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The Pace of Nature: the intentional slowness of a wilderness therapy intervention works profoundly well

On the first few phone calls with wilderness therapists, parents evolve from extremely grateful and relieved and hopeful to being consumed with the existential conflict of past behaviors and therefore future distrust, culminating in the query “but is it sincere? How do you know they aren’t faking it to get out?” Essentially, parents want to know if the cooperative behavior, the vulnerability, the accountability their child has fitfully started to practice in the field will extrapolate out to school performance, relationships with siblings, if respect and dialogue and “active listening” can possibly be an expectation for the parent-child relationship from here on.

I experienced this same healthy doubt quite often in the field, and in the moment, with your kids.

As students, through practice and peer feedback, become more conscious of their triggers and the social consequences for some of their short-term decisions, then apologies become a more common discussion in relations between students and between student and instructors (such as “sorry for losing my temper” or “I want to take accountability for power-struggling instead of taking a time out”, etc.) And so, to further assist students in their self-awareness, we instructors would try to respond to student apologies with as flat a response as possible.

We tried to send the meta-message that, while recognizing the emotional request for forgiveness implied in the apology, we would (try to) postpone absolution and focus them onward to a future opportunity when the student might choose a healthier alternative response. I might say, simply, “okay. Let’s see how it goes next time.”  Of course, most of us are not able to remain aloof and impartial for long but… the overt message still helped and students would often wander off to consider how their impulsiveness or anger or selfish reaction damaged their status, and the fact that rapport was now impaired. 


In service to your own healthy awareness, share your distrust and sensitivities with your therapist and support network but try to detach and simply experience your child in the refreshing situation. This delay of judgment, and refusal to immediately declare an incident decided and “in the past”, can work miracles.  




Patrick Logan, MS is a former wilderness therapy program manager and IT consults with programs and websites.