We’ve been on the road again! We flew into Minnesota to visit some of Louise’s family and then mt up with a group of educational consultants to tour Northwest Passages and New Vision Wilderness before heading to Chicago for our IECA National Conference.
The executive director of Northwest Passages, Mark Elliott, demonstrated servant leadership by driving a van full of females across state lines. After a long drive from Minnesota to Frederic, Wisconsin, we were to excited to arrive at the first of three long-term programs managed by Northwest Passages. The two male programs and one female program provide the clients with lots of outdoor activities, as well as expeditions. The students have a full day of school every other Thursday and half days the rest of the week. When they are not in school, they are participating in an in-depth study of photography. Students are also involved in community service work such as nursing homes, book clubs at the library, or participating in other projects. The girls program focuses mainly on eating disorders and trauma. DBT seems to work well with this population, however, other types of therapy are also incorporated into the treatment plan for these girls.
The highlight for us was learning more about the assessment center since we have had great success with this program. The assessment center takes psychologically complex students who have multiple diagnoses and work hard as a team to problem solve an accurate diagnosis. What makes this program unique is their strong case management model. The therapists, doctors, and staff are dispersed throughout the building which allows all aspects of the program to be totally integrated. While we were visiting, we observed students in a classroom individually dissecting an owl pellet, and then reconstructing the skeletal structure of the animal eaten the by the owl. We also observed a class studying civil engineering, where they were constructing their own bridge design made out of Popsicle sticks. Other students were participating in a book club with people from the local library. We also learned about the many opportunities the students have to be active in community service while in the assessment center.
One of the art therapists for Northwest Passages wrote a grant for a six-week photography unit. The funding for this grant has allowed the students to learn Photo Shop and master the use of a digital camera. The students have produced some amazing photos from their days in a variety of National Parks.
The students are also writing personal poems and/or short paragraphs to accompany these amazing pieces of art. Collections of their artwork have been made into books, calendars, and note cards (we have a calendar hanging in our office). The program has made arrangements for the photos to be shown during the National Anthem at a Minnesota Twins game. As the students talked and showed us their photos, you could feel such a sense of pride in their accomplishments.
As we arrived at New Vision Wilderness, each of us was outfitted with the outdoor gear we needed to go into the woods. That was a real experience for us Southern girls! Getting the gear on correctly nearly made us break out into a sweat. Once we had on all of the many layers, we looked and felt like astronauts! May learned quickly that there was an art to walking in the snow. Drew Hornbeck, the executive director, told May to walk as if she was determined to get somewhere fast. She resembled an elephant as she stomped through the snow, but she didn’t fall down!
It was beneficial hearing from several of the young people about the different aspects of the program. New Visions does not use a level system but rather a relationship model. The adolescents are asked to find something they are passionate about, and are expected to develop a Mastery Project around this new passion. One girl taught herself sign language because she had stopped talking due to her trauma. Another girl taught herself how to play the trumpet because she only played string instruments. We visited one camp site and learned how maple syrup is made. Louise and I had our first ride on a snow mobile – it was thrilling!
Louise sat on a log that day with another educational consultant and a young man who had been adopted from Guatemala. He talked about his drug use, his anger, and his fear of abandonment by his adoptive family. At first, he was very fearful about his new surroundings. Slowly he began to learn to explore his emotions and feelings. New Vision Wilderness is unique in many of its approaches to therapy. Most young people who come to New Visions have experienced significant loss, trauma, or have some attachment issues. This young man told us about a process he was involved in called “Brain Spotting”. He had been taught how to relax and breathe deeply. He then was told to follow a moving object with his eyes until the therapist told him to pause. He was able to identify and release some early fearful memories; however, what was most significant was that he told us he had woken one day with a very strange feeling. When he was able to process the feeling with his therapist, he was surprised that he could label the feeling as joy! Since then, when he focuses his eyes on that certain spot and breathes deeply on his own, his experiences of joy become stronger and longer. A therapist, as well as one of the owners, Steve Sawyer, explained to him that new neuro pathways were being strengthened during these times.
The original plan was for all of the educational consultants to return to the wilderness to the next day to see a girl’s group. However, once we had learned about Brain Spotting from the young people, we had lots of questions about EMDR, Brain Spotting, and Core Resourcing. Steve Sawyer explained the concepts and showed us segments of two You Tube videos. One of these was from Dr. David Grand (You Tube Parts 1 2 3).
At dinner, the staff at New Visions asked us if we would like to go back to the feel or stay at the lodge and learn more about Brain Spotting. It was unanimous – all of the consultants preferred to learn more about Brain Spotting. To be honest, most of us had real concerns that this process seemed a little “out there” and “new age” so we wanted to understand more about how it worked. After further explanation, the clinical director, Liz Deardorff, got ready to demonstrated brain spotting, and Louise volunteered – intrigued by the report from the young man the day before.
Here are Louise’s memories from brain spotting:
I was asked to sit quietly, close my eyes, and begin to relax while focusing on my breathing. Since I had been practicing a few beginning sessions of breathing through a yoga program on my Ipad, this part seemed easy. Then Liz asked me to tell her a place on my body that felt calm and neutral. She then asked me to find another neutral point ( a resource point). She asked me to draw a line of energy between these two points – could I feel the energy? Liz assured me that my body knew how to do this. Could I tell her a color I was seeing? We continued along this line until I had several resource points and lines of energy. We made a grid of sorts from point to point in my body, which is called your sacred place ,or the point where all of the other points intersect. Strangely, I felt tension between my left shoulder blades. When I was asked to slow down and become more aware of my surrounds, it felt as if I was coming out of a very relaxed, safe deep place. I could feel energy vibrating though me and my hands were tingling almost as I had an electrical current running through my body. It was so much energy, in fact, that in order to relax (and I still had tension in my left should blade), I dropped into my new yoga pose.
After a short while, Steve Sawyer led me to his office to try a short relaxation procedure that involved focusing on that pain point, breathing, and following my eyes through a few movements. While the entire experience was a little bizarre for me, it is very clear to me that the staff is moving energy and unblocking energy, similar to a massage or intense exercise. Could I see sending one of our clients with trauma or attachment issues to New Visions for wilderness therapy? Absolutely! It is unlike any other wilderness therapy in the use of brain spotting and trauma work.
We left New Vision Wilderness with a deep respect for the work they are doing in the field. On our long van ride to Chicago, we stopped at the headquarters for New Vision and met some of the office staff. It was great to meet them since these are usually the people we talk to on the telephone when we call with a referral.