Wed, 20 Apr 2016 00:00:00 GMT Alison McCabe

Backpacking with Clients

What We Brought, and What We Took Away

A Mirasol therapist talks about what it's like to go backpacking with her client.

campfire

We carried plenty in: tents, sleeping bags, headlamps, spare socks, and food to last three days. Some of us brought water filters and journals; others packed first aid kits and books. One client tucked photos of her family into a pocket. Another took her tool ring — a keychain full of techniques and reminders from treatment in case challenges should arise. And of course they did. If I've learned anything from adventuring outdoors, it's that challenges always do. Fortunately for us, we brought what we needed.

We also brought a few things we didn't need. The canyon was new to many of us. I had never been there, nor had any of the clients. And for one client, this Mirasol excursion marked her first ever backpacking trip. Needless to say, it was unfamiliar terrain, and there were sure to be bumps. I checked in with my client the morning we hit the trail to see what else she was carrying. Fear, it turned out. Anxiety. The night before we left, when my client learned we'd be hiking through water, her enthusiasm gave way to doubt. Without quick-dry pants and waterproof shoes, she said she wasn't sure if she could do it.

Not 24 hours later, she was splashing alongside us in the creek and swimming with fish in a natural pool. In that moment, as in so many moments, anxiety and fear seemed to wander off in their own direction, headed downstream as we made our way up. And as the day progressed, we again took inventory of our backpacks. My client added to her list. She carried excitement. Positivity. Also gratitude. She brought with her a whole lot of courage and resolve.

It wasn't that challenges didn't arise over our three days and two nights in the backcountry; it was that we rose to meet them. Wilderness therapy, like any therapy, is not a quick fix or an easy cure. It requires as much work on an emotional level as it does on a physical one, and both take a great deal of strength from staff and clients alike. We all carried a backpack in, and we all carried one out. None of the packs were light.

While gathered around a campfire on our last night, we tossed into the flames the unneeded baggage that had been weighing us down. During our burning ceremony, as we threw twigs into the fire, we let go of our anxiety, negativity, worry, loneliness, doubt. And as we shared these things we brought but didn't need, we felt the warmth of letting them go. The fire continued to burn for quite some time that night, long enough to lose ourselves in fits of laughter as clients made shadow puppets against a rock wall; to talk of progress and recovery under a sky of immeasurable stars; and to watch the flames pulse with life as we sat together in silence, mindful of our thoughts.