For me, one of the most meaningful privileges of working as a field instructor for Second Nature has been my ability to bring my dog into the field. Many studies have been done to examine human-dog interactions and the benefits, both physically and emotionally, of having dogs around us. In practice, I’ve seen many of those benefits manifest themselves in the field over the years.

Reggie working in the field

Conversation starter: Many students have dogs or other pets at home and having a dog in the group often brings up conversations between staff and students alike about their pets. When I arrive at a new group with my dog, the students immediately ask me about her – giving us an instant opportunity to connect and begin a relationship.

Companionship: Dogs are social animals and in the field the group is their pack. My dog greets the students every morning with whines and grunts of excitement.  She brings them sticks when she wants to play, rolls on her back when she wants a belly rub and licks their faces when she just wants to show some affection. Many students are drawn to sit by the dog, talk to her and play with her.  She’s a part of their group for the week and most students treat her accordingly. She’s a companion who will always return affection and who always has time to spend with others.

Social awareness and comfort: Since dogs can’t speak to us they are skillful at communicating with body language. When we’ve done something to scare a dog they show us with their behavior. There are no conflicting messages between words and body language; in fact, some people who have difficulty reading others’ body language may have an easier time reading a dog’s body language. Dogs are masters of reading human body language because their well-being has been dependent upon it for thousands of years. Dogs seem to have a natural ability to understand human emotion on a basic level and respond to it accordingly. Many times, I’ve seen my dog sit or lay near a student who is sad or overwhelmed. Most of the time that student, consciously or unconsciously, will begin to pet her as they calm down. In fact, research shows that petting a dog actually lowers our heart rate and reduces our level of stress.

Field dogs are a unique part of the Second Nature experience. Many programs do not allow dogs to go into the field with instructors, but with proper training and certification Second Nature does. I’ve seen interactions with field dogs used as a way to highlight struggle as well as success for a student, thus playing an active role in the student’s therapy that week. However, most of the time dogs are simply great companions for everybody in the field; instructors and students alike – a benefit that can sometimes be overlooked but should not be underestimated.

-Noah Zind (and Reggie)

Noah and Reggie

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Thoughts on Young Women Experiencing Wilderness Therapy

As we embraced for the last time the student spoke through tears, “Thank you so much. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. You have helped me the most out of any therapist in my whole life. This place seriously saved my life.”

While this is the conclusion we hope for as therapists it was certainly not what I expected from this student when I first met her. This young woman entered the program literally kicking and screaming. She had volatile outbursts, refused to get out of bed, drink water, or engage with the group. This young woman was convinced that labeling herself with a mental illness was excuse to stop functioning. Hopelessness was pervasive. Helplessness was debilitating. This young woman began the program crippled by anxiety and believing she was not capable of even simple tasks like brushing her teeth or preparing food.

Tears come to my eyes imagining this student leading the group, delegating tasks, providing feedback, ASKING to hike, mentoring younger students, and showing vulnerability with her staff and students.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “We choose to do these things, not because they are easy; but because they are hard.” Young women cannot learn what they are capable of if they are not challenged to do hard things. So many of these girls believe that they are less than, weak, incapable. They learn to challenge these beliefs by doing what is hard. Wilderness provides that challenge to young women. They enter broken and living the word CANT. By the end, they find strength, courage, and the knowledge that they CAN!

-Kristin Adams

Primary Therapist

Kristin Adams

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The Myth of Macho

I work with very intense young men. They are athletes who have often been bullies. They are depressed, unsure of themselves and struggle socially. They are habitually deceptive. They have often bought in to the temporary but incredible relief of substance abuse. All of these young men have much in common. Among those commonalities is their unhealthy relationship with young women.

They are products of a society that hasn’t historically valued women (e.g. Being denied the vote in America for many years, the low number of women in political leadership positions, current wage discrepancies) and a society that objectifies women as well as defines emotions as feminine and weak. This devaluing of emotions is a key contributor in boys suppressing and disregarding key parts of self. It leaves boys and men fragmented and unable to process important normal emotional experiences like sadness, anxiety and joy. It leaves them more susceptible to anger problems, substance abuse and chronic deception.

In Second Nature’s Group One, we address this issue constantly. Our young men are regularly challenging old core beliefs about the many negative attributions towards females. We discuss new healthy ways of being a man (the opposite of societal norms of being disconnected and aggressive). Ultimately our boys shift from precious denial, deception, and aggression to valuing openness and honesty. They learn to value emotional awareness and begin to apply the benefits in relationships. It is through the peace of nature, directed therapies and a lot of hard work that they are able to achieve these shifts. They become more connected with others and reconnect with important parts of themselves.

It is a privilege and gift to be a part of this critical shift in their lives. After 19 years, they continue to inspire me.

-Devan Glissmeyer, Ph.D.
Co-Founder/Partner/Primary Therapist


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No Compromise on Quality; Second Nature Field Mentors


Second Nature has been a long time leader in the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry, pioneering the first clinically sophisticated Wilderness based model. Now, Second Nature is again blazing the trail for the industry by turning important Field Instructor positions into full time careers.

Field Instructors, or Field Mentors as we call them, are a vital link between the therapy sessions  (conducted by the therapist) and translating those concepts into the daily milieu for real time practice and integration. This removes any disconnect between the therapy and “real life”, creating a unique and incredible 24 hour a day 7 days a week experience. The Therapists regularly invite the Field Mentors assigned to the student into individual therapy sessions, allowing them to incorporate the issues identified in the session throughout the rest of the week, and to identify patterns and dynamics in the moment, as they emerge. Field Mentors are provided extensive ongoing training and are key in implementing treatment plan objectives as outlined by the therapist.

A program is only as good as the boots on the ground, yet these critical staffing positions have typically been lower paid positions in many programs, leading to higher turnover and less experienced instructors.  Second Nature has decided to put our money where our mouth is by showing staff their value through dramatic salary increases across the board. If you want to attract a high caliber of staff to work with your student population, you have to be willing to pay for them, and that is precisely what we are doing. Second Nature has always had one of the highest Field Instructor retention rates (an average of over 2 years) and Student/Instructor ratios (3:1) in the industry due to our reputation in Instructor training and development, but now, with field positions becoming a career opportunity, we aim to break that retention and ratio record.
Wilderness therapy involves unique approach that takes years to master. Field Mentors and Clinicians alike are expected to recognize and utilize nature’s lessons in order to create parallels, analogies and powerful emotional experiences. With an industry retention rate of a little over a year, many field Instructors move on right as they are mastering the intricacies of the job. We want to allow our staff to have financial stability so they can stay in the jobs they love and make a career of it. We hope that this trend catches on so that all Wilderness Therapy Programs can develop a strong and experienced Field Instructor team where the rewards far outweigh the cost.

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Parent testimonial

“The circumstances that cause a parent to summon the faith, commitment and courage to entrust the care of their child to a Wilderness Therapy Program are often really difficult. Yet while that reality is clearly, the truth is we all could benefit – greatly – from Wilderness Therapy. Mother Nature is never preachy; she does not lecture; she is often incredibly beautiful, but also often difficult – even stormy at times . . . yet when someone (especially an information age overloaded teen in today’s world) is immersed in this natural world, and surrounded by amazing, caring, LISTENING counselors, staff and therapists like those who give of themselves at Second Nature . . . truly miraculous things start to happen . . . it is never some magical instant moment, yet slowly, almost imperceptibly, growth takes place. Our kids learn that if they do not pitch their tarp correctly and it rains, they get wet. If they do not figure out how to work through things with each other, then food does not get cooked, or water kept clean, or dishes cleaned . .  simple enough things, but therein lie metaphor applicable to all of life. I personally am challenged with bouts of depression and my own full fledged ADHD – and without the benefit of the amazing, structured programs at SNWP (Second Nature Wilderness Program), I instinctively learned years ago how healing and powerful the natural world can be. Second Nature in general, and therapist Coady Schueler in particular, take that healing power to amazing levels, providing powerful opportunities for personal growth in the process. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned through the involvement of not one, but two daughters with SNWP is that the best way I can help my daughters is to work on me – to let them see that I, too, am a flawed human being struggling to find my own unique and personal means of personal growth – and for them to see that I care enough to become vulnerable; to [and this is still really hard for my type-A lawyer self!] REALLY learn how to actively listen to Hannah and Lizzy; and to really put in hard work to make our family a better, safer place within which to LIVE. If your family and personal circumstances are such that you are searching for a place to help break whatever self destructive cycles of behavior are afflicting you, your family and especially your beloved teen children, I personally cannot think or imagine a better place to start than Second Nature. Whatever you do, invest your own time and energies into growing and learning yourself – that;s the best gift of all for your kids, your spouse, your family – and yourself. ”

-Clark W.

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The Bow Drill Fire: Nature’s Rorschach Test

Second Nature Uintas Clinical Director and Primary Therapist, Dr. Steve DeBois

Clinical Director/Therapist, Dr. Steve DeBois

Steve DeBois, Ph.D.
Clinical Director/Therapist, Second Nature Uintas (Boys Group)

“What does making fire with sticks have to do with therapy?!” It’s one of the most common questions students ask early in their stay at Second Nature. The answer, of course, is “Everything.”

But first some background:

Making bow drill fires (or “busting” as it is referred to in the field) is one of the most integral activities that we do at Second Nature. People often picture the scene from Castaway when Tom Hanks rubs two sticks together to create fire. Although they took a few poetic liberties, the basic concept isn’t that far off (the bow drill technique is a bit different, but the basic concept is essentially the same.)

The practical rationale for using bow drills to make fire is pretty simple. We use fire for just about everything in the field. It cooks our dinner, keeps us warm, heats up water for bathing, gives us light in the evening, and provides a calming centerpiece to host therapy groups. And, as important as fire is to the health and safety of the group, the last thing we want is to have to rely on lighters, matches, or other technology that may fail or get lost. The beauty of bow drilling is that all of the materials you need are right there and ready to be utilized.  If one part of the bow drill set is lost, just find a sage bush and you’re ready to harvest another one!

The therapeutic benefit of bow drilling is where things get interesting. The truth is, bow drilling is difficult, and completely foreign to just about everyone when they first arrive at Second Nature. But as we rely on bow drilling to make fire, everyone must learn how to “bust” since each student is part of the group and it is important for everyone to contribute. Because it is a novel and difficult activity, the personality and dynamics of each individual tend to rise to the surface when attempting this task. Students with poor frustration tolerance? You’ll see it emerge quickly at the first failed attempt. Avoidance and procrastination issues? They suddenly appear once it’s busting time. The same applies to dynamics surrounding self-esteem and insecurity, competitiveness, entitlement, anxiety, and just about every other therapeutic issue.  And the beauty in this is that it doesn’t feel like “therapy,” so even students who are guarded or prone to being “all talk” will showCopy of USABLE Bowdrill (1) their core patterns when learning to bow drill. The therapeutic value comes from being able to highlight these patterns when they emerge and process through these dynamics with the students. It may take the form of problem solving, learning emotional regulation skills, or working on positive self-talk techniques, but it all stems from the in-the-moment experiential process that bow drilling provides. It is the intentional utilization of that experience which transforms busting from simply a “camping skill” into a therapeutic process. Under the guidance and direction of the therapist, the field counselors seek out those opportunities to connect the dynamics emerging for a student as he or she learns how to bow drill to those broader individual treatment issues. In this context, the bow drill experience becomes a powerful catalyst for deeper therapeutic work.

Copy of USABLE sparking nestThe process of making fire by bow drill is also rich with metaphor and practical lessons that are unmatched by any other single activity that happens in wilderness or a residential setting. Success in bow drilling requires practice, patience, and persistence. It entails multiple parts of the busting set, all of which are important and if any one piece is not in good working order then no amount of effort will produce a flame. It requires thoughtful preparation (jumping into the task impulsively without adequately preparing the set will produce a lot of smoke but no fire.) To our students, fire by bow drill initially seems impossible, but once the components are in place just about anyone can achieve success, regardless of age, gender, size, or athletic ability. That moment when everything just “clicks” for a student and he/she achieves a first flame is truly inspiring. There is the typical pride and excitement that comes from finding success at something challenging, but something much more profound happens as well, and that moment is when the therapeutic groundwork starts to take shape. Students begin to internalize what, up to that point, they discounted as idle adult lecturing and instead see the value themselves—lessons about resilience and persisting through challenges, connections between their experience in the field and the dysfunctional patterns at home, and the belief that with effort and motivation they can find success and contentment. It’s a pretty magical process for something as simple as “rubbing two sticks together.”


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Adaptation in the Wild

James-Healey-5483James Healey, LCSW, LSUDC
Primary Therapist (Boys Group) – Second Nature Uintas

All living things adapt to their environment. From the large interconnected Aspen forests of Colorado and Utah, to the smallest bacteria in a microbe on the floor of the ocean, living organisms must adapt to the world around them in order to survive. Simply put, those organisms that do not adapt do not survive. Unlike animals living in the wild, people who expect their environment and surroundings to accommodate their whims and desires may be able to survive, yet, not independently, and without a sense of purpose or personal autonomy. It is a tough pill for some adolescents to swallow, the fact that the world will not change to fit their demands. They must learn to navigate life on life’s terms. And this is tougher to learn the older one gets.

The high desert plateau wilderness of Utah holds numerous examples of adaptation. This year we experienced a big, wet winter. We enjoyed a lot of snow, and much more humidity than we are used to. You can see the ramifications of the big winter in the deep greens of early summer. There are more wildflowers, the cacti bloom more flowers than usual, and the wildlife venture lower into the valleys searching for grass as the snow lingers at higher elevations. The Juniper trees, sometimes inaccurately called Cedars, by local ranchers and farmers, grow new branches in the spring. Some of these branches will thrive and become as thick as the trunk of the tree. Some branches will prove a burden in future years.

Unlike a human, the Juniper does not think, and therefore will not overthink a problem. Even though it made sense, so to speak, to develop this branch or that branch because of the abundant moisture and sunlight one year, it may not make sense to keep sending resources to these branches during years when there is limited water or sunlight. A tree might spend years sending lots of nutrients to extend a branch out one direction to capture more sunlight for the organism, only to have a couple of nearby Pinion Pines grow up to block the sunlight from that angle a few years later. The Juniper does not waste time complaining about the unfairness of the world, it gets on with redistributing its energy in an adaptive way. You do not have to look far within a Pinyon, Juniper forest to find a Juniper tree that has large twisting branches extending along the ground or jutting out from the center, long dead and dried out, protruding from the same tree as living branches sprouting leaves and reaching for the sun. If only it were this clear for us as humans, to let go of something we have developed, even nurtured and protected, when it no longer serves any purpose but to hold us back. The Juniper tells us, “If you can, it is okay to let go.

Untitled 4

From the branches, on which they tie off their nightly shelters and routinely harvest bow-drill fire set materials, to the nesting bark and kindling twigs that fuel their fires, the Juniper tree represents many things to a Second Nature student. Yet, the Juniper, with its example of letting go, is only one of many teachers in the “big outside.” An authentic wilderness experience is abundant with lessons on adaptation. It is striking to witness a highly-intelligent, and highly stubborn, teenage boy trail off in the middle of a profanity-laced tirade directed at a breeze that carried off his belongings for the third time, because he made the choice to not put a rock on his notebook. In field jargon, when a student refuses to hike it is referred to as “sitting.” This is usually a habitual response to a difficult task that the student does not want to do, and in the “front country” it often works. When the older students explain that they would like to get to the water and food drop because it is calzone night, the newer student realizes that camp is much more comfortable than the spot where he is sitting.  Of course, refusing to move when your community is working together to cover ground and procure food, water and shelter, is a maladaptive choice. Such humility is a purging of adolescent narcissism and omnipotence. Living in the wilderness empties one’s cup of bravado and arrogance, leaving room for new information. Such humility makes way for empathy, compassion, self-discipline, forgiveness, and accountability. Many Second Nature students often look back on their early days in the wilderness and have a good laugh, full of kindness and acceptance, and a sense of ownership of their past, present, and future.

Untitled 7My favorite illustration of “letting go” in nature is the Bristlecone Pine. The Bristlecone Pine is the longest living tree, with one specimen estimated to be over 5,000 years old. There are healthy, living, blooming Bristlecone Pines with branches and areas of the trunk that have become fossilized; petrified wood on a living tree. Indeed, many burdens we cannot just leave behind, as they will stay with us; the memory of a loss, the scar from a wound, altered chemistry from a habit, a dimming traumatic stress response, or chronic pain. The fossilized branch may remain, yet we can choose to change our relationship with it. We do not have to send it precious energy and feed it.

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In Defense of Our Youth


Greta Lutman, LPC, LCAS
Primary Therapist (Girls Group)

Second Nature Blue Ridge

On a Saturday not long ago, I went with my husband to an old-school barbershop in a small town west of Asheville. Beside us was a young father and his four-year old son. The boy was exploring a box of toy fire trucks and wreckers and cars. Pretty soon, my husband and the boy’s dad were both called to the barber chairs and I was left in the waiting area with him. He was playing with the toys and every now and then we would talk about this truck or that, and he proudly announced that his dad was taking him fishing later that day. If I could tell by looking and by his interactions with his son, I would say the boy’s father was a traditional, small-town dad, raising his child to enjoy typical country activities like hunting, camping and fishing.

At one point, while I was working on a project on my phone, he looked up at me and smiled and said, “You worry too much.” I looked at him, curious, and said, “How do you know that?” and he said, “I can just tell.” In his world, growing up in the country, maybe looking at a smartphone means you are worrying. Or maybe he could see something in me that gave it away, and he was right. He could just tell.

When I think about that lovely, tender-hearted child in the barber shop, I find myself thinking about all of our youth, and how, more often than not, my students in the woods have this kind of innocence and purity. And while this innocence is often obscured by the speed of technology and relentless access to the darker parts of our culture, it does not take long in the wilderness for those hazy layers to fall away.

Too often I hear people talk about teenagers as entitled, lazy, superficial and materialistic. Many adults perceive that teenagers don’t care about anything important and are focused only on themselves. These are the kinds of kids you might expect to find in the wilderness. They must be really troubled, stubborn, or lacking empathy; “bad kids,” what do you expect? But this is almost never true. The kids that come to the woods tend to be the most sensitive, the most readily hurt, the most easily lost, and the most thoroughly obscured. After just a few days in the wilderness, in the simplicity of living in a small community of caring individuals, a student’s natural sense of concern and empathy arises.

My students teach me everyday what love is. They teach me about acceptance. They do not care about race, religion, looks, gender identity, sexuality, or any other personal characteristic that, in the past (and sadly, in some communities still today), might have been used to divide them. For example, I recently had a transgendered student in my group. When I slipped and used the wrong gender pronoun, the rest of the students respectfully corrected me. “Greta, he is a boy, and his name is __________.” What I find remarkable about this is that they did not say, “He is transgendered,” they said, “he is a boy.” To them, it is was not a strange phenomenon that a student would say that he was the opposite gender than the one into which he/she was born. He is a boy because he says he is, and that is enough for them. There may be therapeutic issues to look into with regards to identity, but for these young people, they barely see these differences any more. Students are much quicker to react to a peer that is acting rude or inconsiderate than to one who may simply be different.

Parents are often worried about whether their teenager knows the difference between right and wrong, whether they have empathy, and, at the extreme, if they have a conscience. As parents, this is our worst fear, isn’t it? By the time they are in the wilderness it may have been years since their last genuine display of regret for anything. It is a common concern.

But when they read impact letters to their group, students often show real emotion, vulnerability, tears, and even shame. It is so clear that they feel regret about many of the things they have done, but I often ask just to see what they say. “Do you feel remorse about these things in your past?” And they almost always admit that they do. Then, “Why didn’t you show any of that remorse to your parents?” Nearly every time, the answer is, “If I showed my parents my shame, they would know something was wrong. They would know that I was in trouble, and they would have sent me away!” Of course, sitting under a big blue tarp during a rainstorm with nine other teenagers and five staff, the irony is not lost.

Surprisingly, it is not when they read the stories of the worst things they have done that they become emotional…they have heard these stories many times before. They are not shocked. What is more likely to draw out these raw emotions is when you speak of tender memories of your teen; the time you swam with dolphins, how good your son is with younger children, how your daughter left a sweet note under your pillow that time. Just as these are bittersweet memories for you, they are painful for your son or daughter too. Despite their involvement in troubling situations, at the core, they miss their innocence too. They miss those good times. They are afraid they cannot get back to that innocence, so if they think that their peers and staff can help them restore relationships with you and with a truer part of themselves, they begin to accept help.

Your teenager is still the same interesting, brave, thoughtful, caring, giving, generous, humorous, sensitive, hilarious child he or she always was, even if it has been years since you have seen those qualities. There is work to do, there are amends to make, and there are bumps in the road ahead, for you, your family and your child. But as your teenager sits in a circle with others around a fire, trying to reconnect with the truth of who they are, maybe you can trust that some of those obscuring layers will fall into the earth, which is always ready to absorb them. Perhaps when they leave the woods, they will be able to keep alive the sense of wonder and gratitude that has awakened in their hearts, so that they can bring these gifts to others who are suffering. And maybe they will be at the forefront of their generation’s ability to see people as people, and bring kindness to a world that so clearly needs it.

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