Leap of Faith

“There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

How Expedition Therapy Associates creates transformational experiences for emerging young adults who long for deeper insight and purpose in their lives

When Kyla Norris* came home from college for winter break, her mom knew something wasn’t quite right. Her friendly, gregarious and optimistic daughter was depressed, anxious and angry. What she didn’t know was that Kyla had been dealing with big-T trauma since high school, and when she went off to college, she had started partying and self-medicating to cope.

“I wasn’t living right,” Kyla says. “I didn’t care what was going on. I didn’t care if I lived or died.”

A mom on a mission, Anne Norris* started researching ways to help. The previous summer, Kyla thru-hiked the last 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, so, recognizing her daughter’s passion for nature, Anne started Googling wilderness therapy. She found most programs to be harsh and punitive rather than adventure experiences focused on healing and personal growth.

“I wanted Kyla to be treated respectfully,” Anne says. “I didn’t want her to feel like she was going to prison.”

Three days and two notebooks later, Anne found Expedition Therapy Associates (ETA), a therapeutic outdoor leadership experience for emerging young adults. After completing an application and interviewing with founders Beth Fogel and Aaron Wilson, Kyla voluntarily enrolled.

“I knew I needed to be there,” she says. “I didn’t know who I was. I had so many questions about what I believed. I didn’t have any confidence. So I took a leap of faith.”

Blazing Trails and Breaking Chains

With more than 43 years of combined experience in wilderness therapy as well as residential and inpatient hospital settings, Fogel and Wilson knew they wanted to create an unparalleled life experience for young adults. More importantly, they knew how.

Thus was born Expedition Therapy Associates in 2010. This transformative experience is designed for 18- to 26-year-olds who are having difficulty transitioning to adult life; those struggling with learning differences, social anxiety, depression, substance use and even lack of organizational and time management skills.

“Aaron and I have so much passion for working with individuals in the crux of the emerging young adult life stage,” says Fogel, ETA’s primary therapist. “There seems to be a great deal of anxiety around who they are and what they’re going to do. A lot of it has to do with irrational beliefs and ineffective coping patterns. Many turn to substances rather than deal with the difficult emotions.

“But this life stage is about setting your course, learning self-acceptance, and figuring out who you are and what you want,” Fogel continues.

“We listen and relate to our students on a deep and personal level. We connect with one another and invite profound openness in our community.”

Upon arriving in Utah, each student engages in a self-assessment and sets personal goals in collaboration with their treatment team. “Colleagues often wonder how we achieve such extraordinary outcomes, and this is as close as I’ll get to revealing the formula,” says Wilson, ETA’s executive director. “We’re tailoring the experience to the individual. We’re meeting each student where they are and nurturing them from there.”

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