Our Field Instructors Rock!

Posted by Dr. Matt Hoag on March 05, 2019

1matt resizedI am often asked about the things that set Evoke Therapy Programs apart from other Wilderness programs. One of the answers that I share is regarding the quality of our staff. I think many programs speak about the quality or skill level of their staff, and at Evoke we really mean it. As the Clinical Director, I interview people from other programs, and as a researcher, I present with a variety of clinicians from other Wilderness and Treatment programs. I am struck by how differently we engage and utilize our Field Instructors compared to other programs. Our investment with regard to time and energy pays off as we watch staff develop in some incredible ways. Here are some of the strengths that stand out to me:

  • They sit in and observe our therapy sessions.
  • They are verbally gifted or develop that as a skill as each week they articulate themes and metaphors of the work they do with the young people under their care.
  • They are involved in treatment planning.
  • They understand ‘theory of change’ language.
  • They run daily process and psycho-educational groups.
  • They provide support for families during family visits.

Let me explain the meaning of these in more detail. When the Field Instructors sit in on my sessions, they have an opportunity to watch how I am supporting the young person in the therapy process. Sitting in on sessions allows them to learn therapeutic techniques, provide support for the client throughout the week as it relates to the treatment plan, and be aware of my approach as I work to individualize the treatment plan. As staff rotates amongst the 5 to 7 therapists or groups, they learn a variety of different approaches. This creates a wealth of information and possible interventions, as they are the ones that work daily with the young people in treatment.

Throughout the week, Field Instructors run process and psycho-educational groups as assigned by the therapist or as they deem necessary given the group’s needs. These include groups like: intro groups, Hopes and Intentions letters groups, Wellness Cycle, Stages of Change groups, Letter of Awareness groups, weekly goals groups, and many subject or theme-oriented groups. Sometimes these groups are more process-oriented meaning the staff facilitates a discussion that integrates participants’ views, assist them in digging deeper and working together to open up about whatever the theme or subject of the group is. Other times, the staff may teach about a concept like the Wellness Cycle or Johari Window, and then invite the young people to share or discuss how it can apply to them individually or as they work together as a group.

Each week, the staff participate in a process-oriented group, that provides a “therapeutic handoff“ to the new staff team and the returning therapists. Typically, they speak about the week through a variety of themes and metaphors. This helps them conceptualize the case, and provide reasoning and thought process behind their observations and detailed summary. As a result, they develop critical thinking, awareness of the steps in the therapeutic process, and skill in articulating their perspective. Additionally, as part of that weekly summary, Field Instructors are asked to suggest possible goals and helpful interventions for the clients they worked with that week. This expectation helps them with their forward-thinking and brainstorming with regard to therapeutic needs. Similarly, as clinicians, we meet with staff following the session to go over the treatment plan for the week, which also helps guide their thinking and allows them to be a part of the therapeutic process.

All of this creates a meaningful and collaborative process, and strengthens the staff in their perspectives and thought process. It creates depth to the daily therapeutic process. When our staff moves on to other programs, they typically describe feeling more like support staff instead of an integral part of the healing or therapeutic process. We believe this is because of the way in which we empower and support staff therapeutically. Similarly, many of our staff go on to get graduate degrees, and will relate to me that their training in their graduate program gave them the name of the theory or the reason for that intervention, but that they learned how to be therapists more from being in the wilderness with adolescents and young adults than they did sitting in a classroom.

Our staff has a series of developmental steps to assist them with developing therapeutic skills and understanding. As they progress, they are asked to write out their “theory of change“ and present it to the other Field Instructors for discussion. As described above, this challenges them to look at their thinking, to consider their intentions with the variety of interventions and support they provide the young people they work with, and to consider what parts or approaches of the different therapists they have worked with they integrate into their work. It challenges them to consider the change process at a deeper more meaningful level.

We believe that this approach supports staff well, increases their investment in the therapeutic process, and increases their job satisfaction as well. We have one of the longest retention rates in Wilderness Therapy. Our field instructors stay longer than staff in other Wilderness Programs. Generally, our staff stays for 18-24 months, while the industry average is 8 months.

Finally, many of our participant’s families come to visit during and at the end of the program. Almost without fail, parents speak to the support and the care they experience with these staff. They appreciate the way staff teaches and support them, connect with their adolescent or adult children, and provide observations and insight into communication and emotional safety within the family. 


The incredible field staff who helped guide and support my son during his time in wilderness have my eternal, heartfelt gratitude. They were extraordinary. As do Matt Hoag and Anthony Salerno, the wonderful therapists who worked with him. I can’t say enough good things about everyone at Evoke.

Posted by Linda Phillips

Great article and so true. I remember going on a visit and how impressed I was with all the professionals that surrounded my son. Matt Hoag is the best of the best and will always have a very place both in my son and my lives.

We are planning to return to St. George this summer to do some hiking. We both miss he beauty and healing those beautiful mountains bring.

Spot on article.

Posted by Cathy Sweet

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