It has been over twenty-two years since I first began working as a wilderness therapist. While the spirit and dedication of practitioners remains the foundation for quality wilderness-based therapy, many things have changed in that time: family support services, clinical sophistication, whole health curriculum, and a dedication to outcome research. Twenty years ago, when we began on our own adventure to establish the new standard in wilderness therapy, we knew that many would follow suit. We often stated, what makes our program great is not what we did yesterday, but what we are willing to imagine for tomorrow. At Evoke, one of our founding principles is our commitment to continually innovate where we see a need.
Group One, our adolescent boy’s group in Evoke's Wilderness program, recently completed another successful trip to Smith Rock State Park for a day of rock climbing.
I have spent this week reflecting on the messages from the 2017 Forum for Innovative Treatment Solutions’ [FITS] Keynote Speakers. Dr. Nim Tottenham shared her research on attachment and the impact on brain circuitry. Dr. Gabor Maté followed with an illuminating message about how fractured attachments are at the root of many mental health and addictive disorders. Dr. Maté challenged the audience, sharing observations from his practice and life, suggesting that the only important variable we ought to study is the stress (trauma) on our clients—genetics taking a back seat or maybe being kicked out of the car altogether in the pursuit of understanding that the root cause of addiction and mental health is the events in a person’s life and the pain and turmoil where they originate. Addiction, he explained, is not the problem. It is the addict’s attempted solution to the problem. Lastly, Dr. Jami Gill reviewed attachment theory and encouraged therapists by suggesting that we have the capacity to repair attachment trauma by providing a safe container (or context) for others. That safe context, she explained, was the mind of the therapist, consultant, friend, or parent, and their capacity to listen and really hear the one with the attachment trauma.
In January, I got an email from my friend Brad, inviting me to come and see his awesome wilderness program in Utah, Evoke Therapy Programs. "What a fun opportunity!" I thought to myself, and quickly, and rather impulsively, said yes.
A loud noise happens on a crowded street. Many people are startled for a moment and then, after recognizing that it was a car backfiring, they go on with their day. But there is a teenaged girl and a forty-year-old man who are having very different experiences. The loud noise initiated a startle response and then the re-experiencing of vivid memories. These two are transported to entirely different places and times that have become defining characteristics of their lives. They are trauma survivors, one of whom is remembering a gunshot and the other the slamming of a door.
Many people hear words like research, statistics, and outcome and quickly become disinterested or stare blankly into space! Others get excited to hear about MANOVAS or degrees of freedom or significance levels. Research in psychology tends to be a bit more interesting, especially since it relates to human conditions that many of us can identify with in our own lives.
A close friend of mine experienced intense body image and eating issues when we were teens. One day, years later, she confided in me how much it meant to her that I always saw her as a person, never as a disorder. She described our friendship as a lifeline that helped her survive those extremely difficult years. When everyone else was worried about how much she did or didn’t eat, or if she went to the bathroom soon after a meal, she knew that I would talk, play, and savor life’s adventure with her. Years later, after having read many books, attended the best seminars exploring everything from the biology of refeeding syndrome to sociological factors, and after working with many people who struggle with body image and eating issues, I still remind myself that I am interacting with a person, NOT a disorder.
One of Evoke Therapy Program’s founding principles is a commitment to being a conscientious company, making the health and well-being of our programs, employees, and communities a top priority. This commitment includes contributing to our local and larger communities via service projects, and encouraging our employees and clients to feel the value of giving back to others.
In substance abuse treatment circles, there is nothing that produces more of a reaction than talking about 12-step recovery. Some people are extreme advocates of 12-step programs with sayings like “It’s all in the book!” Others vilify Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a cult using twisted religious ideologies to brainwash people. There are a few words like “powerlessness” and “God” that really get strong reactions. They are much more polarizing and stimulating than terms like “objectivity” and “spirituality” and thus oftentimes people desperately in need of help will reject 12-step support because they don’t believe in powerlessness or God.
I was once asked “How long does it take to understand the kind of childhood one has endured?” While this understanding comes at a different pace and with more or less clarity at times, one can hear the messages of a childhood by learning to hear our inner voices. The dialogue of self doubt; the justifications; the apologies; the “I hope you don’t think I am whining…” –all these offer glimpses into the spoken and unspoken messages of one’s childhood. The sometimes critical inner-voice can be recognized not just by listening to the negative thoughts, but also by listening to the qualifying comments. “I know this may sound selfish, but…” or “I don’t want this to seem…”