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

by Ryon Smith, LCSW

One of the many things I enjoy about working here at Aspiro 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 “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown, “Brainstorm” by Daniel Siegel, “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, and a personal favorite, “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.  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, and 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

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 the Aspiro model, 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.

Treating Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues in Wilderness Therapy

I became passionate about treating eating disorders and body image disorders almost 15 years ago.  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 modalities 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.

Several years ago, when I entered the world of wilderness therapy, I believed that while working in this setting, my work with people struggling with eating disorders and body image would be put on hold.  But then came client after client that had “past eating disorders,” undiagnosed eating disorders, or body image/eating disorder issues that appeared to be or were secondary to the prompting event or crisis that led them to wilderness therapy.  I rapidly gained an education on how wilderness therapy is a positive tool for overcoming eating and body image disorders. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Wilderness therapy provides an environment in which underlying or lingering eating disorder (ED) behaviors become more obvious and therefore easier to tackle and treat.

When a person enters the wilderness therapy world, they lose the ability to utilize most of their past methods of avoidance (video games, screen time, isolating, drugs, alcohol, friends, dating relationships, etc) and they are then forced to deal with their emotions in a new way.  If a person has a tendency to rely on food as a coping mechanism—it quickly becomes obvious in the wilderness. As they enter wilderness treatment and their anxiety increases, they will likely resort to the method of avoidance that can still be relied upon in that setting: body image and eating issues.  This provides fuel for therapy, giving the client and therapist a clear path and setting in which to target and explore some important themes.

  1. Wilderness therapy provides insight into the ways “minor eating disorder behaviors” continue to significantly disrupt a person’s effort to achieve their personal goals.  

If an ED is viewed as “minor” or is said to have “mostly passed”, it is often dismissed or accepted as an issue of the past.  However, even “minor” ED or body image concerns can have a huge impact on an individual’s life. In wilderness therapy, “minor” behaviors show up and can then be addressed and improved upon in significant ways.

  1. Wilderness therapy gives space from social media, mirrors, trendy clothes, and makeup;  as well as space from cultural or family emphasis on appearance. This allows the individual to develop better awareness and insight into just how much these external factors impact their own beliefs about their body and health.

The absence of these things from a person’s life (albeit temporary) can give just the kind of break a person needs to get clarity and become more objective about their treatment and the types of shifts they need to make for the next step of recovery.

  1. Wilderness therapy provides an avenue to observe and treat negative eating patterns or eating impulses. In the wilderness therapy setting, food choice and amount is limited to a healthy and necessary selection of foods.  There remains a choice in eating (which is essential in the recovery process) but not an overwhelming or unlimited amount of choices as one can find at home with the selection of stores and restaurants available. This limited choice provides some structure that can aid in recovery, without allowing too much freedom that can be detrimental in recovery for people starting to understand and develop a new type of relationship with food.

I’ve been humbled joining the ranks of wilderness therapists and have discovered I was wrong about my previous beliefs that wilderness therapy would not be effective for some of my past clients struggling with these treatment issues.  It is true that wilderness therapy is not the place for someone whose current eating issues are putting them at risk medically, and it is not the place to treat severe ongoing eating disorders—but it IS the place to do continued work on overcoming lingering eating disordered thinking and impulses.  It IS the place to tackle body image struggles, it IS the place to explore the family dynamics and the role it has played in the ED and body image beliefs, and it IS the place to begin to understand why ED and body image issues continue to take a toll on a person’s life.

In my time as a wilderness therapist, I have seen great success with my clients working through their strained relationships with food as well as their negative beliefs about their bodies and themselves. I look forward to my continued work in the wilderness and to many more years of watching people develop a deeper belief in their self-worth and a love and appreciation for their bodies.

-Janna Dean, LCSW 

To learn more about Janna click here!


Family Systems Work at Aspiro Adventure: A Wilderness Treatment Program

how to help underachieving students

Aspiro is a 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, therefore 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!

Managing Expectations in Next Levels of Care: Wilderness Therapy Programs to Residential Treatment Programs


Case Study: Adam was an outdoor wilderness therapy superstar. In two short months, he became less anxious, didn’t feel depressed, was motivated, excited to be sober, respectful and loving towards his parents, and willing to work within a highly structured environment. He loved his wilderness therapist, felt confident, and was accepting of his next step — a residential treatment center or a therapeutic boarding school.

Adam quietly began to have reservations about this new residential program after only a couple of weeks. He missed the freedoms he had (demanded) at home. He missed his friends who he felt were “cooler” than these “treatment kids”. He missed home and his parents, which made him more convinced that this program was not the place for him, and believed that he had already done all the work that he needed to do while in wilderness therapy. He decided, although not consciously, to push back.

As Adam began his regression, his parents held the boundary for a couple of months. Afterall, they had carefully chosen this program after touring, meeting staff members, and talking with their educational consultant. But eventually, Adam’s regression seemed to coincide with some of their frustrations with the program. Their frustrations were normal, understandable, and part of an expectations gap in our system of care.

Dear parent,
This is written for you. Please keep these following things in mind:

Speed of Progress/Regression

Even though you are told to expect this regression in residential treatment and to brace yourself, it’s hard not to shift responsibility from the student to the program. Parents are desperate for their child to find the stability they need in order to be healthy. Keep reading, keep working, and continue asking about regression. Be patient.

Access to Information

In residential treatment versus wilderness treatment, you will hear about all the things your child is doing more frequently and from many more sources. In wilderness treatment, you hear from your therapist. In residential treatment, you are hearing from the therapist, program staff, and your student. What does this mean? It means you will hear more about your child’s successes and a lot more about his/her struggles. You have two challenges: 1) Absorb the constant stream of information without coming to quick conclusions (“Why is she suddenly doing so poorly?” “He is ready to come home!” ) 2) Don’t become reactive and mired down by the small details, thus missing the big picture.

Wilderness students are generally in crisis and working on short-term goals for stability and an intricate array of emotional and behavioral issues. In order to stay focused on the big picture in this short-term setting, your wilderness therapist prioritizes the information you receive. When progress is made, that is the focus, rather than the variety of problems that will be fuel for therapy at their next level of care. An example could be a problem area such as disrespectful comments. This is a common struggle for students and is addressed in the wilderness treatment setting, but generally isn’t the prioritized area of concern in wilderness because timelines are short and working toward overall stabilization is the priority.  At a residential program, these ultimately maladaptive and intolerable behaviors get addressed and brought up constantly while working on longer-term goals. Plan to hear about them and understand they will help drive the therapeutic process and help the staff and student to know what needs to be worked on and addressed.

In residential treatment, you will now hear every passing complaint about the staff and the program from your student, whereas in wilderness you just hear what they hang onto over the course of the week and what they choose to write in a letter. Hearing about more concerns doesn’t mean the residential program is not effective or that the wilderness program was better, it is just a different model that allows more freedoms, as well as more access to your student in order for him/her to be preparing to return home.

More Autonomy   

Wilderness therapy is a small and protected community without much, if any, integration with the outside world. In residential treatment, opportunities to make poor choices are greater. With autonomy comes opportunity for mistakes. Parents too frequently hold the residential programs or schools accountable for the mistakes their child makes. It doesn’t mean it is the fault of the program if your child makes a mistake. If your child finds the means to smoke pot, have sex, get into a fight, cheat, or whatever it may be, he/she has sought that opportunity and made that choice. Allow your student to learn from the mistake by holding him/her accountable rather than blaming the staff or program, and allow the student’s choice to inform the therapist and treatment team as to where he or she is at in his or her treatment journey and the process towards making better choices.

In every progress-based transition, e.g. hospital to home-based care, high school to college, t-ball to the big leagues; helpers pull back and the receivers of help are invited to do things for themselves. This is no different in the treatment world. Expect a delay in response time from staff as your son/daughter struggles to work through distress on his or her own. Expect staff to have clearer boundaries between work and personal life as your child is given time to find solutions on his or her own and to grow and learn in a less restrictive environment. Be aware this environment will allow more and more freedoms as the student progresses through the program. Expect less intense and less frequent therapeutic interventions as a greater balance between academics, social life, sports, etc is introduced to your child’s life.

A Long-Term Relationship

We’ve all been there. A few months into an intense relationship, there is a glow. So much has changed, so many new and positive things enter our lives and we focus on these. Eventually, the glow wears off, and we are able to see the flaws, drawbacks, and realities of our partner. In this case, the partners are treatment programs (and their staff) and parents, and you have, in fact, entered a long-term relationship. There will be differences in opinion, conflict, and tough conversations. You will become “real” with them, and they with you.

Programs aren’t perfect. Over the course of a year, staff members will make mistakes, balls will be dropped, and your therapist will become a person rather than a savior, which is all a normal part of life and a healthy part of learning to grow despite frustrations or imperfections.

Parents Regress, Too

In a residential treatment setting, your child is able to push you hard, via phone calls and face to face, and it becomes harder to live the boundaries, emotional regulation, validation, and anything else you were determined to do and began to do a few months ago.

It is also common for defensiveness (or other reactive behaviors) to arise in parents when flaws/ emotional moments, etc. are visible to your child’s therapist or team. It’s easy to be your best self when your child is progressing and you aren’t dealing with their frustrating, even maddening, behaviors and attitudes face to face. If you’re unsure what your reactive behaviors are, consult The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozatek.

Your Role

Have appropriate expectations.

Keep working alongside your student. Students get treatment fatigue and want to give up. You doing your work will role model grit and demonstrate value in what the program has to offer.

Communicate openly and patiently with the program when frustrations arise.

Stay the course. Hold the boundaries the program asks you to, all of them, every time. Picking and choosing sends the message that it is ok for your child to pick and chose which rules to follow. Young people, and even more so young people in treatment, don’t have the judgment or maturity to do this yet. Being unified with the program is as important as being unified with your co-parent.

When your child inevitably complains about the program, validate him/her without rescuing or escalating. This is a tricky skill, so ask your therapist about it and consult the literature.  Encourage your child to solve problems. You can validate his or her concerns and say something like “You seem so frustrated, that must really suck. Tell me more.” or “It sounds like you would just throw in the towel if you could. I know this has been an exhausting few months.”

Final Thoughts

You may put your wilderness program on a pedestal because it was short and the time was fast and intense. You may feel like the long-term residential program is not measuring up. Programs aren’t perfect and that’s ok. If they were perfect it wouldn’t set kids up for success in an imperfect world anyway. Learning to manage mistakes, handle anxiety, trust and let go is all part of the process for you and your student.

Wilderness and residential programs are different. They are a different type of therapy, so we can’t expect the same process, but we can certainly find incredible growth, change and value in both.

Sarah Rothstein, LCSW

Learn more about Sarah below.


Summer at Aspiro Wilderness Therapy – Our Locations and Activities

It’s no mistake that we have chosen the beautiful state of Utah for our wilderness therapy program. The many locations in which we operate, engaging in a multitude of adventure activities year round, gives our clients the best experiences possible. These novel environments in our outdoor wilderness program allow students to be immersed in the many incredible landscapes that Utah has to offer.  At each of the 15 areas we visit, students will engage in an adventure itinerary such as rock climbing, mountain biking canyoneering, backpacking, and more.  These activities challenge students to push beyond their perceived boundaries and accomplish more than they ever thought possible. These adventure therapy itineraries show them that, in a very practical way, they can do hard things.

Here are a few of our many favorite summer areas!

La Sal Mountains

Stretching to upwards of 12,000 feet, the La Sal mountains are a cool paradise surrounded by miles and miles of slick rock and sandy desert. The La Sals were named by the Spanish, meaning “The Salt Mountains” due to the snow on the peaks which lasts all year long, despite the up to 100-degree temperatures in the nearby desert below. Thankfully, the La Sals remain about 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding Moab area and thus are perfect for our students to experience high alpine, backcountry hiking during the summer months. Students practice navigation skills as they bushwhack through large pine and aspen forests and hike up to the mountain peaks. They also utilize mindfulness and meditation while stopping for quiet moments of reflection while enjoying the views of the endless vistas before them.


Escalante is located in South Central Utah and is a rugged and breathtaking landscape that is made up of large slick rock domes, canyons, and pinnacles carved out by the Escalante River. Smooth and twisting sandstone slot canyons lead out into sandy washes that are dabbled with cottonwood trees and tamarisk. Students backpack through the dunes, slick rock ridges and slot canyons, enjoy the cooling waters of the Escalate River. Here our students participate in adventure therapy while learning how to precisely navigate through desert landscapes and discover the natural processes of wind and water erosion which create their unique surroundings. Students also see petroglyphs and other rock carvings which have been preserved for thousands of years as they hike through these slot canyons and rappel down the canyon walls. Rappelling allows students to build trust in themselves as well as to overcome fears. This helps them to build self-confidence, gain self-efficacy and to become empowered.


The Book Cliffs of Eastern Utah are some of the most remote mountains in the lower 48. As sandstone cliffs climb up from the dry and sandy desert, Ouray presents itself in wide box canyons full of lush green meadows, pristine rivers, and beautiful pine forests. Students backpack through these canyons, utilizing landmark recognition and concise communication in order to accomplish their “thru-hike” goal. A thru-hike is when two groups start at opposite ends of an operating area and meet in the middle to switch van keys, thus leaving from a completely different location than where they started. This is one of Aspiro’s most challenging and rewarding backpacking itineraries due to the natural structure that requires groups to keep moving forward. Students gain strength and stamina, and practice various camping and survival skills during this time, leaving them with a great sense of accomplishment.

Park City

Park City, Utah is a favorite destination for people around the world year round. In the summer it is home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the country. Our students experience these breathtaking high desert mountains while learning technical riding and bike maintenance. Our wilderness guides teach foundational skills and work each day with students in order to build confidence on their bikes by challenging them with more difficult and longer trails each day. For many of our students, who are working through various difficulties such as anxiety, inattention, substance abuse, and more, mountain biking is a healthy and rewarding experience as they seek what we call “flow,” or an optimal experience of challenge and ability. When cruising down a switchback trail on a bike, all a rider thinks about is what is in front of him or her. Immediate feedback is received from both the bike and the earth, as well as a mix of a rush of adrenaline and a feeling of contentment, as a student learns to truly focus and be present in the moment. These mindful experiences help decrease anxiety and lead to overall well-being.

My Story – Sofia and her Wilderness Experience

People can grow from a multitude of different obstacles they overcame, but the growth I experienced called for a unique journey. About six years ago, my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Being the youngest out of 3 girls, I was the one most affected. The following years were, without a doubt, not how I would have imagined my life ending up. Although some people may fear to talk about their past, I am proud of the Sofia I was then and the Sofia I am now. I refuse to push aside who I truly was just because I had not been the accomplished women I am today. Due to the strength I have received from my past experiences, I am able to acknowledge my feelings and emotions to convey my story.

So here is my life-altering journey. I was extremely rebellious, belligerent towards every person in my life, treated everybody as if they were my enemy, and began abusing substances. I was not allowed back to my high school to start my senior year unless I attended Aspiro, a wilderness therapeutic program. I was 18 at the time, so legally it was necessary that I signed myself into the program to begin my journey. I constantly resisted in the beginning, but I had no other choice because the alternative was to see myself go down a road of failure. It took me 24 hours of being curled up under my blankets with tears streaming down my face to realize this. Everything in my life had taken a toll on my mental health. Everything was just miserable. I thought it over, through constant headaches and tears, until finally I had answer, “Dad, I will go.” It was not easy for me to say this, and once I had, my father called my mom, and before I knew it I was on a plane to Utah.

I would never be where I am today if it was not for Aspiro. My life is different in every aspect. The wilderness teaches you that life does not always provide you with everything you want. Fortunately, my parents were able to hand me anything I asked for, but I became too dependent on them. Everybody has hard times in life, but the hardest moments for me were in the wilderness. These are the times that change you as an individual, make you think, and help you realize why you ended up there. I had to learn to cope with things that were challenging, and encounter activities that were unprecedented in my life. Almost everyday of the week for two and half months, I carried a 45-pound pack on my back, and some days hiked for miles. I constantly reminded myself to persevere, knowing that when I came back home things there would also be challenging. If I refused to continue in the wilderness, then I would bring back home that same mentality, so I had to just get through it, and it would all be worth it. I had to continue pushing through, get right back up and keep working just like everybody else. It was not easy rock climbing on high mountains. However, I had to conquer my fears and doubts. I needed to push through activities like mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, or miles of walking, to learn that I was capable of being independent and expressing myself in front of others without the help of my family.

Also, allowing myself to open up to others including my therapist and group members, helped me to grow as an individual. Hearing other group members and their stories, allowed me to understand and take into account others hardships and added to my empathy and personal growth. There was a time when I was reading an impact letter from my parents outloud to my therapist. While reading it, there were certain points where I didn’t want to continue because I knew that the truth was finally hitting me. I could not call home, but I could talk to her about how I felt and work through those emotions. Her advice, support, and commitment to helping me along was an eye opening experience and was life changing. All of these experiences combined, helped me maneuver and figure out who I was, and who I have become as an individual.

When I came back to school, my teachers got the chills and cried when they heard my story. Nobody recognized me and they were surprised by the immense amount of progress I made in such a short time. I ended up being valedictorian and was able to speak at my high school graduation. Currently, I am a sophomore at Muhlenberg college and on the dean’s list. When you put in hard work, the outcome can be substantial!

It starts with the one person who can make the most difference in your life. You. You have the power to tell yourself YOU CAN DO IT!  I now make it a priority to offer my guidance and support for other families, helping them to figure out positive next steps in life, just like Aspiro did for me.

I end with lyrics that are a favorite message of both me and my mother.

“There’s always gonna be another mountain.
I’m always gonna wanna make it move.
Always gonna be an uphill battle
And sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.
It ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about whats waiting on the other side.
It’s the climb.”

-Miley Cyrus, The Climb

Thank you to my parents for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity, and allowing me to see this potential. If it was not for Aspiro, I am not sure where I would be currently. Family, friends, teachers, and last but not least, Aspiro – I cannot thank you enough for the constant support I have received throughout these last three years. You all are a blessing and hold a special spot in my heart.

– Sofia E.


Troubled Teens and Self-Identity: Causes, Problems, and Common Behaviors

While there are a variety of ways that teens experience identity formation, some experiences can become very harmful to the individual. In the sections below, we discuss the causes and more serious issues in teenage identity issues & development and how parents can help.

Common Causes Contributing to Unhealthy Teen Identity Development

The importance of identity development for teens is huge. When a teen is developing their identity they are learning what makes them unique while also feeling the need to fit in. For teens who feel excluded from others due to their cultural, ethnic, gender, or sexual identity, this process can lead teens to begin participating in harmful behavior.

Other factors that prevent the formation of a secure and positive self-identity include:

  • Lack of attachment to parents
  • Low self-esteem
  • Absence or negative influence of adults
  • Lack of acceptance in a positive peer group

Common Problems and Behaviors Surrounding Unhealthy Teenage Identity Issues

The causes above make a teen more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drugs, substance addiction, and promiscuity. These teens are also more likely to perform poorly in school, have low self-esteem, and to act compulsively. This is due to the fact that during this time teens are still developing cognitively which makes their thinking process more impulsive than adults. Therefore, the simple encouragement from peers can be enough to persuade a teen to engage in risky behavior without much thought. The result of a teen’s participation in rebellious or promiscuous behavior can result in the teen feeling even worse about themselves and can create a downward spiral of unhealthy patterns and behavior.

15 of the common behaviors and warning signs of a teen struggling with their identity (R.C. Savin-Williams, Conceiving or Misconceiving the Self: Issues in Adolescent Self-Esteem) include:

  1. Distorted or unrealistic perception of oneself
  2. Lack of congruent behaviors and values in different settings
  3. Self-worth relies on opinions of others
  4. Poor academic performance or failure.
  5. Promiscuous behavior
  6. Low self-esteem
  7. Putting down others (i.e., teasing, name-calling, or gossiping)
  8. Dramatic or out of context behaviors
  9. Glances around to monitor others
  10. Putting self down
  11. Keeps his or her own views or opinions to self
  12. Intense emotions of anger or sadness
  13. Change in peers and/or avoids positive friendships
  14. Disregarding rules and limits
  15. Use of illegal substances

If your teen displays several of the above behaviors, they are likely struggling to form their identity. The next step parents can take to encourage healthier patterns is to ensure their teen is getting the support he or she needs at home.


About Aspiro Adventure

Aspiro Adventure’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right. Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

Aspiro’s Girls Group: Mindfulness, Food Attitudes, and Expressive Therapy

The Adventure Therapy Model at Aspiro creates a space for girls to develop self-efficacy and find confidence in their ability to do hard things. In addition to the many gains made through wilderness adventure therapy, a holistic approach in their treatment is crucial. Therefore, at Aspiro we incorporate therapeutic elements such as mindfulness and yoga, food attitudes and nutrition groups, and various forms of expressive therapy.


Mindfulness can be defined as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Mindfulness helps provide our adolescent girls with a sacred foundation to develop healthy coping skills. Our girls practice yoga, meditation, body scans, and breathing exercises, allowing them to focus on current physical sensations and emotions. Our girls are able to work through any challenge, such as a snowstorm in the backcountry or a difficult climb up a sandstone slab, because mindfulness allows them to remain in their rational mind and make effective and honest choices, therefore influencing positive behavior. The girls enjoy their mindfulness practice and find that incorporating it into their daily routine helps them feel calm, centered and in control.


Groups are held every week focusing on food attitudes and nutrition, how food can be good fuel or bad fuel for our bodies, and on body image and perception. The way our general culture and society speaks to adolescence regarding food and body image seems to support self-criticism, competition, gluttony or extremism, and imbalance. Our girls are often beaten down, overwhelmed, and can have a very negative view of themselves. By introducing some mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation; plus learning about food and how it can fuel the body, mind and soul; and getting moderate exercise and finding success through our various adventure activities, the girls at Aspiro begin to feel a real sense of accomplishment and start to see themselves in a different light. When this happens, they are much more likely to open up about the stresses of food, eating, and body image, and start to see their bodies and themselves as strong, capable, and deserving of a good and healthy life.

We all know that food and nutrition are the vital fuel for our brain and our bodies, and is a huge part of our social and cultural life. In our groups we discuss ideas around “food attitudes,” big and small, social messages about food, body image, individual perceptions, and struggles with food and control. We begin to learn how to reinvent our perception of our bodies as women. We don’t just talk about healthy food choices, though, we also teach the girls to prepare and enjoy a healthy and delicious meal as a group, which has quickly become a highlight of their week.


To help our girls enhance their emotional growth and to facilitate deeper transformation, the expressive arts are also an important part of treatment. The expressive arts help our girls to create deeper meaning out of their experiences, to tell their stories, and to dig further into their emotions in a safe way.  Leigh Uhlenkott, one of our clinical wilderness therapists, says:

Leigh Uhlenkott

“I have always been drawn to experiential interventions, which is why I am passionate about wilderness therapy.  I can be creative in my groups and when working with my clients individually.  I want each of my clients to feel empowered and to get back on the healthy and successful path.  Expressive arts and psychodrama can help create a corrective experience, bringing life to the unconscious and also grounding my clients to prevent further trauma.  I want each of my clients to trust the process and do a deep dive into action and purpose.  I want to help my clients explore past hurts and traumas in a safe place.  Through psychodrama they can recreate the past and have a voice to express vulnerability and feelings.  They can practice healthy boundaries and setting limits.  Clients can gain greater insight and awareness through psychodrama and through expressive arts.  When clients don’t yet have a voice that’s when the expressive arts are especially helpful.  Through sculpting, painting, or drawing one can create images and metaphors symbolic of their past hurts or trauma’s.  The goal is to get it out and learn to let it go.  I believe all my students come to the woods with a bag full of past trauma or pain, and my hope is when they leave, it will be lighter and they will be full of accomplishments.”

Our vision at Aspiro is to empower these young women with a true and experiential understanding of the mind-body connection, to see their bodies as strong and capable, and to understand their relationship with food, finding the motivation to fuel their bodies with nutritious food choices. Through adventure therapy, individual and group therapy, mindfulness, yoga, and expressive arts, our girls have numerous ways in which they can work on their emotional growth, and are presented with opportunities to find what best resonates with them individually.  We are excited about the great work done by these young ladies and the incredible changes they are making!


Ryan Coley Promoted to Executive Director

Aspiro is very excited to announce the promotion of Ryan Coley to Executive Director.

Ryan has been a part of the Aspiro team since 2009 and throughout his tenure has had the opportunity to work in the areas of Admissions, Program Development, Primary Therapist, and Clinical Director.  Ryan has also helped to define and carry out the vision of Aspiro through a passionate dedication to innovation, client care, and customer service. He will continue to lead the Clinical Team in partnership with Associate Clinical Director, Dr. Carl Smoot.

Ryan states, “My focus and commitment is to influence and restore the families that come to Aspiro. The last nine years have been an inspiration and I look forward to helping Aspiro continue delivering the highest quality service.”  Ryan’s impact on the clinical team has been profound and as the Executive Director, all departments will benefit from his dedication and leadership.

The Aspiro team is enthusiastic about Ryan’s transition into the role of Executive Director and looks forward to serving under his leadership for many years to come!

Best regards and many well wishes throughout 2018,

Josh Watson, LCSW
Rick Meeves, PhD