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.
One of the best parts about working with adolescents is the significant role they play in the change process for each other. Many parents question how other young people, typically with similar challenges and difficulties, could be helpful to their child in the wilderness. The wilderness group is like a microcosm of the social dynamic at home, with an overlay of therapeutic support and intention. This therapeutic support assists with supporting young people as they navigate making changes in their lives.
I recently attended an Intensive Therapy Program utilizing psychodrama, family of origin work, and intensive group therapy. While I learned much about myself and my continued work in therapy, the primary tool that I took with me was the importance of PLAY! The little kid in me needs play. We all have a ‘little kid’ in us that needs to be taken care of, stay safe, and have fun through play.
A few months ago, I came across a video interview with Dr. Gabor Maté that discussed attachment, authenticity, and the interplay between the two for children specifically. The content struck me in its simplicity. Maté explained two often complex topics in a way that seemed digestible. The idea is that as children we have two core needs (in addition to several others), one for attachment and one for authenticity.
At Evoke, parent support is taken seriously. As one of Evoke’s Parent Coordinators, I spend a large part of my time talking with parents and family members whose kids are currently in our program. I can answer their questions about the program, help them navigate the Parent Portal, and I can also let them know about the different support options that are available while their child is with us.