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.
Wilderness therapy provides us with a unique opportunity to understand and help people heal from trauma (any overwhelming experience the body and brain cannot successfully integrate and process). As a Somatic Experiencing Therapist, I work in a body-oriented way to help people heal from PTSD, complex PTSD and other physiological symptoms of anxiety, depression and other stress disorders. Somatic Experiencing (SE) draws on research in the areas of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, medical biophysics and 45 years of successful clinical application by the founder, Dr. Peter Levine. Year after year of clinical application of SE among its many practitioners indicates it is one of the most effective forms of trauma treatment that exists today. And while newer to the wilderness therapy community, more and more programs are recognizing the importance of incorporating body-oriented mindfulness in the healing of their clients.
This time of the year is tough for most everyone. Holidays with a loved one in crisis is beyond challenging. I was speaking with the mother of a client today and I asked her how she was doing with all of it, and her response struck me. She said, “I am feeling sad. I went to pick up my husband from the airport, and I saw all the college-aged kids being greeted by their parents and it made me very sad.” And that makes perfect sense to me.
“The Road to Self Belief is potholed.” Nyasha Madavo
Often, I’m asked, “What does the fire-making process have to do with therapy?” I embrace this curiosity and even expand it to relate to thriving in life.
Intensive. Isn’t that a funny word? Therapeutic intensive. It's kind of scary sounding. And still unclear in what it actually means. Right? When I am asked what I do for a living, and my response is “I am a therapist. I run therapeutic intensives”, the responses are awesome. I typically get, “Woah. I need one of those,” “Oh no! Don’t diagnose me!”, or complete blank confusion. So, regardless of your response, here I am to share what I so passionately call my career!
Three months ago my life changed forever when I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The experience has already begun to teach me many things about myself, my partner, my family and friends, and even the world. One of the many things inspiring reflection came when I started to introduce our daughter to her younger cousins and family friends. Whenever our baby was in the presence of these small children, I found myself constantly reminding the children to “be gentle." All other adults in the room did the same. We even used a gentle coaching tone when we echoed the words. Of course, we did this because newborns are delicate and young children are often unintentionally clumsy and unaware of the impact their actions may have.
In my work with parents of students in our wilderness program, I often tell them two things that I believe are the most important way to help their kids while in the program. The first of these is to show up for your child. The second is to do your own work so that you can be the healthiest you can be and therefore support your son or daughter in their process, successes, and struggles. In this article, I will examine further what doing your own work means.