“It’s Not You, It’s Me." How to Break up with Your Wilderness Therapist Post-Treatment

Posted by Phil Bryan on September 28, 2022

Phil Bryan 166When eventually your child’s time in the wilderness is at an end, many feelings will pop up for you. This could include, and of course is not limited to, feelings of relief (we did it!), pride (they did it!), a variety of concerns about next steps (did we pick the right one, will they engage, what if they stay upset?), as well as fears about them coming home or sadness that they are not able to at this time.

Whatever feelings arise for you, there is one that you may not have anticipated. Eventually, you will have your last call with your Evoke therapist. When a parent first told me that they were actually grieving their perception of the loss of this relationship, I felt myself being both surprised, and jumping right into wanting to soothe them. “Wait, wait! There’s no need for that. I’d love to get updates, and if you ever need anything else you know where to find me…” That family was correct though: Our main point of contact, the weekly calls, stopped.

It is my belief that this feels shocking for a few reasons. Wilderness is intense. For most families, it is the primary intervention they have tried, and making the decision to send their child to us, or any program, certainly wasn’t an easy one to make. There is a trauma bond inherent in the relationship. All the calls are interesting and can feel like an intense amount of information about a topic that is of great interest to you. When you transition to whatever comes next (for purposes of this writing we will be using an aftercare scenario), that will no longer be the case, and it should not be.

How, then, does the client’s wilderness experience transfer here? Following are a few helpful tips to “break up” with your Evoke therapist starting a couple calls before the last one.

• Ask your therapist about trends with your child in the field
• Ask your therapist what they have seen that worked, and things that didn’t
• Ask about struggles in the milieu (social, aggression, etc.)
• Be sure to sign a release of information so that we can do a thorough pass off to the next clinician
• Been sitting on any questions? Now’s the time!

The purpose (or at least a purpose) of any next-step program is to create a structure wherein at the end of that time, the client will be as prepared as possible to go home. Inherently, as they are practicing these skills, they will get to a point where they are acquiring a degree of expertise. While this is a goal, it will affect you as parents because the calls will start to get sort of boring. Whatever struggles they have at the beginning of their stay, if all goes well, eventually update calls will contain more positive than constructive, and family calls will begin to feel like normal conversations. It is at this point you may begin to worry. Did you pick the correct program, are they faking it, is this sincere, does the therapist see them, etc. An important thing to note in this moment of anxiety is this: this was the point. As convoluted as the journey was along the way, getting to a place where not every conversation with your child feels like an emergency was a huge part of the point. I hope you’re able to appreciate and enjoy that. And send us updates. We do like that a lot.



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