Healing PTSD in Teens and Young Adults

Healing PTSD in Teens and Young Adults | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

This article discusses trauma in adolescence related to abuse, unhealthy relationships, violence, bullying, and the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD in teens and young adults. We will then share steps parents can take to help their son or daughter as well as professional treatment options.

This white paper is written for adolescents who have experienced a trauma, their parents or caregivers, counselors, and anyone seeking help for PTSD in teens and young adults.

Find Lasting Recovery for Trauma in Teens and Young Adults

The adolescent years can be a very difficult time for teenagers, young adults, and their parents. These years are filled with high levels of stress due to the demands at school, changing friendships, developing interests, and self-identity. The stress and emotional drain that comes with adolescence are only compounded when a teen or young adult faces a traumatic event or experience.

A traumatic event is considered to be any event that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm to an individual, resulting in the teen feeling threatened or frightened.

Experiencing a traumatic event is often so overwhelming for a teen or young adult that it causes them to shut down completely. Watching their teen become unable to keep up with life’s daily demands is heartbreaking for any parent to see. Because most teens and young adults who experience trauma are emotionally unequipped to handle such trauma, parents must step up and provide the needed help.

With the proper supports in place, teens facing trauma can experience true healing and lasting peace. These teens and young adults can emerge stronger and even more resilient than before.

The Prevalence of Trauma in Today’s Teens and Young Adults

It is not uncommon for teens to face trauma during their adolescent years. Several recent studies show that PTSD in teens is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure reported that 18.7% of teenage girls have experienced a completed or attempted sexual assault in their lifetime. A second national study asked over 4000 teens aged 12-17 if they had ever experienced sexual or physical assault or if they had witnessed violence. The study found that 47% of these teens had experienced either sexual or physical assault or witnessed violence (Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Ormond, R., & Hamby. S. Violence, abuse, and crime exposure in a national sample of children and youth.)

While many teens today may experience a traumatic incident, the situation and source of trauma is different for every individual. It’s important for parents to learn and examine the different causes, reactions, and treatment options so they can provide their teen with the absolute best help possible.

Sources of Trauma in Adolescence

Defining trauma in teens presents a very wide spectrum of causes and incidents at varying degrees. Every teen has different emotional capacities and will, therefore, respond to challenges and trauma differently. For example, some teens are extremely sensitive and become deeply upset when there is a local or national tragedy. These teens may also experience serious distress when a friend or family member faces trauma.

Other teens and young adults may experience trauma directly due to bullying, unhealthy social or romantic relationships, or changes in their family dynamic. Some more extreme examples of trauma in teens and young adults include situations of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and the death of a loved one. When a teen or young adult experiences a serious traumatic incident that greatly affects their behavior and day-to-day functioning, that teen could be facing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

Common Causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD emerges when a normal response to stressful situations does not go away or becomes worse. Normal responses of traumatic events can include flashbacks, sleep problems, or increased anxiety. However, with PTSD, these symptoms become worse and do not dissipate over time. Common examples of experiences that could lead to PTSD in teens and young adults include:

  • Sexual abuse or violence
  • Physical abuse or neglect
  • Natural disasters
  • Plane or car accidents
  • Witnessing violence
  • Experiencing Violence
  • Having a friend commit suicide

Again, in some cases where a teen is a more sensitive individual, even learning about one of the above events can trigger some degree of PTSD.

Regardless of the cause or circumstance, any adolescent trauma most often results in the teen becoming avoidant in an attempt to numb their emotions. These individuals may also display more aggressive, rebellious, or impulsive behavior. The degree of PTSD symptoms often depends on the type and intensity of the event experienced. A teen or young adult is also more prone to develop PTSD if they are female, have any pre-existing or co-occurring disorders, had previous exposure to trauma, or if they lack a proper support system (The National Center of PTSD.) In the sections below, we will provide more insight into common risk factors and warning signs that your teen is facing trauma and could be suffering from PTSD.

Common Reactions After a Traumatic Event

Everyone reacts differently to trauma. Some teens and young adults are more resilient while others are more sensitive. Therefore, the spectrum of reactions is rather large and can include anything from anxiety and major depression to withdrawal or anger and hostility. Some young adults and teens with PTSD may shut-down emotionally and numb themselves while others may respond with self-destructive behavior.

In addition, The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported a number of mental health disorders can come as a result of trauma including major depression, substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, and conduct disorder such as oppositional defiant disorder.

Other trauma reactions include difficulties in maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships or poor academic performance. This is often due to a lack of motivation caused by depression or because they are choosing to act out. While the above behaviors are common trauma reactions of teens and young adults, there are many additional warning signs that could indicate your child has developed PTSD.

20 PTSD Symptoms & Signs Your Teen or Young Adult Has Experienced Trauma

Regardless of the severity of a teen’s reaction, parents must be sensitive to the high level of stress their teen is facing and respond accordingly. If you think your teen could be facing trauma, here are 20 common signs of teens struggling with PTSD.

  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Socially withdrawn from friends and family
  • Overreacts about small things
  • Depression
  • Emotional numbness
  • Poor academic performance
  • Sudden change in behavior
  • Loss of interest in friends and hobbies
  • Detached from daily routines and activities
  • Difficulties with concentration and focusing
  • Displays signs of constant worrying
  • Becomes rebellious
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Isolates him or herself
  • Overly anxious
  • Displays angry or aggressive behaviors
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Panic attacks
  • Constant fear or worrying
  • Nausea, frequent headaches, or vomiting

Change in your teen’s or young adult’s behavior could indicate that your son or daughter is struggling and needs additional support. The best place to start this process is in the home.

Tips for Parents of Teens and Young Adults Facing Trauma

Studies have shown that proper support from parents can help lower levels of PTSD in teens. However, many young adult children and teens do not turn to their parents in times of trauma which makes it absolutely essential for parents to be aware of changes in their child’s behavior, recognize the signs of PTSD, and take the first step towards recovery. There are many things parents can do to help their son or daughter suffering from PTSD including encouraging open communication and by being patient with your teen.

1. Communicate with Your Teen or Young Adult

Remember, your teen or young adult may be so upset by the event that they are emotionally unequipped to talk and process the event out loud. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about the event. Other teens feel they need to be “strong” for their parents or do not even want to acknowledge the event by talking about it. Therefore, it’s important for parents to come to their teen with an empathetic and loving attitude. Let your teen know that you love them unconditionally and that their emotions are valid. Many teens do not come to their parents with their problems because they do not want to be lectured or told what to do. In these types of sensitive situations, approach them with a loving heart and listening ear.

2. Be Flexible in Your Expectations for Your Child

During times of trauma, it’s important that you do not expect your teen or young adult to perform and behave to the capacity they have before. Parents must be flexible when it comes to their expectations and also in adapting their daily responsibilities. Parents should not enable their teen or young adult by alleviating all of their responsibilities but should find a reasonable balance that respects the emotions they are facing. If your teen or young adult is struggling to complete tasks and assignments, validate their emotions and let them know it is completely normal and healthy for them to feel an emotional drain after an upsetting or frightening event. When you sense your daughter or son feels exhausted, encourage them to rest. It may also be helpful to inform your child’s school and teachers of the event so they are aware of what happened and the changes in your son or daughter’s behavior.

3. Be Patient with Your Son or Daughter Facing Trauma

It’s key for parents to be patient with the many emotions a teen faces while in a state of trauma. As a result, your teen or young adult may become very withdrawn, tired, and may come across as careless, lazy, or difficult. It is also common for adolescents in crisis to become rebellious as a way to take control of their lives and let out their strong emotions. They may become so angry about what happened to them that they blame you or their friends for the event. While their behavior may seem irrational or unhealthy, it’s important for parents to be patient and try to understand this is their way of coping. The more a parent tries to controls their teen or young adult, the worse their child may respond to the trauma and the more unsafe they may feel. Try to understand they are in the midst of a healing process.

4. Be Proactive and Direct

The worst thing a parent can do for teens and young adults with PTSD is to ignore or avoid the traumatic event. Whether the trauma is big or small, parents should create a safe place for their son or daughter to talk about and process any upsetting event. Parents should not be afraid to even bring up trauma and events start the discussion. Doing so will communicate to your teen or young adult that these topics are safe to talk about.

When parents have laid all of these supports and put these strategies in place and their teen or young adult still continues to show serious symptoms of PTSD, it may be time for parents to be proactive and seek professional help.

PTSD in Teens and Young Adults: When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes the aftermath of a traumatic event or experience becomes too much for a parent to handle. The following 5 signs indicate it is time to seek help from mental health professionals:

  • Your son or daughter’s behavior is reckless and harmful to themselves or others
  • They’re struggling from severe depression or anxiety
  • They start abusing drugs or alcohol
  • They do not communicate with you at all about their life
  • They don’t show any signs of healing or recovery

These signs and behaviors cannot be ignored. Do not let a traumatic event affect your child’s life and long-term happiness. Getting the proper treatment for your teen today sets them up for a better tomorrow.

Wilderness Therapy for PTSD

A credible wilderness adventure therapy program utilizes a research-based model for treating PTSD that encourages outcomes of increased self-confidence, healthy relationships, identity development, and improved coping skills. A credible wilderness therapy program, such as Aspiro Adventure, gives traumatized teens and young adults a safe and novel environment to heal. Such programs also provide these emerging adults with a loving and caring therapeutic staff, a variety of adventure activities, and a research-backed approach that promotes lasting change.

Wilderness Therapy Provides a Safe and Novel Environment for Teens & Young Adults to Heal

A credible wilderness therapy program provides people with PTSD with a safe and controlled environment that promotes growth and healing. This novel environment takes a teen away from the distractions and complications of adolescent life and allows the teen to reset and recognize their own strength. If a teen or young adult rebels after a traumatic incident, a new and novel setting is especially helpful in encouraging a teen to leave unhealthy patterns behind and develop new behaviors. Additionally, wilderness therapy programs utilize the healing effect of the outdoors to promote recovery and growth.

Wilderness Therapy Builds Confidence in Teens Through Adventure Activities

The adventure activities in a wilderness therapy program are extremely effective when helping teens and young adults with traumatic stress. These adventure activities teach teens that they can overcome hard things through hands-on experience. When a teen is faced with a challenge that is difficult at the start, such as hiking or rock-climbing, they build confidence in their abilities once they complete the task. Overcoming such physical boundaries not only contributes to their physical health but also teaches them they can surmount difficult odds. In turn, their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities to overcome challenges is greatly improved.

Wilderness Therapy Provides Teens Facing Trauma with Individualized Care

As teens and young adults complete various activities, credible wilderness therapy programs will have trained and experienced therapists on staff who give them verbal encouragement and validation along the way. These program facilitators are always there to guide the healing process as these teens and young adults talk about their traumatic experiences. This process helps teens and young adults with PTSD internalize what they have learned.

A credible wilderness therapy program will also combine both group and individual therapy to provide students with a variety of settings to talk about what they learned and to generalize their skills. The clinical team and field staff of a credible wilderness therapy program will always meet the student where they are and provide them with a personalized treatment and therapy plan.

Wilderness Therapy Focuses on Lasting Recovery for Teens Facing Trauma

A credible wilderness therapy program will focus on creating lasting peace for teens and young adults recovering from trauma. By combining traditional therapy methods like Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) with adventure activities, wilderness therapy focuses on building teens’ strengths and building their positive attributes. Aspiro Adventure’s researched-backed approach is based on Martin Seligman’s work in the field of positive psychology that is based on doing what makes people happy and healthy, as opposed to what makes them anxious or depressed. Aspiro focuses on skill-building, personal strengths, and self-efficacy to promote long-term outcomes rather than just talking out and processing the traumatic event.

No matter what kind of PTSD treatment program you select for your traumatized child, doing your research is vital in selecting the best treatment center for your son or daughter. A reputable treatment program will help provide resources, client testimonials, and research. Whether you choose a more traditional form of therapy or an individualized form of therapy like wilderness therapy, it’s important you are making an informed decision.

Conclusion

A traumatic event can cause a teen or young adult to experience extreme amounts of emotional, physical, and psychological stress. Teens and young adults who have experienced trauma may struggle to open up as they process and come to terms with the event. They may worry about how and why the event happened, their involvement in the event, and how it changed them. Parents of teens and young adults facing trauma can help by being patient and understanding with their son or daughter.

While there are many steps parents can take to help their teen or young adult heal from trauma, some circumstances require more intensive treatment for PTSD. A credible wilderness adventure therapy program, such as Aspiro Adventure, offers teens an individualized and evidence-based treatment plan in a safe environment. With the proper support and care, teens facing trauma can heal and develop greater confidence in themselves and in the future.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy

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Aspiro 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.

By Josh Watson, LCSW, CMO at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program
  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO

Trauma Therapy in the Wilderness

Grace Larson, LCSW, Therapist | Aspiro Adventure Therapy 

by Grace Larson, Clinical Wilderness Therapist Specializing in Trauma Therapy

It’s a hard time to be a teenage girl, and the pressures only seem to be accumulating. The drowning buzz of social media and nasty social interactions, the unrealistic expectations our society puts on girls for thinness and beauty, and an increasingly competitive academic environment; combine that with the normative difficulties of adolescence, and you’ve got a crockpot full of struggle.

While struggle, at times, can be motivating and the path to growth, for many teenagers, it is simply too much. This competitive, demanding, and at times, very unsafe environment our girls live in, breed the most dangerous thing of all; a mentality of disempowerment. A mentality where women feel valued for only their physical attributes and accomplishments, rather than their genuine self, their values, their quirks, strengths and passions. They feel afraid and insecure of not being good enough, valued, capable, and safe.

It becomes easy for these girls to want to quit; to give up on the struggle, to succumb to self-destructive behaviors; be it substance abuse, sex, self-harming, isolating, or living in a tortured perfectionism. These are the girls I work with every day in wilderness therapy.

Parents seem to struggle just as much in watching their daughters; wanting nothing more than for their daughters to be safe, to live up to their potential, and to see the beauty in themselves that they, as parents, see in them every day. It is hard for parents not knowing the right combination of boundaries, warmth, restrictions, and asking for outside help to guide their daughters through this complex and at times traumatic phase of life. It is difficult for them and for their daughters to see a light through the tunnel of mental health struggles.

What is most beautiful about my work as a wilderness therapist though, is that I get to see this light at the end of the tunnel, and parents and their daughters have this opportunity, too. I see girls come in, dejected, afraid, and lacking a sense of themselves, often simply overwhelmed and shut down from the pain of the world and the confusion inside of them. Many of them don’t know they were in a ‘tunnel’ to begin with- they just know they felt sad or lonely. This is always the first step of our work in the wilderness: insight and understanding… understanding how and why life had become so stressed and dark.

Often the girls know how to label it, “I have depression, I have PTSD, I have anxiety, I have trauma”. But they lack a deeper understanding of the pains that source these symptoms and issues, they lack the skill to cope, and they lack an environment that can slow down the buzz and distraction around them to help them tune into themselves and find their own capacity.

Parents need that break and that insight too, to reduce their own anxiety, which had often resulted in frustration and over-control. While there is never a perfect cure-all to these struggles, to the society that forges them, or to the complex and long-standing work it takes to heal, I am grateful to work in a setting gives these girls and parents a chance to break the regular paradigm to find new strength inside.

Today I will share and discuss some of my own insights, learnings, and methods for treating the trauma and anxiety of teenage girls and young adult women through a wilderness therapy outlet.

Wilderness therapy seems nothing short of ‘bizarre’ for many of the teenagers and parents that we work with. It involves 8-12 weeks living completely in the outdoors, living out of a backpack of outdoor gear, surrounded by a group of other struggling teens and caring guides, mentors, and therapists.

Each day, these girls are responsible for cooking their own meals, setting up and breaking down their camp, hiking, climbing or biking in a new area, and most importantly: to look deeply and introspect into some of the deepest and most meaningful areas of life. Most of our students are scared out of their mind when they get here; their parents, too. But incredibly, in all this foreign and barebones outdoor living, comes a feeling of peace, and a space for true perspective and insight that is hard to match elsewhere.

The Goal of Trauma-Informed Wilderness Therapy

Treating trauma in the wilderness, whether it is a discreet traumatic event such as physical or sexual abuse, rape, or the more daily accumulated traumatic stress of failure and rejection, is a complex process. The goals of short-term intensive intervention therapy such as wilderness therapy tend to center around behavioral/emotional stabilization, psychological assessment, and building insight and motivation toward change (intervention work).

Complex trauma treatment, on the other hand, is often looked at in the therapy world through a longer-term lens of processing and attachment- more than the typical 8-12 weeks a girl may stay in a wilderness therapy program. However, after seeing many girls come and go through their stay in the woods, I know that the processing of their trauma is inevitable, as their healing in such a supportive and empowering environment comes so naturally.

As a trauma therapist for child protective services before coming to Aspiro Adventure Wilderness Therapy, I have worked intensely with trauma-focused evidenced based treatment modalities such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), identity disorders, and anxiety issues. In wilderness therapy, healing from post-traumatic stress happens through a combination of intensive individual and group clinical therapy sessions (where I use TF-CBT and EMDR) plus what I like to call the ‘built-in benefits’ of the wilderness and group living situation.

While living outdoors can be challenging and harsh at times, the tribal living and natural escape from daily pressures create a perfect environment for these girls to develop a sense of safety, and a cleanse from the people, behaviors, and expectations that may have bound them to a certain way of thinking beforehand. The moment they get a complete change of pace and a release from regular pressure and expectations; the floodgates of emotion open. The brain wants to heal itself when it has the opportunity to, and these girls find this out here in their wilderness ‘tribes’. The complete change of environment and perspective gives these girls (and their families) a chance to step outside the ‘tunnel’ and understand what was happening in their lives: to me, this is the first natural step of the trauma and anxiety work done in the wilderness (and I would argue it is often the necessary component missing from many regular outpatient modalities of trauma care). Imagine the force of an entire group (what we call the ‘tribe’) of young women working together on their personal issues. A backbone of the great work these girls can do is the connection and strength they have together. This sense of ‘togetherness’ and ‘acceptance’ is key to making any of the other pieces of trauma work possible. We call it ‘emotional safety’, something the everyday world seems to put little effort in. The camaraderie these girls develop through such a challenging, empowering and vulnerable experience is healing in and of itself. On top of that, healthy regularity of their daily schedule: eating good food three times a day, regular exercise, and a bunch of sunshine only further lends to creating an environment of growth and balance, and space for these girls to do their hard emotional work.

Affect Regulation – The First Step to Trauma-Informed Care

One of the first teaching steps of all evidence-based trauma therapies involves ‘affect regulation’- which means helping a person to express and understand their feelings, and have skills to cope with their emotion so it does not overwhelm or hi-jack their lives. Before delving into in-depth trauma work, a person needs to be able to keep their ‘life together’, and deal with the difficult emotions that come up in trauma work. Coping-skill development and emotional communication is one of the 24/7 components of wilderness therapy- as ubiquitous as these kids learning to cook their beans and rice or layer their clothing properly. As you can imagine, the regular difficulties and discomforts of living outside with a group of angsty teens creates quite the outlet for expressing emotion and practicing skills. The Aspiro girls group practices daily Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills (an emotional-regulation evidence-based treatment) to learn how to tolerate their distress, modulate emotion, relate to others effectively, and practice mindfulness. Many students come to wilderness with some background in skills training (having been to previous outpatient and IOP programs). However, wilderness therapy gives them the space to practice these skills out loud and intentionally with one another, as well as in the moment feedback on how the girls are doing with their skills. Seeing the difference in the way a girl expresses her frustration or pain her first week (throwing down her pack, crying, shutting down) in wilderness as it compares to her last week (sharing a vulnerable “I feel” statement and creating solutions to her problem) is pretty incredible. These are skills they bring home, and skills we capitalize on in the therapy world to then access some of the deeper roots/cores of the issues; now that the girls can handle their big emotions more effectively.

Introducing “Exposure Therapy”

The next major step of trauma work, as we employ it in the wilderness is ‘exposure’ component. ‘Exposure’ means finding calculated and specific ways to have a student explore a past painful experience through writing, speaking about it, or facing it head-on. Most people with trauma or difficult experiences avoid triggers to their pain, whether that means they do not want to talk about the rape, the bullying, or whatever other invalidating and painful experience they may have had. As a therapist in the wilderness setting, I tailor the way I have each girl look at their pain based on what is likely to be the most effective way for them to express themselves. For some, it is a trauma narrative, where they write down the specific account of the trauma or they describe the pains they have experienced. I have had students do letter writing ceremonies with their group, where they write letters of their trauma, and then may ‘release’ their pain into a campfire, or they may ‘put it to rest’ symbolically in the ground.

For some students, we may explore and process trauma through EMDR therapy, a memory based therapy where a person talks about their traumatic memories and is guided towards seeing the times they were safer and stronger, to come to a resolution. These girls learn to see that their trauma narrative (as painful as they can be) have meaning, but do not need to define them, own them, or limit them. And their outlet to share these narratives in the group provides a space for mutual understanding and support that seems to only further the girls’ willingness to explore their painful issues. Once a student has explored and shared their trauma it becomes less scary and more accessible for others to support them. The next major step is ‘cognitive reprocessing’, where the therapists and guides help challenge a student on some of the ‘distorted, irrational or unhelpful’ ways she may have begun to see herself through the lens of trauma. For instance; a girl who has been raped may believe she ‘deserved it’ that she is ‘unworthy’ or ‘damaged goods’. A student who has been bullied may believe he/she is ‘incapable’, or ‘unacceptable’. We teach our students to ‘rethink’ the ways they began to see themselves using techniques in cognitive behavioral therapy and cognitive reprocessing.

Changing Negative Thinking Patterns Related to Trauma

Perhaps the most unique part of wilderness therapy, and particularly adventure wilderness therapy (where a student experiences a different adventure skill such as rock climbing, skiing or backpacking each week) is that a student gets to ‘challenge their negative ways of thinking about themselves’ and build self-efficacy and positive self-regard through having successes with totally novel experiences.

Whether it be learning to ride a bike, reaching to the top of a climbing wall, starting their first fire with a bow drill, or being vulnerable and shedding tears in front of their group; these students take on challenges day in and day out that build their sense of self and identity. With novel physical and emotional activities, students cannot as easily pull out their ‘measuring stick of comparison’. Some of the negative thoughts and core beliefs they may harbor from failure or trauma; “I am not good enough, I am not capable, I am not worthy” are not challenged through talking (or through hearing it from Mom and Dad), but rather through doing.

Seeing that little girl who came in broken and pained from the world, 3 weeks later proudly put on her harness and climb to the top of a wall with confident skills and bravery is something that keeps me coming back to my job every day. Student’s need to find their own sense of mastery to then really fill themselves with the belief that they can overcome and they can succeed. When they see themselves as capable and empowered, it gives them every bit more strength to face and overcome the struggles from the past.

Parent’s Role in the Trauma-Informed Therapeutic Process

Parents have an integral role in the processing of trauma as well, and while their feet may not be in the dirt each day, they take on leg-work every week to better understand and respond to their child’s needs. The space they from parenting and managing problems while their child is safe and in treatment, give parents the space to see their children in a different light. Parents get to practice seeing their child’s behaviors as a form of communication, and not a representation of their child’s self or character. As a therapist, I teach about trauma (whether it be major trauma or the small painful invalidations of life) as they accumulate to form the symptoms we see (the depression, anxiety, avoidance, identity confusion, etc).

Through weekly education & instruction, parents learn empathic and effective ways to communicate with their kids and how to balance loving emotionality with boundaries. Often parents need to learn how to actually take a step back from over-involvement and over-control of their daughter’s emotions and pain, because for so long they were responsible for protecting and consoling their daughter’s emotions. But through the wilderness therapy process, with some space from the daily work of parenting and with specific training and skills work; parents learn to respond effectively to their daughter and to her pain. They learn to support her empowerment and processing so her good work can continue past her time in the wilderness.

Why a Wilderness Therapy Program for Young Women with Trauma?

Nature has a beautiful ability to heal, as does the human mind. We all have innate strength, love and resilience deep inside; but at times we need to dig deep and use some ‘heavy duty excavation tools’ to source that strength. I am grateful to work in an environment that so naturally lends to parents and children having the time, space and support to find peace and hope. Is wilderness therapy the end all be all of the trauma therapies? Of course not. It is time limited, it is a highly novel environment that can make the generalization to the ‘real world’ difficult at times, and unfortunately, it can be financially costly and difficult for many families to access. Most girls who do have the privilege to come and do this empowering and uplifting work, still need a great deal of support following their time in the wilderness in a structured and therapeutic environment.

That said, there is no denying that there is a very special healing space created out here through natural immersion, a supportive tribe, specific trauma-focused therapy and skill building, and an opportunity for self-confidence and mastery. It is an experience that truly generates hope and helps a girl define herself apart from her difficult experiences and struggles. This ‘force of nature’ in wilderness therapy sets a stage for continued growth, healing and true connection with self and others…arguably the most beautiful gift a person can have. Personally, I look forward to many more years of serving young women and their families in this mission towards empowerment and am ever-grateful for having the best allies possible; mother nature and the resilience of the human spirit. Whichever therapeutic setting you work in or seek out; seeking challenging and novel experiences, being vulnerable and connected with others, immersing ourselves in the natural world (as opposed to the competitive and technological one) and honing in on our unbridled capacity are the keys to true healing and growth.

Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.