Want More Success in Therapy? Do it by Healing Outdoors!!!

Mental Health “talk” therapy is often the preferred approach for treatment of depression, anxiety, even PTSD.  Finding the right therapist is important in this process. However, could Healing Outdoors provide a boost in your quest to improve your life? Why not consider moving forward by Healing Outdoors!

As a backcountry man for many years, I’m always looking for the next adventure. The next well framed picture. The next moose. The next great mountain “high.” Perhaps even the next cougar or bear tracks. Sometimes the unexpected happens. As in life, sometimes the best laid plans can go south.

The early December morning in 2015 had dawned bright and sunny.  The air crisp. The sky so very blue.  Everything hinted of yet another great outdoor adventure.  I was very eager to immerse myself in the backcountry heaven that I have grown very accustomed to experience. Such experiences in the Cottonwood Canyons east of Salt Lake City are plentiful. What tourists, visitors, and even Olympians note quickly. That the peaks of the Wasatch are hard to beat. They beckon to all to explore. To climb. To experience. To adore!

Healing Outdoors — In Any Season!

Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon is amazing in any season. December can be extra sweet. The trail to the beaver ponds rises over 2,000 feet in just over 2 miles. Its steep. Its stunning. It teases the lungs. It is often icy during the winter months. Most of all, the anticipation of seeing what the trail has to offer is huge. That’s the thrill of Healing Outdoors.

I was awestruck as the grandeur of the glacially carved valley leapt into view.  I’ve seen it many times. Even so, the beauty and sheer majesty of it never ceases to exhilarate me.  The snow was a foot deep as my well seasoned backcountry friend, Brett and I descended a steep incline near the beaver ponds. The small creek that rushes out of the beaver ponds teased my ears as we approached the frozen and snow covered water.  We must cross the creek to reach the ponds.  The thin logs that serve as a bridge across the creek were covered in frost that chilly morning.  The water below several feet deep and very cold.  I reasoned that crossing upright was foolish and unwise.  I opted to do so carefully on my hands and knees. It was a far better option than slipping into the icy water.  I had elected to not wear micro-spikes on the icy trail to make the hike more challenging. More steps more reps. Higher heart rate. Better work out. I was now regretting my choice just a bit.

Once across the creek, I scrambled up a slope to be nearer the ponds. I could now see more clearly what I had suspected from above.  The snow and ice were absolutely covered in tracks. Moose? Deer? Elk? Other animals? A stealthy cougar perhaps? My mind reasoned it was likely deer. My mind also quickly reasoned that going on the ice would be unwise. Deer are fleet of foot. I am not. Their hooves and fou legs spread weight much more evenly. I do not. Enough said.

Healing Outdoors — How Awesome!

I immediately began taking pictures. Wow what a view! Four snow choked mountain peaks each over 11,000 feet beckoned for my photographic attention. Click, click, click. Frame. Click, click. Frame.  Stunning!  Meanwhile, Brett continued ahead much  nearer the ponds edge. The snow makes it difficult to know exactly where the water begins. I also heard the unmistakable sound of him tapping and probing the ice with his hiking poles. He was checking the ice for continuity. Tap, tap. Pause. Tap, tap, tap. Pause. This continued for a moment or two.  Hey, what could happen? He’s not completely on the ice.  He’s being careful. But how careful?  My ears then heard the sound of cracking ice. I turned just in time to see Brett tipping as his left leg broke through the ice into the stunningly cold water. He was immersed to his upper thigh. His right leg remained on the ice.  I moved quickly to his aid observing him closely as I did. Would he go deeper? Was he in danger of falling completely through the ice? Hurry. Help him. Be careful! But Brett is no novice hiker. He used his hiking poles first to steady and right himself. Then to push himself out of the water. To relative safety. To mostly dry, snow covered land.  Once to his side, Brett was smiling a wry smile.  “Are you okay” I asked with a nervous chuckle? He seemed more concerned that his cell phone had received a good dunking. He stated that water had gone well above his (knee high) gators. The water was now “…seeping down into my boot.” Again, with a wry smile.  This is where the story turns even more interesting.  Should we continue hiking where we had planned to go? Further up the glacier valley? We usually don’t just turn around. Brett said sadly that he didn’t think so.  We’d need to get Brett dry and heading back down trail…and likely quickly.

The weather was unusually pleasant for December. Temperatures near freezing. The sun dancing through high clouds. The winds were light.  A more common scenario for 8,100  feet in December would be 20 degrees, snow, and gusty winds. We both agreed that scenario would have been much tougher. Still, frigid water and snow. Not the easiest combination. Brett now moved to find a place suitable to change his wet clothes.  He cleared a large, flat rock of snow and forged ahead. His years of mountaineering served him well.  Dry socks. Dry pants. Dry base layer. All were in his backpack. He was prepared for backcountry life. He was prepared for success. To do less is foolhardy. We talked of his backcountry experiences in previous cold circumstances.  Of wearing a wet suit in Zion National Park. The temperature was 32 degrees when he arrived at the trailhead on an early Fall morning. He was ready to enter the famous narrows and encounter cold water.  Or in a heavy June snowstorm on this very trail a few years earlier. All helped pass the time as Brett laboriously changed into dry clothing.  Finally he was finished. It was now time to leave. Time to move head back down to the trail head. To warm up his cold body. To keep moving. To reach the warmth of his truck. Brett noted that he felt much better in his dry clothing. Better than he had expected. Good news! As we moved forward, I recalled I needed to make a 2-3 minute video segment called “Healing Outdoors.” I told Brett that I would be just a few moments. I would then catch up.  I finished the video segment quickly.  I began moving on down trail to check on my friend.

There are striking similarities between success in therapy and success on the backcountry trail. Consider these 3 items for a moment.

First, just as Brett was too close to the thin ice, clients in therapy can want to move too quickly in their therapeutic journey.  Dealing with pain takes time. Dealing with trauma takes patience. Dealing with addictions can be grueling. Moving forward means probing the therapeutic ice for potential pitfalls and weak ice. Patience. Fortitude. Pacing. Gradual success.

Second, Brett and I could have stood on the ridge above the pond and just gazed in wonder. It was beautiful. It was surreal. It was stunning. We could have stopped there. We didn’t. We wanted to take in all that mother nature was offering that December day (minus the ice breaking of course!).  The therapeutic process can be very similar.  Clients may want to stand afar off, safely, and not work on their important issues. Resist improvement. Doubt their desire. A seasoned and well trained therapist will help. Help her strike the important balance from standing afar off and also wanting to walk on thin ice.  Nice!

Thirdly, seasoned therapists have developed a therapeutic toolbox of excellent skills to assist clients.  Just as Brett’s backpack was loaded with backcountry tools and survival gear, clients in therapy need to acquire their own toolbox for their successful journey. Survival gear in a sense. This set of therapy skills needs to well honed. It needs to be well utilized. It needs to be part of their recipe for a successful journey in therapy. And, importantly for post therapy.

The rest of this Healing Outdoors story

Hiking steadily down trail I was now very focused on catching up to Brett. He’s a very savvy backcountry man. I was still concerned.  Was he okay? Safe? Warming up? I really wanted to catch up to him.

Were it not for the unmistakable sound of an animal nearby. I would have caught him quickly. Was it the sound of an echo off of a dead branch? No!  As I wheeled around quickly to focus in the sounds direction, I saw two large bull moose locking horns. Wow! What a sight. I reasoned I was the faster hiker. I could take pictures for 10 minutes and still catch Brett. I absolutely wanted to take these rare pictures. Literally these large bull moose were pushing each other around. They would lock horns. Try to push each others snouts into the snow.  The moose were amazing. They were enormous! I moved closer and took pictures. Then some amazing video. The moose were so involved in battle that they didn’t even seem to notice me. The moose were in seasonal rut. Both seemed a bit edgy.  They would tussle and then break to eat foliage. Tussle again. Then eat. Finally they broke apart. I moved closer. I see moose often. I tend to get closer than I would recommend that others get to such large animals. Particularly the uninitiated or novice hiker. I’m careful. I’m very, very aware. I’m quite seasoned. Some friends call me the “moose whisperer” of sorts. Perhaps.  Eventually the moose posed for this amazing video that I posted to my YouTube channel. Beautiful! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLGMhsV7OlM

I would normally have stayed 20-30 minutes taking great pictures. Even more amazing video. As it was, 10 minutes tops. I moved quickly down trail looking to catch up to Brett. I was moderately concerned. Is he cold? Is he doing well? Has he cramped up?  I observed a solo hiker coming up the trail and asked if he’d seen my hiking friend? Yes. Only 5 minutes ahead. Wonderful! I pushed on. I soon found him at the bridge. The bridge crossing the rushing, ice choked creek. Waiting. Taking great pictures. He was dry and quite warm. He looked very relaxed. Awesome! I told him of the large bull moose.  I showed him the pictures. He indicated an understated “nice!” He loves seeing moose. Before we began our hike, he was hoping to see moose that awesome December day. He wasn’t interested in hiking back 15 minutes to see them. I wonder why?

Michael Boman, LCSW blogs and writes often on key issues related to couples and families. However, perhaps his greatest passion is helping others to see the benefit of Healing Outdoors. Michael hikes, snowshoes, and backpacks often. As the Clinical Director at England Counseling Services and Oquirrh Family Counseling, Michael can be reached for comment at [email protected]