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December 10, 2015

The “nature of the family” or family life, can feel like its own ecosystem sometimes, rife with all the flora and fauna, predators and prey one would find in nature, and in this way, family counseling can be an equally confusing and intimidating venture. In his defining work challenging the modern understanding of family dynamics, Dr. Murray Bowen introduced a core set of concepts to help define and understand these complex relationships.

Now referred to as “Family Systems Theory,” this method has begun to supplant traditional family therapy (that tends to focus on the individual family members) by focusing on the family as a wholly connected unit. This way of approaching various contentions within the group allows the family to heal itself organically through shared learning, and to really get at the root of discovering the kinds of behaviors and personality types that may be causing issues to arise.

Into the Wild

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Psychologist Scott Bandoroff, PhD, launched the field of ‘wilderness family therapy’ in 1990 when he observed that young people who had made great gains on wilderness therapy trips tended to lose ground when they got home, the result of returning to negative family dynamics.”

However, Wilderness Therapy has been shown to be highly effective not only for the individual, but also for family groups—and it seems these results tend to be long lasting for the families involved as well. Studies of the effectiveness of wilderness therapy performed at the Menninger Residential Treatment Program in 2001 determined that “parents and youth reported a significant decline in problems from admission to three months after completing the program, and these gains from treatment lasted up to 12 months after completing the program (Leichtman, Leichtman, Barber, & Neese, 2001).” A later study at the Alpine Academy in 2005 found “families reported significant improvement in child behavior, parental effectiveness, and parent–child relationships when compared with similar difficulties in families who were referred for the service but not served (Lewis, 2005)”.

Blazing a Trail Together

To put this approach into practice, organizations such as Pacific Quest have led the way in founding Wilderness Therapy programs to offer help to struggling families. Many of these families may be seeking a break in the negative cycles of their own family dynamics, and the therapeutic models of “sustainable growth” as cultivated in Pacific Quest’s family therapy programs seek to address this through targeted aims such as:

  • Enhancing Communication
  • Increasing Empathy
  • Developing Usable Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Increasing Awareness
  • Sustaining Familial Growth

Untangling the knots in family relationships can be difficult and painful, and the environment can sometimes seem to make things worse.  Allowing for a change in locations alone can be a powerful instrument for change, and taking the steps to learn and accept the family dynamic as a whole just may be the natural catalyst a family needs for positive growth. If you believe your family may need help, feel free to reach out to us at 808.937.5806.

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