Wilderness as Co-Therapist:
Therapeutic Collaboration with the Natural World

Are the full benefits of wilderness being maximized as a therapeutic tool in your program? Wilderness therapy provides a unique opportunity to draw on the inherent healing elements of the natural world to support individual treatment goals. When therapists are trained to effectively access the range of creative elements available, the wilderness becomes much more that an outdoor office; skilled collaboration with the wilderness creates unparalleled opportunities for therapeutic growth. This training will empower wilderness therapists to maximize the therapeutic aspects of the wilderness experience by:
  • Using experiential methods and philosophies to optimize
  • therapeutic outcomes by using the wilderness as a co-therapist

    One of things that can be challenging for a therapist new to the wilderness therapy field is to move from simply doing "therapy in the woods" to more intentionally utilizing the experiential elements that are found in the wilderness to more deeply effect change that is grounded in tangible and concrete experience. In order to make this shift, a therapist needs to be exposed to more experiential and metaphorical ways of thinking. As we all know, there is no "right way;" instead, the ongoing development of a more experiential philosophy helps a therapist best utilize the wealth of opportunities for therapeutic growth and change embedded in the wilderness experience itself.

  • Gaining a better understanding of the overall wilderness experience, with a particular emphasis on linking the components of the wilderness directly into individual treatment goals for specific clinical issues
  • One of the unique challenges in becoming a more effective wilderness therapist is learning to connect the process of wilderness therapy to relevant clinical and behavioral outcomes. As those experienced in the wilderness therapy field well know, having effective clinical skills is only part of the solution. Teaching therapists how to best utilize elements of the wilderness to meet individual treatment goals, along with having a more in-depth understanding of the overall process, is another crucial component. Not only does this empower therapists to work more collaboratively and creatively with field staff, an increased ability to articulate the change process allows therapists to more fully engage parents. This will also increase their ability to more effectively communicate with educational consultants and other important referral sources.

  • Enhancing understanding of traditional clinical theory and method that are embedded in the process; helping therapists communicate about wilderness therapy using recognizable clinical models and paradigms
  • This training is also designed to help therapists become more fully aware of aspects of traditional clinical theory and methods that apply to the wilderness therapy process, (e.g., language, paradigms, models, etc.). This will allow therapists to be more intentional in their use of experiential assignments for students, as a more in-depth theoretical understanding and paradigm enhances the ability to link experiential process to treatment goals overall. Moreover, being able to understand and speak of wilderness therapy using the "language" of traditional psychotherapy is a vital part of increasing the overall credibility of the field, as well as educating potential referral sources outside of traditional markets. Increasingly, well-trained wilderness therapists are uniquely situated in that role. Simply put, the way that a therapist is able to answer questions such as "Why does it matter if she can make a fire in the woods?" Or, "What does hiking have to do with substance abuse?" is directly related to their overall effectiveness, and a more in-depth theoretical understanding of relevant clinical theory helps them to ground the wilderness experience into their pre-existing knowledge base. This also facilitates more effective communication with other clinical professionals.

  • Drawing on the inherent healing properties of the natural world
  • Healing qualities and properties of the natural world can be found referenced in the literature throughout time in broad arenas from poetry, to naturopathic medicine, to ecopsychology. Studies have demonstrated that people simply exposed to photos and drawings of the natural world heal from illness quicker than those who are not. Essentially, the natural world inherently promotes healing in and of itself. In this training we will explicitly explore this phenomena, and provide practical theory and experience to support therapists in more consciously incorporating the natural world into the therapeutic process.

  • Learning to actively work with trauma related symptoms in the wilderness setting to address clinical issues
  • Clients often come to wilderness therapy programs as a result of behaviors and choices that are unhealthy and no longer working in their lives. Often, the symptom is addressed, but the underlying wound is not. Trauma can be described as "the body's response to a life threatening, or perceived life threatening, event that overwhelms an individual's existing coping mechanisms, and does not fully sequence out of the body." Frequently, clients' emotional challenges are the result of unprocessed traumatic events. Practitioners will learn how to identify and work with trauma in the wilderness, and to identify long-term vs. short-term intervention strategies.

  • Developing a repertoire of wilderness therapy interventions and tools including: primitive skills, ritual & ceremony, mind-fullness exercises, initiatives and other experiential activities
  • Drawing from the collective experiences of over 45 years of wilderness and adventure-based work in the field, our faculty will incorporate a variety of interventions drawing from a vast array of experiential modalities. Therapists will learn how to create specific, meaningful, nature-based interventions to support client self-awareness, expression, action, and change. A wide variety of experiential exercises and metaphorical applications will be explored theoretically as well as experientially. Practitioners will be empowered to create their own interventions based on their personal relationship with the natural world.

A wide variety of therapeutic wilderness modalities will engage participants both experientially and theoretically. Primary modalities will include:
  • Metaphorical applications of the natural world
  • Contemplative practices in nature
  • Ceremony and Ritual
  • Adventure-based metaphor development
  • Creative arts therapies
  • Primitive skills

Participants will be engaged in an experiential process in the wilderness for three days, followed by two days in a retreat setting. The program is designed to appeal to those who love the rigors and challenges of the field as well as those who may occasionally find spending time in the field to be somewhat daunting. Given that, the goal of the field immersion component of the course is to allow participants to develop a more in-depth understanding of the change process at the core of the wilderness experience; intended to be challenging but not physically overwhelming. After 3 days in the field, we will retreat to a more comfortable setting where we will continue to process our field experience while also discussing the more theoretical aspects of wilderness therapy and experiential applications of our clinical knowledge.

Training Curriculum

Day 1: Perceived risk vs. actual risk
  • Field immersion experience
  • Connecting with nature
  • Wilderness skills
  • Group: How relevant/necessary component of treatment is immersion?
Day 2: Thinking Experientially
  • Community building initiatives
  • Scenario
  • Mindfulness-based nature practices
  • Introduction to trauma
  • Group: Self as tool- staying present
Day 3: Ceremony and Ritual
  • Opening ritual
  • Groups- how to incorporate the natural world with common group themes
  • Boundaries
  • Ceremony & Ritual
  • Closing of field experience (return to lodge)
  • Group: Processing the field experience- strengthening the connection
Day 4: Psychology of Wilderness Therapy
  • Theoretical applications to wilderness therapy: languaging the experience
  • Trauma
  • Interventions - making them experiential
Day 5: Dealing with Trauma
  • Trauma: Interventions
  • Vicarious Traumatization & Self Care
  • Closing

Katie Asmus, M.A.

Scott Bandoroff, Ph.D.

Join us for this dynamic and powerful training to fully maximize your use of the wilderness!

February 16-20 , 2017

Sedona, AZ


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