I am so grateful to Karen for navigating us through the world of teen help.
In all the conferences I attend there is discussion about trauma as a causal factor in mental illness and addiction. The evidence of the long- lasting effects of childhood trauma from the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study and the research in trauma and addiction reinforce the critical importance of discovering and treating the underlying trauma. We know our clients must have a safe therapeutic environment to reveal their trauma history and begin the healing process. While that may be possible to establish in many out-patient situations, there are times when that is extremely difficult, especially with adolescents and young adults. It is very difficult for them to maintain the vulnerability to discuss their trauma when they must reestablish their defenses in their home or school environment. I have found, and there is some research to confirm, that Therapeutic Wilderness is a very safe place for clients to reveal and begin to really understand the importance of working on their trauma.
Therapeutic Wilderness is a simple, predictable, strength-based environment. The clients have no access to drugs, alcohol, phone or electronics. Yet they do take their prescribed medication, eat well, sleep well, exercise every day, and accomplish something experientially every day. They also have the peer support and therapeutic support critical for post traumatic growth. Imagine what can happen without all of those triggers and with kind, experienced and professional support. Wilderness Therapy Programs are often thought of as a “last resort” for “hard cases” when they can be the one safe place for the most needy of our clients.
I recently worked with a young man who had struggled to be successful; he had dropped out of college and was at home on the internet, he had been home for years, hardly leaving his room. With great effort, the support of his home therapist and parents, we were able to get him to agree to attend a therapeutic wilderness program. In the safe environment of the wilderness, with an experienced trauma therapist, he was finally able to reveal his history of complex childhood trauma. First he told his therapist, then his peers and finally, his parents, they are now all beginning the process of healing. He feels supported and finally has found his voice. Both he and his parents are thrilled with his new found emotional and physical strength, we are all working together to find him a place to continue his growth. Another example of wilderness therapy as a gift, never a consequence or punishment.
by Van Der Kolk, McFarlane and Weisaeth, Editors
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma
by Peter Levine, Ph.D.
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
by Gabor Mate, MD
Karen has been in practice as a Therapeutic Educational Consultant for over 10 years. She has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, involved in maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards in the profession. She is the instructor for new Therapeutic Consultants at the Summer Training Institute of the IECA.