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.
We all grieve! Yes, I used an exclamation point to draw attention to this idea. We all grieve; sometimes we grieve small things, sometimes we grieve significant losses in our lives. Grief and depression are common and “normal” responses to loss. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ book, On Death and Dying, describes a cycle of emotional states that are often characterized as the Grief Cycle. At some point in our lives, each of us faces the loss of someone or something dear to us. The grief that follows such a loss can seem unbearable, but grief is actually a healing process. Grief is the emotional suffering we feel after a loss of some kind.
As a therapist, I hear the term trauma thrown around frequently and ambiguously. Often the perception of qualifying trauma is limited to the most extreme events. The fact is that trauma stems from the internalization of an event, rather than the event itself. Trauma simply is something that causes us to re-evaluate who we are, and or what the world is around us. Sometimes we have the resources to mend these holes in the fabric of our reality, and sometimes the tear is large enough that we do not have the emotional resources to integrate our experience into a coherent whole. We all have experienced varying levels of trauma and there is no set criteria of what we are able to reconcile and what we are not. Everyone has a different envelope, and the edge is the edge no matter the size or shape.
I have been leading art therapy groups in the field with clients for some time now--they’ve been drawing the things that hurt, the ways in which those struggles manifest in their bodies and asking their bodies and hearts about other ways to cope with their pain. I asked them recently to think about what the emotion is there to teach them. Many of them answered with the defenses that their pain had taught them. Things like, “it taught me not to trust people” or “it taught me that the world was not safe and that I’m not okay.” As I heard them speak about the coping mechanisms they’d developed for dealing with stress and trauma in their lives and at home, I realized that we aren’t often taught that emotions are there for us as communicators, as messengers.