I would like to start with this disclaimer: I am a believer in academics and research – someone who wants to see the proof in the pudding. Today, I’m writing this from the perspective of a mother and a therapist who has seen a lot, where my personal experience and emotion can also enter in the equation. I hope to use this is as an opportunity where you might read things that you wouldn’t in the research - because it’s candid, human, and from the heart.
In a fast-paced world filled with constant stressors, treating anxiety in adolescents has become a critical concern for many families. The traditional methods of therapy and medication have proven effective for some, but there exists an alternative approach that is gaining increasing recognition - the healing power of nature. Nature-based therapy, also known as ecotherapy is an innovative and holistic approach to treating anxiety that harnesses the rejuvenating forces of the natural world, and is the basis for what Evoke does. Immersing oneself in nature can provide profound relief from anxiety, allowing space for other emotions to surface. The natural world is an antidote to the relentless stimuli and pressures of contemporary living. When individuals immerse themselves in nature, their senses are recalibrated, and their minds can begin to find solace.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health problems are now the leading cause of disability worldwide. Mental illness has become the largest pandemic in human history, and yet there still remains a stigma around talking about our feelings. We see the symptoms of mental illness all around us. We see it in our families, in our workplace, in our government, in our neighborhoods, and in our schools. It’s easy to see the problem in others, but we are often the last ones to notice it in ourselves.
In 2019, after being home for 3 weeks, I packed a suitcase again and left my home country. This time, to leave for good.
Joseph Campbell, the renowned scholar on mythology, observed that the world’s myths and epic tales share a core pattern. He called this pattern, “the Hero’s Journey.” It describes the plight of humankind and it can be found in epic stories, religions, and the lives of every person. The three major chapters of the journey include the separation, the initiation, and the return. Entering the separation, the hero must answer the call to adventure, leave the known and travel into the mysterious unknown to begin the personal quest. This journey provides the hero with the lessons one needs in one's life.
The universe recently provided an opportunity for me to adopt a puppy. I’m a single mom and I already have two dogs, so it might seem crazy that it took me less than two hours to decide that I would definitely be welcoming this pup into my home. In my defense, look at his face! On the second morning that we had Bruno in our house my son said to me, “Mom, having three dogs is kind of a lot sometimes.” Has a truer statement ever been shared? I'm the type of person that puts a lot on my plate, even after it's already full. Some people might suggest that I like chaos and therefore, I constantly welcome it into my life. We can have that debate another time. What I know for sure is that carrying so much all of the time requires consistent and strong boundaries.
When people ask me how wilderness therapy works, many different answers come to mind. I think of the outcome research that has been done in wilderness therapy using valid measures of tracking progress. I think of the thousands of young people I have worked with personally over the last 25 years. I think of the many stories I have heard from families of how their child responded in the wilderness. I think of the importance of the guides and the work they do with young people day after day. There are so many great answers to consider. Today, I wanted to share about some of the underlying principles that contribute to this success.
Wilderness Therapy Is Hard
Participants and field guides leave family and friends behind and arrive to what most experience as quite foreign. The wilderness, with just a backpack filled with the basic needs; a tarp and sleeping bag for shelter, clothing layers for warmth and protection, and food. Participants and field guides are camping, cooking on a fire, hiking, and all while living in a small group isolated from the outside world. They are without everyday comforts like a toilet, bed, or cell phone and there are emotional and mental stressors; living outside in the rain, snow and sunshine while being a part of a group, doing chores, sharing your feelings, and participating in individual and group therapy.
While considering potential topics to help kick off our 2023 blog schedule, I was excited to find a way to incorporate my upcoming 10-year anniversary with Evoke. I also felt driven to do what I jokingly refer to as, “the annoying therapist thing” (insert student eye-roll here) of bringing meaning to the mundane. With that in mind, I narrowed in on one of my favorite parts of our introduction groups at Evoke as the basis for a larger discussion around community and team-building.
As the new year approaches, many of us are reflecting on the challenges and struggles of the past year and looking for ways to move forward and find healing. For me, one of the most important tools in my journey towards healing has been therapy.