Introducing Evoke To Family And Friends
Families who make the difficult and courageous decision to send their child to wilderness therapy often hear from concerned friends and local professionals. These caring individuals have questions about “Wilderness Therapy.” Maybe they have heard stories of such programs or maybe the idea of sending a child away for treatment seems contrary to the notion that healing must happen in the family where the young person is surrounded by those that love him or her most.
In order to help introduce wilderness therapy to loving family and friends, let’s start with the basic idea of wilderness and expand to Evoke Therapy Program’s specific approach. Wilderness therapy is an experiential therapeutic approach, set in the outdoors. Unplugged from electronics and screens, wilderness therapy lends itself to mindfulness and quiet solitude; it is sort-of a “digital detox.” Groups of 6-10 participants are supervised by 3-4 staff who rotate on alternating 8-day shifts, led by a Master’s or Ph.D. level therapist who serves as the treatment team leader. Staff provide clients a mentoring experience and the therapists provide the therapy and treatment planning. While wilderness is the delivery method, traditional approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Family Therapy, 12-Step, and many more are set against the back drop of nature, combing both evidence-based therapy and the benefits of nature. The real power of the process is in the experience. Beyond talk-therapy in an office, experiential therapy has the power to heal where talk-therapy falls short. Someone once said, “We were wounded by our experiences, and we heal by our experiences.” Small groups become the microcosm for the family and participants work on problem solving, conflict resolution, communication skills, and frustration tolerance. The use of metaphor is a powerful aspect of wilderness therapy and helps both the resistant client as well as the client who has tried a variety of traditional settings with less success. Rite-of-passage and rituals are also used to provide participants a sense of meaning, belonging and progress through their journey.
Evoke’s approach is a compassionate one. Rather than a punitive, behavioral approach, participants are invited to discover or rediscover themselves as they navigate nature and the relationships that develop in their tight-knit groups. Evoke’s model is a primitive-living, nomadic model: this means that groups hike from place to place, making shelters at each new campsite. They use bow-drill fire sets to make fire for cooking and warmth. Meals are prepared by the group and camp chores are rotated and shared by the group members. This version of wilderness therapy fosters a strong sense of self-efficacy: the idea that “I can do it.” Many participants remark during the course of their program that, “Everyone should have to go through this at some time…that everyone could benefit from wilderness therapy.
Families are invited to participate in a parallel process. Each family has a Parent Coordinator to help them with the ins-and-outs of the daily questions like letters and the on-line parent portal. After enrollment, each family is provided a Parent Mentor: this is a previous parent volunteer that can offer parent-to-parent support in the early stages of the program. Weekly calls with the therapist provide families with updates and anecdotes of their child’s progress. Family assignments and dynamics are discussed during these calls. Weekly letters are also discussed on these calls and letter-writing family therapy gives way to phone call family therapy with the child joining from the wilderness. Parent visits during and at the conclusion of the program provide families the opportunities to put new skills and insights in to practice. Parent Groups and Workshops, led by Evoke therapists, are available onsite during the child’s stay and locally in many communities across the country during and after the Evoke experience. Live webinar broadcasts and podcasts are provided to Evoke alumni for life, allowing for continued support long after their wilderness experience ends. These podcasts are also available to the public on your podcast app for Apple users or on Android devices through the Sound Cloud app by searching “Evoke Therapy Programs”.
Perhaps the biggest misconception of those who first hear about wilderness therapy is that the initial period of separation of the child from the family suggests that the child is the problem, something to “send-away” until they are fixed. On the contrary, we believe in a family approach. The initial phase where participants communicate with parents through letters allow the process to slow down. Dr. Murray Bowen, a founder of family therapy, never met with two members of the family at the same time and yet is credited by many as the father of family therapy. Reactiveness and complex dynamics can be addressed more effectively using this gradual approach to reunification. Often, this is a period to interrupt a crisis and pause allowing each family member to become clearer about themselves and their role in the family.
Wilderness therapy is a dynamic, powerful approach to addressing mental health issues, anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, and family conflict. If you have more questions, we invite you to go to any of the following resources for more information:
• Frequently Asked Questions
• The Webinar, “Introducing Evoke to Family and Friends.”
• Check out our blog which includes articles from Evoke staff and Alumni
• Our Research Page
• The Journey of the Heroic Parent, a book by Evoke Therapy Programs Co-Founder, Dr. Brad Reedy (The introduction further explains the theory of wilderness therapy and the rest of the book is applicable whether you have a struggling child or not).