Alette Willis (PhD)

Chancellor's Fellow -- Senior Lecturer


I am Senior Lecturer and Chancellor’s Fellow in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Applied Social Science.  I first came from to Edinburgh from Canada in 2008 as a postdoctoral research fellow.

My work within and outwith academia has centred on narratives and how they shape decision-making, ethics, identity and attitudes.  Besides working as an academic, I was Secretary to the Scottish Storytelling Forum for seven years, spent two years as Storyteller in Residence to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, several years as a Talking Tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and was co-founder and non-Executive Director of the Real Talk social enterprise.  I am currently on the core team of The Earth Stories Collection, which works with traditional stories and social change in relation to sustainability.

I am a published author of fiction for adults and for children.  My first novel for children, “How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People)” won the Kelpies Prize in 2011, it is published by Floris Books).  Dancing with Trees, Eco-tales from the British Isles was co-written with well-known storyteller, Allison Galbraith and was published by the History Press in 2017.

I have recently completed my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design from the Permaculture Association of Britain.  The third-year UG course that I lead, Nature, Greenspace and Health, was designed through the application of permaculture ethics, principles and patterns.


PhD Human Geography, Carleton University

Masters in Human Geography, Carleton University

MSc in Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa

BAHons Geography, Carleton University

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Responsibilities & affiliations

I am the Social Sciences lead for the EPSRC Our Health Project at the University of Edinburgh.  This project brings together groups of interdisciplinary students to work with community groups to undertake research to answer questions posed by the community groups.  Our Health has been contracted by the local NHS region to undertake community-based participatory research into ehealth delivery.

I am the Library and Information Strategy Representative for the School of Health to the College Committee

Chair and Business Service Owner, University of Edinburgh Course Collections Service Board

Undergraduate teaching

I teach on the MA Health in Social Science:

  • Mapping Health and Illness Across Societies (SHSS08001)
  • Nature, Greenspace and Health (SHSS10010)
  • Dissertation supervision


Postgraduate teaching

Edinburgh Futures Institute Narrative Futures Masters Programme 2022-2023

  • Sustainable Roots to Narrative Futures

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I am particularly interested in PhD applications from students working at the intersections of geography and well-being, including sustainability and mental health, outdoor therapy, animal therapy and the role of Earth Others in the lives of human beings.

A second area of interest is in the use of narratives, stories, storytelling, bibliotherapy and writing as inquiry in research, in well-being and in social change.

Current PhD students supervised

Sonal Katyal, Making non-formal health communication inclusive for severely sight impaired children (14-16 years old) using multisensory storytelling as the key

Florencia Vergara Escobar, Moving towards social flourishing: understanding and exploring Chilean relational well-being to nurture public social health

Liam Gilchrist, Exploring Social Justice within Community Based Participatory Research within different contexts

Alexandra White, Women and Gambling In The 21st Century: Exploring the Lived Experience of Female Problem Gamblers and their View of the Therapeutic Relationship

Joe Kai Chung Poon, Storytelling as a means of building character in children: Using Chinese Classics in bibliotherapy

Natalia Cisneros Buiton, Voluntary Childlessness in Ecuador: A Narrative Approach


Past PhD students supervised

Mounira Aldousari (2023), Being A Counsellor in Kuwait: Challenges and Aspirations in the Light of Stigma

Cloie Hamilton (2023) On the Spectrum and in the Room: Exploring Experiences of Mental Health Support in Autistic Women Suffering Traumatic Stress

Candela Sanchez-Rodilla Espeso (2021) Therapeutic relationships to landscapes: the role of place in panic and panic recovery

Mariya Levitanus (2020) The negotiation of LGBT identities in post-soviet Kazakhstan

Holt Hauser (2020) Cardstock and Containment: Exploring Therapeutic Affect in 'Magic: the Gathering' for Adults 

Ryan Bittinger (2019) Homos in the Woods: Queer Shame and Body Shame in the Context of Trekking Experiences

Sarah Quinley (2019) Songs of self: An heuristic inquiry into voicework as therapeutic

Joan Jamison (2018) Authentic Space

Fejer Almajed (2017) In/coherence: A layered account of a Kuwaiti woman’s post-psychotic self-in-progress

Linda Talbert (2016) Inside Jacob’s story: Exploring counsellor contribution to narrative co-construction using imaginary dialogues with a Biblical character

Jenna Daku (2016) In Pursuit of Meaning: Eating Disorder Recovery and the Re/construction of Self

Research summary

My overarching interest is in how people use narratives to make sense of their embodied emotional experiences, to give meaning to their lives, and to make ethical choices.   It is this interest that led me to the field of counselling.

I study narratives in relation to:

  • The impact of religion and spirituality on the professional self-stories of counsellors and psychotherapists
  • The use of story in knowledge exchange
  • understanding ethical decision-making around environmental issues
  • human relationships with place and  “earth others” including animals, plants and landscape features. 

I have explored these topics through oral histories, autoethnography, engagement with published memoirs, analysing conversations in a book club and producing readers’ theatre scripts.

View all 40 publications on Research Explorer