September 25, 2017

Field Staff as Counselors: Wilderness Therapy 7 Days a Week

From the desk of Andrew Powell, CEO of Elements Traverse

As I reflect on my years on the trail as a Wilderness Therapy Field Instructor, I marvel at how little I knew of therapy relative to the knowledge I acquired in the ten years since then. One thing I have learned is that although recruiting, vetting, pre-service training, in-service training, and on-the-job training are critical, it is not the quantity but the tone and content of that training that makes all the difference in the instructors' performance.

What decides the content? What decides the tone? I believe it is how we see our wilderness therapy staff that makes all the difference. If we see our direct care team as babysitters, we will train and guide them to merely "contain" our clients. And they will be great babysitters. If we see our team as outdoors people, we will spend the bulk of our training teaching fire skills, outdoor life skills, and policy. And they will be excellent wilderness campers. But if we see our instructors as para-professionals in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, the training is so much more than simply how to provide a safe container or bust a fire in 8 seconds. It's a training for counselors.

Elements is unique in that almost 100 percent of us have been field instructors, from the ownership and therapists right to our logistics coordinator. And we know what we didn't know back then. As our instructors live with our clients and work hand-in-hand as integral members of the wilderness treatment program team, they are empowered to guide our clients through the deepest clinical work possible. That is why we train our staff in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills, Motivational Interviewing, and the Seven Challenges for substance abuse. These therapeutic modalities are not only incredibly useful for our clients in their process of greater self-understanding, they also give all our wilderness therapy instructors a foundation in true counseling skills.

And our instructors are excellent counselors.

Andrew Powell is CEO of both Elements Traverse and its sister program Elements Wilderness Program. After three powerful years on the trail, Andrew moved into field and program administration. Seeing the need for better organizational management in wilderness therapy, Andrew sought and completed his MBA at the University of Utah with the goal of helping wilderness become the most professional and consistent intervention available. At Elements, Andrew has found the best blend of professionalism and fun inside a small, specialized, and intimate program. His favorite part of the job is the ability it gives him to get involved on every level and in every department, with great people who are as passionate as he is about giving clients and their families the most meaningful experience possible.