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Feeling Gratitude in the Wilderness

Posted by Steve Kirk on December 31, 2014

Steve KirkAs those of us working in Admissions will attest, being tied to your phone is an essential part of the job description. Particularly in working with families who are considering placement in a wilderness program, ideal timing is often the exception. Being attentive and responsive to parents in crisis are critical components in helping them take that step to find peace and to regain hope.

I spend most of my days speaking with these parents and with the professionals that are helping them find their way. So when I find myself in a situation where I am out of pocket, out of cell phone range, I naturally begin to feel my anxiety skyrocket. I’ve been able to learn how to manage this more effectively over time, but it still doesn’t entirely escape me. I am not frequently in the wilderness, rather in my office on my phone – but on occasion I am able to spend time in the great outdoors, experiencing what our clients are experiencing, and getting first hand knowledge of the impact our program has on adolescents, young adults, and their families. This is important to me, being able to relay with confidence to the families I come in contact with about the power of wilderness therapy.

A few weeks ago I visited the field at Entrada and spent the night in the wilderness. As usual, my anxiety leading up to this experience began to escalate in anticipation of being “unplugged”, even if for just a day. I put an away message on my phone, left it at the office, and headed to the field. I’ve had this experience before, but it’s easy to forget as time passes and life’s routine takes hold. Once in the field, my anxiety quickly turned to calm. That one simple exercise was an instant reminder of how the wilderness positively affects me, and the clients we work with. Being in nature, being disconnected but connected, staying in the present, my senses heightened, and having feelings of gratitude. We can experience these things in our daily lives at home, but the wilderness has a magical way of pulling that out of us and amplifying it naturally.

I visited one of our young adult groups and spent time listening to the clients tell their stories, and to the staff who skillfully helped them navigate. I met clients who I knew by name only, and some who I had the opportunity to speak with during the admissions process. Making those connections was rewarding, especially seeing how far many of them had come in their journeys. I participated in preparing and cooking meals, building shelters, and making fire, among other activities – all basic functions of the program, but practical and inherent lessons of life woven in. Just as I talk about it on the phone every day with parents, the experience IS the therapy. I am acutely aware and reminded of this concept each time I have the privilege of being in the field.

As I left the wilderness the next day I remember having the feeling of wanting to go back as soon as I could. I felt rejuvenated and excited to share my own wilderness stories with those I meet. I am lucky to have those experiences, both personally and professionally, and grateful that I can talk about it every day with those who are searching for something unique and special.


I recall almost a year ago speaking with admissions counselors at three wilderness programs. I did my homework, I thought with my head but my heart was breaking…. My decision to send my son to SN Entrada was done with a great thought, knowledge, and referrals but honestly in the end, it was the person who answered the questions, who knew the pain and heartache I was going through that made me decide on SN. You are the voice of the program and your compassion for what families are going through is so incredibly important. Thank you and others in your position for helping make the journey a little less bumpy. Thank you for all you do.

Posted by Cathy Sweet

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