I always knew I wanted to work with adopted and foster families and children, even from a young age. Not until the last few years working in residential and wilderness, did I realize why I had this desire and passion for providing mental health services for transracially-adopted families. Recently, I attended a conference where the main focus was on attachment and trauma. During a networking dinner event, I was introduced to a young man of color who was adopted by a white family. He was intrigued by the idea of Wilderness Therapy, and was very interested and wanted to know more when I explained my work with adopted adolescent boys of color.
About a month ago I attended a conference and while there I was part of a panel presentation. During the presentation, an audience member vulnerably shared her experience on the topic. Several people in the room took what she had to say personally, assumed it was directed towards them, and experienced some of their own guilt. She expressed her frustration in not being fully heard and shared that it was not personal. As the presentation unfolded, it slowly hit me that in taking what she had to say personally the focus was no longer on her experience and her vulnerability. This concept resonated for me in a way that it had not before.
Wow! Dr. J Huffine is celebrating his 20-year anniversary as a wilderness therapist!! J started his work in Texas in the late 90s and has been part of the evolution of wilderness therapy, seeing the growth and refinement of one of the most powerful modes of treatment for adolescents and young adults.
I have been an educational consultant for over thirty years. I am also a parent of a child with learning differences and mental health struggles. It’s been my professional mission to learn about and then teach the intersections between cognitive science and behavioral health. The back and forth highways between how our minds (brains and bodies) process information and mental health struggles have driven much of my research, consulting, and teaching. The impacts on the lives of children, teenagers and young adults are profound. The impacts on repair work is equally compelling.
It has been over a year since my previous blog post addressed the changes in insurance coverage for wilderness therapy programs. While it continues to be a gradual process, we are making headway. This last year added several additional court settlements in favor of wilderness therapy coverage, along with additional research showing how OBH Council accredited programs are more effective, safer and cheaper than alternative forms of treatment. Check out my blog on the OBH Council website for a complete update on all of this and more.
It is not our children’s job to take care of us as parents. I think most of us parents would agree and even say that this is obvious. However, I wonder how often we create this dynamic without even realizing it. This was a topic on a recent clinical supervision call with Dr. Brad Reedy. A supervision call is a consultation group in which the Evoke team of therapists join to discuss specific therapeutic topics. He talked about how he almost always discourages parents from sharing “I Feel” statements with their children. I was surprised to hear this. As someone who is a deep feeler and also wants to role model emotional awareness for my children, I share my emotions fairly frequently. I also often encourage the parents of my clients to share their feelings.
I am often asked about the things that set Evoke Therapy Programs apart from other wilderness programs. One of the answers that I share is regarding the quality of our staff. I think many programs speak about the quality or skill level of their staff, and at Evoke we really mean it. As the Clinical Director I interview people from other programs, and as a researcher, I present with a variety of clinicians from other wilderness and treatment programs. I am struck by how differently we engage and utilize our Field Instructors compared to other programs. Our investment with regard to time and energy pays off as we watch staff develop in some incredible ways. Here are some of the strengths that stand out to me:
Alexithymia is not something you “have” and cannot change. It is a term used to describe a relative inability to process one’s emotional experience. Alexithymia is not all or nothing; it is a matter of degree. Some people are very adept at emotional processing, others are not. But what does it mean to “process” one’s feelings? Why is this ability important? Alexithymia is not uncommon in the general population, but is much more prevalent in people who experience emotional and behavioral problems. Can it be improved?
A friend of mine named Bill just turned 90, and the one thing he wrote to me at the beginning of his note was “I’m still hiking.” Bill has hiked all over the world, done some crazy routes, bagged dozens of peaks with a pack on his back, and been on adventures with some of the legends in mountaineering. He’s a great role model. I started backpacking professionally at an age when most people have hung up their packs to gather dust. It’s curious to me how many people tend to limit their lives and experiences by age or other artificial categories.
For almost a decade now, I have had the honor of working with students and clients in the field at Entrada. First as a field staff and now as the Health and Wellness Coordinator. For a decade I have witnessed a phenomenon that always gives me great hope in the face of even the direst of cases. Compassion. Even more importantly… self-compassion.