Mastery: Building a Safe Therapeutic Alliance in Wilderness

A key aspect of successful therapy is the relationship between the client and therapist.  Within that relationship trust and safety are essential.  In a wilderness setting that trust and safety is established with the therapist as well as the field staff.   According to Ryan Ebersberger, Lead Field Therapist at New Vision Wilderness-Asheville, the use of New Vision’s Mastery Programming supports that tremendously.  According to Ebersberger,  New Vision’s approach is founded on building healthy relationships and mastery is an important component of that process.  Ebersberger explains that the clients at New Vision Wilderness choose a skill they want to pursue that fosters their self-efficacy as well as ignites their desire to learn side by side with the field staff.  Ebersberger states that this process is helpful for clients who struggle within relationships and gives them the opportunity to connect in their own way by building co-regulation and safety with staff members.   

Ebersberger shares that he had a client with a history of sexual abuse by a male caregiver and her ability to feel safe with staff members, especially males, was a struggle.  Through her mastery, which was athlete nutrition, she was able to create the bridge she needed to feel safe with staff and find success within the relationship.  The field staff were able to connect with her by allowing her to lead them in the process of building the relationship.   

Another client Ebersberger worked with chose pizza making as his mastery.  The staff worked with him on utilizing the food in the field to create pizzas.  He started out by putting cheese and pepperoni on a tortilla and cooking it over the fire.  As he progressed and staff worked with him on what can be done with his mastery more ingredients came out and he started to create backcountry artisan pizzas.  Eventually, a staff member brought a dutch oven into the field and the client was able to create a dutch oven pizza along with cheesy bread.  This process of exploration was done side by side with staff supporting his passion for pizza and culminated in strong relationships with the field staff that complimented his therapeutic work.   

When clients eventually transition from New Vision, they continue working on their mastery skill.  Through exploring and learning in the field not only has the client established healthy relationships with staff, they have also developed a new skill that they are excited to continue to use.   

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