interest in climate change and eco wellness.

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah, absolutely. So for me, just in my personal life, I think, um, having a connection with nature has always been important to me. It's something that's always been, um, really restorative for me, something that's just good for my own mental health.

So I think it kind of really started there just with like a personal, like. relationship with loving nature. But in my graduate program, I went to the University of Cincinnati and there was a big emphasis on holistic counseling, ecological counseling, looking at your client as a whole person, you know, seeing them through not just like a symptoms based lens, but seeing them as a part of.

These bigger systems that they're in with all of these different components that make them up as a whole person. And so that was something that from the start of my counseling career has been, you know, the way that I've approached my work. And there's lots of different models out there of this like holistic counseling of like integrated counseling.

But one thing that I always noticed throughout these one kind of central piece that seemed like it was missing was Our clients and just people in general, our connection with nature, you know, there's things that touch on environment and like the client in their certain environments and all that kind of stuff where this connection with nature could fall into, but it was never explicitly mentioned.

And that seemed odd to me because, you know, just coming from personal experience, it's something that was like a huge part of my own wellness and I know it's something that's a huge part of wellness for everyone. You know, it's something that all of us, whether we're, you know, kind of consciously aware of that or not, we are a part of nature and connected to nature and, um, it has impacts on all of these other areas of our life also.

And when I kind of started digging more into that, it just became really apparent to me that this is a really important. Piece of that like holistic puzzle. Yeah, I

Chris McDonald: like that holistic puzzle thinking of how the pieces are interconnected and one one is impacted. They're all impacted in some way. Yeah. And I think about that with climate change and and I like,

What does climate change have to do with counseling? So that's why we're here. So I thought it was a very interesting cause it's totally, I was like, whoa, wait a second. So I bet listeners are also wondering this, but let's, let's kind of go into the eco wellness piece. Cause I was curious about that. So what is the eco wellness?

If we mentioned that?

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah. So, well, I think I'd first like to start. By saying this is a question that everyone I've talked to about this has for the most part, even, even, you know, counselors who are super holistic. I feel like this is something that's not specifically brought up a lot. So before we jump into what eco wellness is, there's also something called eco anxiety.

Oh, what is it? Yeah. Eco anxiety is this idea that like having an awareness of climate change and like the impacts that that's having on our wellness and our mental health and. this understanding that like as climate change continues to worsen, it's likely that our mental health also will. And so right off the bat, I mean, this is something that all counselors, whether you consider yourself holistic or not, should be aware of because it's something that does actively show up.

I think a lot of the times us as clinicians and our clients just maybe don't have words to put to that, but it's something that's a growing concern. I mean, even just recently, uh, this past month. I think it was like the four hottest days. It might be more than that now. I haven't checked recently, but the hottest days ever recorded on earth were recorded within the past month.

And there was several of them. And so just with that little piece of information alone, it's like, this is something that is actively impacting all of us. So I kind of like to start with. That for us is sort of like the why to all of this, but moving past that and into this idea of eco wellness, it's something that was developed by Dr.

Ryan Reese and Dr. Jane Myers, Jane Myers was a part of kind of just the, the holistic counseling, like creating the wellness wheel and the indivisible self models, um, that exists and, um, this idea of eco wellness sort of built off of those and it's just this, uh, yeah. The definition that they provide is a sense of appreciation, respect for, and awe of nature that results in feelings of connectedness with the natural environment and the enhancement of holistic wellness.

So right there in the definition too, is that touching on holistic wellness. So it's, it's a piece of this whole thing.

Chris McDonald: Yeah. So it sounds like it's all integrated too. And yeah, cause I, I've done so much research and learning myself and practice with holistic counseling, but this is something that has, I haven't thought about as that could be a really important part to, which I think, but I think in a lot of people I've interviewed to a lot of therapists, especially they use some component with that too, to talk about the importance of getting outside.

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah, I think that's, that's a piece that always stands out to me too, is like, you know, I feel like there's some. Resistance a lot of the time when I try to bring up this topic or when I've seen it brought up in the media or whatever it is, you know, it's either like, there's this huge fear of touching it, right?

Because it's like, what am I supposed to do with climate change? That's a huge issue, or it's kind of the opposite end. And it's like, that's silly. That doesn't impact me. I don't need to think about that. Like, what are you talking about? Why are we talking about this with counseling? And I feel like kind of trying to find that middle ground is important.


Chris McDonald: And I'm sure there's some people too that say this is quote unquote a political issue and I don't want to touch that. So yeah, I'm sure there's some of that resistance, but yeah. So if we think about what is the role, right, what is professional counselors role with climate change and mental

Lauren Hawkins: health?

Yeah. Well, I think just what you brought up about even that, like, political part of it. I think that I always go back to like the definition of what counseling is that's like laid out for us in the counseling code of ethics. And, you know, this is probably different from profession to profession, but myself being a professional counselor, you know, within our.

definition of what it is to be a counselor. It touches on things like wellness. It touches on things like social justice. And these are expected parts of our professional identity that we're meant to uphold as counselors. And this idea of climate change of eco wellness, this is a social justice issue too.

And so I think it's really something that's important for us as a profession to be focusing on because climate change impacts. marginalized people, marginalized communities at a higher rate than any other communities. And most of the time, those people that are being most impacted by it are not the ones who are contributing to climate change the most.

Chris McDonald: Oh, can you talk more about

Lauren Hawkins: that? Yeah. So, you know, I think it just kind of comes back to that, looking through this systems perspective, right? And This ecological counseling lens, like looking at our clients through the systems that they are a part of. And some of those systems are great and important and good.

And then some of those systems are oppressive, you know, and when we look at climate change through this lens, I mean, we start to see that typically the people who are most in power, like big corporations, you know, whether it's legislation, like politicians, things like that, those are the ones who really hold a lot of.

the weight around decisions that impact climate change around whether or not we're going to put resources into protecting the earth and improving this relationship with nature. And most of the time, unfortunately, like recently, there hasn't been a lot done to really push the narrative in a positive direction.

And when I say that, I like to emphasize that It's really a top down thing right there are so many people out there already who are doing such good important needed work that is making huge positive changes, but we really need those people who are in positions of power to also step up and use that influence that they have to be a part of this.

Chris McDonald: Yeah. And I was reading today that I was thinking about the coastal people. People are more likely to be hit by hurricanes and big storms, so they're more impacted, right, with some of these climate changes, too. If there's stronger, more fierce storms, more people could be homeless and have to be displaced.

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah. That's something I always like to talk about with this, too, is like, if we're just going back to like, you know, the basic needs people have, like food, shelter, water, things like that, right? All of that immediately is impacted by climate change by national disaster right by lack of access to resources, whatever that is, like, all of those things are impacted by our natural environment and you can kind of start to see when you break that down where the social justice implications come into because it's like, if someone is in the wake of a hurricane.

and they lose their home and they don't have the resources to just move out of state or to rebuild their house, right? Then they're, they're left homeless. They're left in poverty. They're left with trauma, emotional trauma, physical trauma, right? It's impacting all of these things before we even get to the, like, how is this showing up in my counseling room?

It's impacting basic needs of people. Um, and so I think that if we're not really taking a look at like, What are the implications of this? We're doing a big disservice to the people who do show up in our office because climate change is something that I think a lot of us do have the privilege right now of saying, Oh, that doesn't impact me.

I don't need to think about it, but it's not true. And if that is your experience right now, it's just the evidence and the data out there shows that that's not going to stay that way forever. And so this is something that all of us need to be a part of. Yeah. And

Chris McDonald: I think just learning as much as you can can be a first start to really figure that out because there is a lot of information on this too.

And I think should counselors try to find like reputable sources for this too? Because I know there can be fake news sites and we can go down the wrong rabbit holes with this. Absolutely.

Lauren Hawkins: I always say, you know. For me, I'm someone who tries to integrate this into my work. I'm here on this podcast talking about it, but like, I am not like the expert on this, right?

Like there are people out there on doing the groundwork right now, who we need to look to, who are the ones who are really, really on the front lines of this, look to the people who are already doing this work, look to, you know, people with indigenous wisdom, right? People who are. already out there. There's lots of resources out there.

One thing specifically that I like to point counselors towards that I don't think a lot of people know about is the American Counseling Association actually has a climate change task force. So it's something that is already assembled within our profession. I did not know that. Right. And there's a good place to start.

There's a ACA climate change task force fact sheet on the ACA website. So go check that out just for, you know, professional. Counseling and stuff. That's a really a good place to start. And

Chris McDonald: do you have a link for that?

Lauren Hawkins: I do. Um, I don't have to send it to me right now. I will

Chris McDonald: send it though. Yeah. Cause we could put that in the show notes too for listeners if they're interested.

No, I think that's amazing. I think sometimes we forget our organizations have a lot of these resources that we aren't aware of and you know, they are looking out for us. Absolutely. But what can therapists do if they have a client that starts talking about having this ego anxiety and fearful about the future with climate change.

Do you have any suggestions?

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah, you know, I think there's, there's a lot of different ways to become involved in this. And I think the best one that we as counselors have access to is just making this a part of our counseling relationship, right? I mean, everything goes back to that building rapport with your client, obviously, right?

Like make sure you're building a good enough relationship to where your client is able to talk about things apart from just their symptoms. That's important first. And I think. Right off the bat doing some good holistic assessment is important. You know, when we're first meeting our client asking questions about like these different areas of their life, you know, not just focusing on what they're immediately bringing in.

But going back to that systems perspective, you know, how is your. financial health, your physical health, your social health, all of these other pieces of themselves. And in that way, you can also ask, how's your connection with nature? Dr. Ryan Reese also has something called the Reese eco wellness inventory.

And it's a really good resource that if you want to go look it up on his website, he's definitely the expert in this. But it's an inventory that talks about uses Likert scales and it talks about, you know, clients access to nature, their connection to nature, you know, what nature means to them because it's something different for everyone.

Um, and I think that's another good resource that you can pull in. I personally, just an easy way to do this. I always go back to the wheels of wellness. So if you're not familiar with those, the initial one was created by Sweeney and Whitmer in the 1990s, and then it was kind of. Developed upon by Myers and Sweeney in the 2000s, and they basically just, it's like, kind of like a little pie chart thing.

And they just lay out these different like areas of a person of a whole person of their self. There's kind of like what I was saying, there's things like gender identity and self care and exercise and their sense of control or self worth there, you know, relationship to jobs and careers and families.

Really taking into account their entire personhood and when we use things like that, it's really easy and natural to just also slip in this, you know, tell me about your connection to nature. Tell me what that means to you. Tell me what that looks like for you. You know, tell me about your thoughts on that.

So I don't think it has to be like something that drastically changes the way that we're doing our work. I think it's something that can really easily be incorporated into what we're already doing as holistic counselors.

Chris McDonald: So it sounds like just starting the conversations too and their relationship with nature.

I think that's a good question. I wonder too, is, is this something that maybe people could add to their assessment forms?

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah, absolutely. That's what I do. I mean, just kind of starting from that first conversation you're having with them, like asking about all of these different areas that are included and you know, the wheel of wellness and adding on there, the section about your connection with nature.

Um, I think. Just what you said, like starting that conversation, holding a space for it. You know, a lot of the time our clients don't even recognize where this anxiety is coming from, but that eco anxiety shows up a lot like other anxieties that we're already seeing in our office. Um, it shows up as anxiety.

It shows up as depression, sometimes guilt, you know, fear of the future. It shows up as, you know, a lack of being able or wanting to engage with planning for the future. And sometimes it's like, I think we forget about the, the media representation that is out there. Their clients are already ingesting.

There's this kind of like doom and gloom narrative about climate change and about the health of our planet and all this stuff. And sometimes there's just not like spaces to talk about that or like words that they really know how to put to it. So if we're able to do that for them, it opens up like a whole new avenue of conversation and can give us a lot more insight into what's really going on with them.

Chris McDonald: And I think the wheel of wellness to use that as an assessment tool is really important for holistic counselors to kind of look at the whole person and, and to see like which areas maybe they're not doing as well and what would they like to improve on to help with goal setting and, and maybe the eco wellness piece could be part of that too, as part of their goal setting.


Lauren Hawkins: And I think it's a, you know, for me, all of my work is done through a trauma informed lens too. And I think that from my perspective, if we're not. including this as a part of our work. I, I think we're doing our clients a disservice when it comes to being trauma informed because it's cutting out a whole piece of their personhood, you know, a whole piece of something that could be really beneficial for them or something that may already really be impacting them that we wouldn't know if we don't

Chris McDonald: ask.

Yeah, that's true. So what are some ways to bring nature into therapy? Yeah,

Lauren Hawkins: I think that's a, that's kind of where the creativity of being a holistic counselor can come in. You know, I think there's. There's kind of endless possibilities here. There's, you know, things like the obvious, like walk and talk therapy, like getting outside and, you know, structuring your session so that you can have that real connection with nature, like in real time, right.

Bringing mindfulness in, right. Just doing mindfulness outside. I think for me, I live in Texas and the summers here are kind of brutal, so, uh, this is our time of year. That's like. Kind of the hunker down time. It's sort of harder to, for me personally, to get out and connect with nature in the summer, because it's just so hot, there's only so much you can do.

And so I think during those times, that's when we can get a little more, a little more creative. We can use things like, like our five senses, right? Like one thing that we can do is like using sense, right? Like if there are sense that essential oils or whatever it is, right. Something that like smells like nature and we can invoke that, that sense with our clients or.

Bringing nature into our office, whatever that needs to look like for you, whether it's like having plants in your office and having your client like use those during a grounding exercise, or I think it also comes back to having the conversation with your client about what does, what does connection with nature mean to you?

Like, what is your definition of that? And how do you already access nature? And like, what are the, what are the ways that you're able to access it? Because we don't want to give our clients some sort of homework or activity to do. Um, And then they go home and they can't even do it because they live in an urban environment.

We told them to go like take a hike or something, you know, having those conversations up front about like, What it means to them, what that connection with nature means, because it can mean so many different things. And what are like the, the boundaries or maybe the limitations around how they're able to access

Chris McDonald: nature.

Yeah. So that keeps it more open for everyone and looking at limitations and I find a lot of clients that if they do some kind of gardening or like you said, with plants that that can be really beneficial and therapeutic. But also I recommend if, if they're able to weather permitting, cause yeah, in North Carolina, it was like 106 heat index yesterday.

Can't always do the outdoor stuff, but you know, if the weather gets, when it gets more seasonable, then that we're able to even to do like a yoga class outside to, there's a lot of places, um, in our area that they offer outdoor workouts and it is a whole different level. Yeah. You can do it with nature.

It's amazing. It really is.

Lauren Hawkins: It is. It's powerful. And I think recently the American Psychological Association posted something, some article about like the benefits of bringing nature indoors and they listed like a whole lot of ways to do that. So I don't remember the name of the article, but I'm sure if you look it up on APA, you can find it.

But it was just talking about like, you know. Literally anything like putting on a YouTube video with like nature in the background, right? So you can have that access to nature, even if you're not physically able to go do it. And I think a lot of the time, these kinds of things are things that we might already be doing with clients, right?

Especially if we are coming from like this holistic framework, we might already be incorporating some of this, but just kind of. maybe pausing to really understand like the benefits and the reason why these things are helpful, right? It's because this is an integral part of our wellness and also reminding ourselves that it's important for us to also have this part of our wellness be a priority because it really is a piece of, of who we are as a person, whatever it looks like.

It's going to look different for everyone, but it is a piece and being able to have that relationship to nature yourself is going to make it a lot easier to authentically show up and. You know, kind of guide your client or understand what your client needs. Yeah, exactly.

Chris McDonald: And I'm just thinking as you're talking to like other creative ways, cause you said to get creative, right.

But yeah, I'm just thinking like, would it help even to look outside? Yeah. Like if it's really hard just to use a. A grounding exercise. What colors do you see? What objects? What animals? What plants? You know,

Lauren Hawkins: absolutely. Yeah. That's a really easy way to do. And it's something that is maybe a bit more accessible than some of the other things.

Chris McDonald: Yeah, for sure. And, and just, or just bringing like crystals in, you know, holding parts of nature. Inside. See, because I wonder, yeah, just even looking at pictures, does that help to, you know?

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah, yeah. I think anything that kind of invokes that, you know, for some clients being able to just see pictures of nature can be really calming or it can bring, you know, memories up or it can help them to think more creatively.

You know, I think it's going to, it's going to look different for everyone, what everyone kind of connects with and the avenue into that. But those are really great ideas. You know, I think the possibilities are kind of endless.

Chris McDonald: Yeah, yeah, really thinking about that, but I think it's more about naming this really upfront because I think like you said, maybe a lot of people have this, but they haven't really thought about, oh, yeah, this is really something that's important, but we really have to, you know, remind clients that this can be really helpful and, and to get sunshine.

I always recommend that too, to get some sunshine. I think that's so important. I think I always, without that, oh, , I just, I know if I don't get out enough or getting this on it just, I don't know. It feels like I feel deflated. It makes a difference. It does ,

Lauren Hawkins: absolutely. I think, I always like to look to the younger generations with this too, because you know, the younger generations are who are gonna be feeling the impacts of climate change the worst if we're not the ones.

We are feeling it right now, but if we're able to like, have that privilege to be like, Oh, this doesn't affect me, right? The younger generations, they're not going to have that same privilege because it's things are changing rapidly. And that's not to again, take that doom and gloom narrative, but I think it's to say like, Let's look to these people who are impacted by it and ask them, what do you need?

You know, how can I learn from you in this? You know, what are the ways that you're seeing this show up in your life? Because I know it is showing up, you know, what are the messages that you've grown up hearing? And how can we hold space for that in counseling, right? How can we make this a more. A more holistic, integrated

Chris McDonald: experience.

And I wonder too, if part of this is empowering our clients too. What, what changes can they do? What, what could they do with this? And is there ways that they can get involved? And I know clients with depression too, the more we can get them involved in groups or activities and getting out to promote things like this, it's going to help their overall mental health.

Lauren Hawkins: Yes, absolutely. I, so in 2022, um, I published an article in the journal of counselor leadership and advocacy, um, called climate change and mental health, the counseling professionals role. And something I talk about in there is the idea of client empowerment, right? And how important it is for us when we're engaging in, you know, leadership and advocacy, because again, leadership and advocacy is an expected part of our profession.

And so if this is the avenue that we're deciding to you. Thank you. Be a leader or an advocate. One of the most important things that we have to do is make sure that we're not being. You know, dictators in this, right? That our leadership is leaving our clients and our communities with something that they can use and that will be sustainable for them, right?

It doesn't matter if we have all these great ideas about how to engage in the office. If at the end of the day, our clients going home and is left with nothing or no way to continue to access that. So really looking to the communities who are impacted and using our clinician superpower of listening, right?

Empathy. to, to empower them to figure out, like, how do I make a lasting change here that isn't just about like me giving you something, but about working alongside you to build something and to use my clinical skills here in a way that makes sense. Yeah.

Chris McDonald: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So, so what's the takeaway you could share today?

Cause I know we talked about a lot of different things, any kind of message you want to give to therapists that may be unsure about this. Yeah,

Lauren Hawkins: you know, I think the most important thing for me, first off is just like saying thank you for sticking around for this conversation. If it is something that you're unsure about.

And I would just encourage you that if you are feeling some sort of resistance to get curious about that, you know, like what Is that resistance for you? Where is that coming from? Is that coming from messages you've heard growing up? Like, where is the source of that resistance? And is that a source that we want to continue listening to?

Or maybe can we start to look in some other places and just see what information is out there and how integrating this into our work might be beneficial and might be Even necessary.

Chris McDonald: Yeah. So what's the best way for listeners to find you and learn more about you?

Lauren Hawkins: Yeah. So, uh, LinkedIn is a really good way.

You can just look me up on there, Lauren Hawkins, um, or you can look me up on psychology today, Lauren Hawkins there too. Those are probably the most direct ways to get ahold of me. And,

Chris McDonald: uh, we'll put those in the show notes as well for listeners, but thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Lauren. This was very enlightening.

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. And this brings us to an end of another episode. Be sure to tune in next Wednesday when another episode drops. And if you're a new listener, I want to say welcome. As a listener, you have access to my free nine part email course, how to build confidence as a holistic therapist.

In this course, you'll explore different holistic modalities, how to boost your confidence as a holistic therapist and how to manifest it. You'll also get bonuses, which include a free script to teach a yoga asana and journaling prompts to guide you through. So enhance your holistic journey today. Go to holistic counseling podcast.

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