Wilderness Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues

Overcoming body image issues in a Wilderness Therapy Program | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

I became passionate about treating eating disorders and body image disorders almost 15 years ago while working in residential treatment. It’s not an easy area of practice because progress can be slow and sometimes almost imperceptible. Studies show that it takes an average of 7 years to fully recover from an eating disorder. But over long periods of time, I watched men and women emerge from the fog of addiction and reclaim their lives. That work, for me, is rewarding.

As you can imagine, after 15 years, I had strong opinions about the best path to recovery, the best mode of therapy, and had my preferred treatment methods for helping people struggling with eating disorders. A few years ago, wilderness therapy was not one of the types of treatment on my radar to use with this population.

Fast forward to the present moment: my perspective has changed. I have learned much more about how wilderness therapy is precisely the tool that many of my clients have needed to overcome some major hurdles in their fight for recovery.

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Aspiro’s Book of the Month – Review of “Option B’

Book of the Month – Review of “Option B’ | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

by Ryon Smith, LCSW

One of the many things I enjoy about working here at Aspiro Adventure Therapy is the emphasis placed on professional and personal development. This development includes many things such as consulting the team on complex cases, calling a colleague after hours to enlist support, joining our Friday yoga class, and more. One avenue of development that I appreciate most is our Book of the Month tradition. Titles in the past have included:

These monthly titles have given me an opportunity to contemplate work and life through many different lenses.

I’d like to share some thoughts and ideas I found noteworthy from a recent read, “Option B- Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. To provide some context, author and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, tragically lost her husband in a freak accident while the two were on vacation. As the title suggests, she recalls her pain, shares her growth, and contemplates what it has meant for her to move forward as a business leader and mother.  

As it is with physical health and body strength, activity and exercise build muscle, while lack thereof results in atrophy.  While I am not a physician of internal medicine, I confidently know this about our bodies, and as stated by my doctor during a recent check-up about my joints and muscles, “You use them, or you lose them.” Let’s call this the Activity vs. Atrophy example.

Resilience must also be built up and exercised regularly, just like our muscles.  (Activity vs Atrophy). Resilience is difficult to measure, see, or touch and is a current area of research buzzing with interest. The research review on resilience from “Option B” covered everything from grit to post-traumatic growth, at-risk youth, as well as youth not at risk, and the conclusion the authors arrived at is “—resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It’s a lifelong project.”  While the implications to this statement are countless, in this review I want to call attention to how we raise our children and manage our caseloads.

As both parents and professionals, we work to help build resilience in others. In order to do so, it is important that we don’t teach our clients or our children to remove the obstacles they encounter (or be the ones to remove them), but instead teach them to overcome, to experience difficulty, to find meaning, to learn and to grow. The authors describe that we can support the growth of resilience through helping the people in our lives realize the following four principles: 

  1. They have some control over their lives
  2. They can learn from failure
  3. They matter as human beings
  4. They have real strengths to rely on and share

The book emphasized how resilience can be introspective in thought but is also vastly influenced by external factors. We each are responsible for building resilience in those around us every day.  Let’s consider our bids to support a loved one in times of difficulty with a statement from the book, “In prosperity, our friends know us, in adversity, we know our friends.” We need to show up, not just say we will show up if needed. Sandberg, the author of the book, discussed differences in how people showed support soon after the death of her husband. When asked if she needed anything from someone, it was easier to say no, and awkward to ask for help. She recalled a sense of relief when someone just took initiative. As Sandberg described in the book, don’t ask someone if they would like you to bring them lunch, let them know you are doing so and ask them what they like or don’t like on their burger.  

The book focused on supporting others in building resilience as well as building it ourselves. To do so, we need to practice self-care and allow ourselves moments when we can feel joy. As we take care of ourselves we are indirectly taking care of our clients and children. Self care also allows us to “take back joy” and give ourselves permission to enjoy small things. We are encouraged to create frequent positive experiences – big or small. Another tip in the book is to write down moments of joy every day.  Doing things like this increases our ability to find joy during times of adversity, and the ability to do this is true resilience! As quoted in the book by a blogger, “Happiness is the joy you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays.”

In conclusion, resilience must be practiced. It’s Activity vs. Atrophy. Lifestyle over time is a predictor of physical health, and the same can be said for resilience and mental health. Like working out, going for a walk, or hiking, strength is built from routine maintenance. Your resilience comes from internal and external factors, and both types of these factors are dependent on each other.  Grow your resilience muscles. Make sure people in your life are seen and acknowledged by you. Take 2 seconds or 10 to seek understanding, to ask relevant questions and to do things for others, big or small. Show up. Live authentically. Love vigorously.

Aspiro Girls Groups Incorporate Both Adventure and Wellness

Wilderness Therapy for Girls | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Aspiro has been successfully working with young women for over 12 years utilizing an integrated approach of wilderness adventure therapy paired with individual, group, and family therapy. With exposure to Aspiro’s model for change, adolescent girls have experienced the therapeutic benefits of mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, backpacking, skiing, and more. These therapeutic modalities have taught them to overcome fears, communicate more effectively, and develop self-regulation skills, resiliency, and grit.

Aspiro is dedicated to providing the most cutting edge treatment modalities in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare. In addition to continuing with its integrated treatment model, Aspiro is now excited to announce the implementation of a holistic approach to wellness, specifically designed for our female clients.

In a world currently filled with increasing mental health and behavioral challenges, it is necessary to teach skills that are uniquely transferable. Incorporating this higher level of focus on nutrition, mindfulness, yoga, and expressive arts therapy provides our clients with an opportunity to learn skills that they can apply for many years to come.

Family Systems Work at Aspiro Adventure: A Wilderness Treatment Program

how to help underachieving students | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Aspiro Adventure Therapy is a wilderness treatment program dedicated to Family Systems work, and my personal passion for working with families has developed over the past 20 years as a therapist. I have seen the value of the Systems approach in both family therapy, and parent coaching, as well as while leading parent workshops, and running family therapeutic processing groups.  I have seen time and time again how important it is for an entire family to engage in the therapeutic treatment process in order to create lasting change.

Family Systems theory is the idea that there is an inherent connectedness in families, therefore family members react to one another. If one member’s behavior changes, the other family members change their behaviors in response. In other words, we are not “islands” unto ourselves, but we are affected by those in our family system and develop patterns of behavior based on this. We have various degrees of connection and disconnection with different family members as well.

In my career, it has been important to me to help families identify their patterns and their connections with one another, then find tools and build skills in order to strengthen and rebuild relationships. I have seen that with guidance, families have the ability to work together again to communicate effectively and develop healthy patterns and relationships.

Over the years as a clinician, I have heard family members make comments like, “This problem has nothing to do with me.” or “How can this behavior be my fault?  The other kids never did this.” Even statements like “I didn’t even say a word, This is between him and his Mother.” While it is understandable that family struggles can feel overwhelming and unmanageable, our attempt to take no responsibility and disengage from the system is virtually impossible. Each family member’s actions create a reaction and response in every other member, even if we don’t realize it.  And, seemingly doing nothing at all often times can be one of the most destructive things we can do within a family system.

Take for example the story of a father named “Mike.” Mike reluctantly attended a family therapy session where he sat quietly, arms folded and let out an occasional sigh.  Inevitably the student lashed out and said, “Why do you even bother coming? … This is just a waste of time!” Mike turned to the counselor incredulously and said, “What did I do? I was just sitting here and then got attacked for my effort to support.”  This is a prime example of the need for family systems work. Mike needs to realize his actions are negatively affecting his son, even though he isn’t saying anything and believes he is being supportive.

Here at Aspiro we feel strongly that no one is to blame and that everybody has a part.  This is why I love family systems work. Each one of us has the ability to influence the system.  Notice the words “influence the system” not “control”. We often become frustrated when we cannot control the outcome, the choices our children make, or even the ability to keep them out of harm’s way.  Many of us have gone to great lengths to control this outcome only to be hurt, disappointed and fearful.

We want to teach your family a better way of working through family issues such as communication problems, holding boundaries, creating structure, lack of validation and support, negative family roles and negative patterns of behavior.  Understanding how we can become powerful agents of change in our family systems, and not merely alone, and scared members of our families, is powerful.

Families often wonder how we are able to do family systems work while students are out in the wilderness and not seeing their parents. We do this in a number of ways including:

  • Weekly parent calls with the therapist to work on therapeutic assignments, process the student’s letters home, and to coach families through identifying their own patterns and communication styles.  
  • Weekly webinars covering various topics which will include an examination of the current roles played in families and how to adjust these roles, the stages of change, parenting styles and more.  These webinars also serve as a platform for connection and support with other parents.
  • In-person Parent Seminars where families learn more strategies for growth as well as have an opportunity to spend some time working towards a healthier family system with their child while doing some emotional work as well as time spent engaging and connecting over a 2 day period of time.

An additional layer of support as needed through parent coaching with myself, the Family Services Director, can be available as well.

It is exciting to be part of a dynamic program that combines a focus on the whole child, the family system, wellness and mindfulness, and adventure therapy, all into one!

David Mayeski, LCSW

TO learn about David click here! https://aspiroadventure.com/dvteam/david-mayeski-msw/