One of the things that drew me into being a psychologist when I was making decisions about what I wanted to pursue for a career was the clear opportunity to extend my creativity as a means to help people in their process. This lure of extending my creativity was regularly manifest throughout my graduate school training in the various placements I worked: community clinics, hospital settings, and correctional settings. Even as I derived value in the opportunity to extend my creativity in these settings, I realized after being a wilderness therapist that I had only remotely imagined how I could access my creativity in therapy. In large part, restrictions to my creativity seemed due to the settings where I happened to conduct psychotherapy. When I was recommended to work as a wilderness therapist by one of my supervisors, I found in the wilderness setting an openness to access therapeutic creativity like I had never before.
The first few weeks in wilderness are not only challenging for the program participant, but also for the parents. The plethora of emotions that parents often experience can be overwhelming. The relief of not having to worry all night about a child’s safety can morph into guilt over feeling that relief, combined with fear for the child’s wellbeing in a new environment, augmented by anxiety over the probability (or lack thereof) of meaningful and sustainable change beginning with this wilderness experience – just to name a few! It is not uncommon for anger to emerge with the realization of just how disrupted their lives have been by the child’s issues and poor choices.
I have the privilege of hosting Parent Workshops in Southern Utah on a regular basis. I am often amazed by the fact that the parents who seem to be the most busy are the very ones who most often find time to travel across the country to spend two days reflecting on how to best support their child’s growth and development in the wilderness. I know that there are always more things to do than there is time to do them! And so this is where we, as part of the human “race”, must evaluate our priorities. Taking time to build our own tool box is a great part of parenting!!!
My first encounter with a client outside of therapy was a scenario that had played out in my mind many different ways, most seemed to be characterized by feelings of awkwardness and discomfort. I had heard of a lot of strange stories of counselors and field instructors running into their clients and I was not looking forward to it. As a counselor, the ethics state that if I come in contact with a client outside of therapy I cannot smile, wave, or do anything that would indicate a connection to that individual. The initiation of contact or acknowledgement of familiarity has to come from the client. If a conversation were to take place it is also my responsibility to avoid any language that would reveal the nature of our relationship and protect client confidentiality. In other words, it’s a tricky situation that could play out a million different ways and there are a lot of aspects that are out of my control. I think my uneasiness and fear related to the situation is understandable. Luckily, my first experience was a positive one.
This October marks the ten-year anniversary for Second Nature Entrada, in Santa Clara, Utah. Not only has Entrada set the standard in providing the highest level of care for our adolescent and young adult participants and their families back home, it has also supported and helped to grow the local community.
Recently, I was playing catch with my two-year-old daughter, which is one of her favorite games lately. I’m hoping I can get a lacrosse stick in her hands before her next birthday. One of my throws was a bit too high and “Bonk” it bounced off her head. The look of shock on her face quickly melted into tears welling up in her adorable blue eyes. It is amazing how fast children learn the concept of secondary emotions, because soon after her hurt came the anger. A series of forceful one-liners: “No, No, No” erupted from her pursed lips. Then she attempted to walk past me and go to her room, which she’s learned to do in the process of her own emotion regulation. It’s a place for her to calm herself in her own space.
There are so many reasons to invite more mindfulness into one’s life. The reasons are as plentiful as the practices themselves. One of the subjects regarding mindfulness that I enjoy teaching most is, “Indulging the little things.” The implications of enjoying the subtle and simple are far reaching in ways that can surprise and inspire.
Pranayama is the Yogic art of breathing. Prana = vital energy, ayama = extension. The practice of pranayama helps bring awareness to the breath bringing the mind to the present moment. The exercise of refining the inhale and exhale can have an extraordinary effect on mood, promoting relaxation, focus, clarity. In the Yogic tradition, the breath is often referred to as a communication with the soul or the vehicle of the soul. Developing a greater understanding and awareness of our breath helps develop a greater awareness of the soul as well. Through the years I’ve been teaching Yoga, the most surprising thing I’ve learned is how profoundly the breath can relieve stress and anxiety with just the simplest practices. Here is one pranayama technique we practiced this week at the Oasis. Try it for yourself!
Self-care means so many things. It’s not just about adequate sleep or good hygiene. It’s about allowing gifts into your life no matter how small or large, no matter if you think you ‘deserve’ them or not. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s about knowing how to give those gifts to yourself. Taking a moment on a hot afternoon to prepare yourself a sweet treat like this melon salad may be just what the doctor ordered. Even though this recipe is brimming with sweetness and flavor, you are also nourishing your body with healthy alternatives to empty calories and processed junk food. Let this simple dish be a day at the spa for the taste buds – enjoy!
It can be a difficult decision to have your daughter or son leave home to participate in a therapeutic wilderness program. There can be elements of the unknown, thoughts that “my child is not that sick” or overwhelming feelings of uncertainty, shame or guilt. Frequently your child doesn’t want to go, they think they don’t need help, don’t want help, or believe they can get the help they need at home. While home treatment can absolutely work for some, others can be so lost they need to create some physical separation, so the child can truly focus on their own personal well-being. In a recent blog article, a previous student of a wilderness therapy program, referring to herself as a “treatment-kid”, expressed her feelings before leaving home: