Laying on my yoga mat, breath heavy, body sweaty, tears rolling and filling my ears. Confusion sweeps my mind. Not knowing why or how this emotion is pouring out of me. It feels as though I’ve unlocked vessels and opened a storm I can’t stop. Cathartic, exhausting, and rejuvenating. All I can think is, “What is going on with me?!”
I spent a lot of my time as a field staff working with adolescent boys who were struggling with their anger. With a background in athletics, I often used sports to relate to them. I could bring in sports scores from the past week when I returned for another shift. We’d debate who was a better basketball player: Lebron James or Michael Jordan? (Clearly Michael Jordan if you’re asking me). And, we had a lot of fun playing games of ultimate frisbee or my personal favorite, sock hockey.
In May of 2009 I left my hometown in Virginia to embark on a journey to Southern Utah. I packed everything I owned in my car and headed west to start a career in wilderness therapy. I was new to the idea of a career in the outdoors after falling in love with backpacking at the conclusion of an Outward Bound course I took the previous fall.
As a parent coordinator, my job is to help guide parents through their child's stay at Evoke. I am here to offer support, assist in any way I can, and answer any questions a parent might have (don't worry, there aren't any "silly" questions). One of the main questions I get from parents is, "When can I visit my child in the field?" For most, it's been a long time since they last saw their son or daughter, and the anticipation for connection, and even just a hug, can be difficult.
Before leaving my group each week, I create space to engage with one of my favorite facets of Evoke’s staff development--reviewing what our participants refer to as “yellows” (the list of weekly treatment goals and assignments for each student that are documented on yellow sheets of carbon-copy paper). Not only do these conversations allow me to clarify my intentions and vision with specific assignments, (and, yes, to also spare field instructors from having to decipher my notoriously poor handwriting) but they also allow me to gauge and cultivate each instructor’s creativity and insight into the therapeutic process. And following my conversations this past week, I found myself reflecting on what a special opportunity this is for our participants, our staff, and our clinicians.
With a grin from ear to ear, Andrew* reaches the top of a beautiful limestone cliff on a warm autumn evening in Southern Utah. Scraped hands and knees are the temporary trophies of his triumph, although he won’t notice until dinner later that night. The sounds of his Mom and Dad cheering him on from below and the rush of adrenalin are the only things on his mind. Andrew has officially completed his first outdoor rock climb. This experience of overcoming a challenge together as a whole family is commonplace at an Evoke Transition Pursuit.
Wilderness therapy programs are, by definition, outdoors in natural environments. But with the evolution of wilderness therapy into a research-based therapeutic model that includes more sophisticated techniques and approaches than just hiking and busting* (although these remain important!), the relevance and value to humans of being in nature can be forgotten. I want to emphasize that wilderness therapy started because of the inherent value of being in a natural environment. And that is still, in my opinion, one of the main reasons it is so effective.
At Evoke we strive for and look to be creative; not just engaging in the "treatment as usual" approach. Often when we meet as a clinical team, we find ourselves discussing challenging cases or processes with families. Mental health is messy. It is tough. We are often working with families and young people during some of their worst moments, on some of the most challenging days of their lives. We provide support and care; often in an emergency and often quickly when people are in crisis. The importance of compassion and thoughtfulness cannot be overstated.
In session, when I introduce the concept of mindfulness to a student, I usually get a skeptical stare that says, “I’ve been waiting for hours for another student to pack up so that we can finally go on this hike. I’m angry at my mom for the last letter she sent. I spent all day yesterday trying to make fire from sticks and stones to no avail. I can’t talk to my friends right now. I’m the only one who can complete my chores on time. All I want to do is scream at the group, and you’re asking me to pause and be mindful?!” And my response is always: Yes—try it out and see what you notice.
Codependency. It’s a word that has gained popularity in the mental health field and with it comes a lot of confusion about what it means, what it looks like, and how it feels.