Using Mindfulness to Bridge the Gap in Student Perspectives


Physical Therapy (PT) students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada receive one-hour of exposure to environmental issues as part of their formal learning activities. In October 2023, this exposure was focused on the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness was presented to students as a strategy to bridge the gap between an awareness of environmental crises and actions that the students can take immediately, and in their future careers as physical therapists.

The gradual evolution of the environment as a course topic

The 2023-24 academic year was the fourth time that “the environment” was a topic included as part of the curricular learning activities for physical therapy students at McGill University. “The environment” was initially inserted as one topic of four in an 80-minute session on Global Health as part of the Foundations of Professional Practice course that is taken by all McGill physical therapy and occupational therapy (OT) students two years prior to their graduation. Due to other changes in the course, the Global Health session was moved to a less advantageous period in the course schedule but was expanded to 3-hours. With the increase in available time, course coordinator Shaun Cleaver invited physiotherapist and mindfulness coach Susan Czyzo to contribute with an introductory lecture over Zoom in 2022. In 2023, Shaun and Susan further modified the substance and the delivery of the session, focusing on Susan’s strength of Mindfulness.

What we did to focus on Mindfulness

The 3-hour Global Health focused session included a 1-hour pre-recorded session and a 2-hour live interactive session.  

Within the pre-recorded session, Susan presented an introduction to the importance of “the environment” to physical and occupational therapists, drawing attention to recent climate-related phenomena like the intense forest fires in Canada between June and August 2023 that tangibly worsened air quality throughout the country. Susan related this to rehabilitation practice and proposed that Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to bridge the gap between our emotions and pro-climate actions.

The 2023 live interactive session was hybrid, with students choosing to participate online (through Zoom) or in-person in the large amphitheatre typically used for the Foundations of Professional Practice course. Susan led the session online with Shaun hosting in the amphitheatre. Around 65 students participated in the session with 35 online and approximately 30 present in-person.

Considerations relative to the student audience

Making the content relevant for both OT and PT students

Mindfulness is a topic addressed elsewhere in the OT curriculum but is not otherwise addressed in the PT curriculum. It is likely that there was a mixed level of awareness of, and knowledge about, mindfulness within this student group as a result of curriculum content and life experience.

Reaching students with varying experiences of anxiety

At the time the live session occurred, anxiety levels of students were likely high, but more related to mid-term exams, geo-political concerns, and financial issues than due to climate anxiety.

Reaching students with varying experiences of anxiety

At the time the live session occurred, anxiety levels of students were likely high, but more related to mid-term exams, geo-political concerns, and financial issues than due to climate anxiety.

Shaun Cleaver (PhD)

Shaun Cleaver (PhD)

Faculty Lecturer, McGill University; Professeur adjoint, Université de Sherbrooke

Comme chercheur, Dr Shaun Cleaver explore les politiques publiques et les services en collaboration avec des personnes en situation de handicap. Comme enseignant, Shaun s’intéresse à la santé mondiale et communautaire et au professionnalisme.

Susan Czyzo (PT, MSc)

Susan Czyzo (PT, MSc)

Susan Czyzo is a physiotherapist, pilates instructor, and mindfulness coach.

Susan operates Grounded Physiotherapy, a virtual clinic where she supports adults in finding ease in mind and body through mindfulness, movement, and coaching.  She is passionate about the intersection of health and the environment, and the interconnectedness of our physical and mental health. 

Considerations relative to the learning environment

The environment is an emergent topic at the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy (SPOT) at McGill University

The regular curricular attention on the environment within SPOT is currently minimal, subsumed under the topic of global health, and sustained by one faculty member. This minimal foundation has nonetheless exposed SPOT students to the topic and led to greater engagement. This engagement has included extracurricular evening presentations and a day-long symposium, a student research project, and endorsement of the #EPTAgenda2023 from SPOT student societies. While the leadership and deeper engagement of a subset of SPOT students is encouraging, environmental rehabilitation is not currently a topic of universal appeal among students: slightly less than half of the students enrolled in the Foundations of Professional Practice course participated in the live session. At the current time, it seems that the environment is a topic that is not yet considered essential to the development of PTs and OTs at McGill University.

Introducing mindfulness, emotional regulation, and its relevance to the environment within a one-hour session  

Due to the complexity of the topic, it is challenging to achieve depth within a one hour session. We approached this session as a way to offer an introduction to the intersection of mindfulness, emotional regulation, and addressing climate challenges, and as a way to ignite curiosity for students to explore further.

The delivery style – a pre-recording followed by a live hybrid session – was intended to maximize flexibility

The flexible delivery of this session likely increased student participation due to the competing anxieties that students faced with this session being scheduled at the same time as high-stakes mid-term exams and occurring during a tense geo-political time. Unfortunately, these delivery styles were introduced into PT and OT education at McGill University as emergency pandemic teaching strategies and have not yet been refined for ongoing use. Without this refinement, some interactive elements of this session were sub-optimal. For example, only a subset of the students engaged with the pre-recording, such that the many of the students participating in the live session were likely unfamiliar with the contextualization of mindfulness as a topic relevant to environmental rehabilitation. Additionally, during the interactive components of the session, many students disengaged, given that there were not effective mechanisms in-place to encourage Zoom breakout room participation nor contact between facilitators participating virtually and the students present in the room.


“The environment” is a topic that is slowly gaining a place within the formal learning activities of the physical therapy program at McGill University.  

By focusing the environmental content on Mindfulness, we were able to deepen our awareness of the ways that Mindfulness can be included in a physical therapy curriculum, both in relation to climate anxiety and beyond it.

With explicit attention from faculty and the larger physical therapist community, both “the environment” and Mindfulness can be more systematically included in entry-level PT training.


Header image by Neale McDevitt, McGill Reporter

Photo in text by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash


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🇨🇦 We would love to hear from you and continue the conversation about our teaching about the importance of movement in the forest. If you have any feedback, questions or ideas that you would like to share with us, please contact Shaun Cleaver via email or use the comment form below.


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