By Juniper Canyon Therapist Veronica (“Roni” Malencia)

The National Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Park City, UT is an annual opportunity for our team to reconnect, collaborate with, and learn from colleagues and friends in the field. For me, it’s a dose of Wilderness Therapy magic that reminds me of the importance of this work and of community itself. This year I had the opportunity to present with fellow Juniper Canyon Therapist, Mallorie Stanley, CWS, and our Regional Marketing Director, Daniel Rogers, LMHC. Our presentation was titled “All’s Fair in Love and War: Attachment Therapy and Healing.” 

Juniper Canyon and Legacy Outdoor Adventures are, at their core, attachment and relationally-based programs. We strive to “see people as people” and help our clients feel seen, safe, soothed, and secure (Dr. Dan Siegel’s 4 S’s of fostering a secure attachment). As an organization, we apply those principles to our relationships not just with our clients, but also with coworkers, parents, and ourselves. We work to both teach and embody that way of being. 

In our presentation, we decided to give our audience a similar experience. Instead of just teaching them about Attachment Theory and appropriate interventions, we invited them to explore their own histories and engage in vulnerable discussion with each other around how those histories impact their attachment styles and close relationships. 

Attachment histories are an important place to start these conversations because our childhood attachments lay a framework for present relationships and the beliefs we hold about connection and comfort. We began with questions such as “Who did you go to for comfort when you were young?” and “How did you let this person know that you needed connection and comfort?” And we expanded into questions such as “How did you learn that people were unsafe?” and “Did you ever turn to alcohol, drugs, sex or material things for comfort?”

This line of exploration tends to be unfamiliar for many and can often provoke a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. Our audience willingly accepted the call, displaying a lot of courage as they shared answers and reflections with each other.

In our family programming at Juniper Canyon and Legacy, we often ask parents to engage in a similar vulnerable exploration. Parents are flawed, complex humans with their own histories as children with flawed parents. The legacies of our families and the lessons that are consciously and unconsciously passed down through generations tell intricate and winding stories about connection and comfort. 

The willingness for young adults and parents alike to understand these histories and heal family wounds is an incredible step towards more secure, connected relationships. 

In our presentation and in our work with families, we use an exercise derived from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help outline the relationships cycles that we often fall into. These are the “here we go again” moments within our intimate relationships that

keep us frustrated and unable to connect. We work to name the cycle and externalize the blame on that cycle, rather than oh each other. Within that process, we help families navigate the underlying emotions and unmet attachment needs.

Our hope that day was to leave our audience with some new insights into their own patterns; some new tools to help increase attachment security in their personal and professional relationships; and a reminder that all relational work starts with an examination of ourselves.