Each week I come into the field and, as I walk into the group, I usually have a number of dirty teenagers clustering around me. They approach at varying speeds and rates of enthusiasm, but almost without exception, they pause what they are doing to come over. I am their therapist and they want to talk to me and tell me about their week, yes. But I am also the letter carrier and Tuesdays are mail days—the one day of the week when therapists bring out letters to students from their parents and immediate familes.
I thought that would grab your attention. 2020 was, as they say, a dumpster fire. Like most, if not all of you, I and my family began physically/socially distancing in order to minimize the spread of Covid-19 almost one year ago. It was challenging and depressing being physically isolated from extended family, friends, co-workers, and normal in-person interactions. Generally speaking, I would consider myself an introvert and don’t mind being by myself. Going on a fishing trip or spending a few nights on a solo in the wilderness renews me. With that said, I would not associate the word "renew" with 2020! Isolating for such a long period of time didn’t feel rejuvenating to me at all.
So, you have just enrolled your teenager in a wilderness therapy program. You eagerly await that first call, waiting to hear how they are doing, wondering how they are settling in. You get the initial update, and it sounds like they are still repeating many of the same behaviors from home. You get the next few weekly updates, and they are still being __________ (fill in the blank with the concerning behavior). You start to wonder when the change will begin to occur, and when the magic of the wilderness will impact your child. You grow impatient and question, “Why isn’t this working?”
Whether you are new to therapy or have been seeing a therapist for years, participating in a therapeutic intensive can be a life-changing experience. Each month I hear the stories of our courageous alumni, and I answer calls from those who are curious to learn what Evoke Intensives are all about. Recently, I was discussing the process with a participant, and they described “being forever changed” by their Intensive experience. He said, “It’s almost unexplainable how different I feel in such a short time.” He went on to use words like “supercharged,” “life saving,” and “breakthrough” to talk about the radical shift that occurred for him. Many of our participants share similar stories and refer to their intensive experience as a critical turning point in their lives.
Working from home this year has presented me with multiple opportunities to investigate my relationship with myself. Moving from an office where I would average at least five human interactions an hour, to my kitchen table where human interaction became limited to Zoom boxes and phone calls, I found a huge transformation in how I approached the day. Of course the internet has portrayed this transition through various jokes in videos or memes, but in real life there really was the struggle of what to wear, how early to get up, what does a lunch break look like? Working in mental health, I have always prided myself on my ability to fill my cup when I was at home so that when I walked out the door to be a mental health provider, I was ready to face whatever the day needed of me. Without crossing that threshold, however, I found myself utterly confused at those basic questions.
Finding connection and forging a path towards intimacy and understanding is one of the most heroic experiences that I know. Each time I sit with a couple and hear their story, I am reminded of my own story and the stories of the people I love and have inevitably hurt. The journey of the heroic couple is not for the faint of heart. For parents, the notion of divorcing your kids seems unthinkable, but for couples the statistical probability of divorce can be more than 50 percent. Couples therapy can be a grueling experience navigating deep wounds and complexities, psychological defenses, and emotional trauma that can span generations. The risk is great but the reward for those who choose this path can be life changing. Evoke Intensives offers a safe place for couples to reconnect and revitalize their relationship with themselves and each other. For couples willing to embark on a journey towards healing and wholeness, Finding Connection is a therapeutic intensive that is revolutionizing the way couples therapy can be done.
Before diving into this blog, I feel compelled to speak to a couple of different things that this blog will not be. This will not be a political statement. This will not be a reflection of my spirituality or religion. This will not be a recommended path for anyone else, this will not be advice. This is not an academic exploration, nor is it sanctioned by any professional who might teach or coach around anti-racism work. This is not a story of how I have triumphed and succeeded in doing the work.
I have only recently considered the subtle nuances between acceptance and understanding. Prior to these realizations, I made little distinction between the two. Then, a friend told me his story about when he came out to his father, and I realized that there is a crucial distinction.
I’ve been a gear aficionado for a very long time. My first major backpacking experience was a 50-miler in the Wind Rivers when I was 12. It was a great trip, and our gear-junkie trip leader had our parents sew up some one-person dart-shaped tents (this was the mid-80s). As I was new to backpacking, I borrowed a pack and sleeping bag, both of which didn’t fit me well and were heavy. This also contributed to my green-horn feet quickly developing blisters. While that tent and the blisters are long gone, I had discovered my taste for better gear.
When you have a child in Wilderness Therapy, communication can be fraught with peril at the best of times. Many parents have told me they agonize over word choice, how to phrase certain things, and where to switch in their letters from casual interaction to addressing more serious topics. The holidays only add to this stress, as the feelings of separation, nostalgia, and even guilt can pile up in a way that they would not otherwise. This can result in letters or other communication that is not as effective as it could be. Conversely, it is easy for your child to read into letters looking for that key hidden bit that hints at your intentions for the holidays and potentially bringing them home. Below are a few simple tips that can help alleviate unintended miscommunication while allowing space for all involved to experience their own emotions. It is always important to be intentional with your communication, and arguably more so at this time of year.