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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Drawing from the collective experiences of over 50 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. Participants will be immersed in an experiential process in the wilderness for three days, followed by two days of focused training in a retreat setting.