By Veronica Malencia, MA CMHC

“The essence of trauma is disconnection from ourselves,” Gabor Mate. 

In the following post, primary therapist at Juniper Canyon Veronica (Roni), discusses the effectiveness of Wilderness Therapy as trauma treatment for young adult women. 

Trauma survivors experience a form of disconnection from themselves and consequently a disconnection from others. Over and over again, I hear from our clients echo themes of “I can’t trust myself” and “I can’t trust others”. Their internal and external worlds have become unsafe and they are living in a state of hypervigilance and protection.

Our job at Juniper Canyon is to help our clients heal from trauma by helping them rebuild this sense of safety. When we can experience safety within ourselves and in our relationships, we can make the best decisions for our lives. When we only experience threatening or challenging emotions, we react from a place of defense, out of a state of hypervigilance. As Bessel van Der Kolk, M.D. says in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, “when the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”

Wilderness Therapy helps to address and treat those alarm bells in numerous ways. We give our clients space to have embodied, physical experiences that allow them to build trust in themselves and in others. This might look like going down a 160-foot rappel, or allowing a peer to belay you on a rock climb. These experiences help their emotional brains and nervous systems shift so that they learn to feel safety and confidence in themselves and those around them.

We help our clients at Juniper Canyon learn skills to reconnect with and honor their bodies through mindfulness, equine therapy, and somatic trauma therapies. We use the intensive group therapy experience to relearn how to connect with each other. We go beyond talking in therapy–instead we live it.

Our clients also have the opportunity to identify the narratives in their lives that have developed from trauma and work each day through therapy, adventure, and with each other to write a new story. To move from a place of helplessness, disconnection, and despair to a place of power and healing.

At Juniper Canyon, we get to address and heal trauma in so many ways. For some women, time spent in nature is one of the best tools to help their bodies learn to regulate again. “I can finally breathe again” or “I feel free out there”, I often hear. For others, it is the safety of the community that can both care and hold them that becomes so crucial. Women begin to refer to their community at Juniper Canyon as family or home.  And for others, it is the lived experience of our Rites of Passage Ceremonies and our weekly adventures that are so powerful. “I would’ve never believed I could do that”, “I feel like my old self again”.

Trauma therapy becomes much more than just reprocessing memories in an individual therapy session. At Juniper Canyon, we take trauma therapy further. We teach our clients how to achieve the freedom to live fully and genuinely in the present, rather than be burdened by the chains of the past.