Leap of Faith
By capping enrollment at nine students per group, the therapeutic team develops authentic supportive relationships with each student, serving as mentors, not drill sergeants.
“All of us have a need to be heard, understood and respected,” Fogel says. “By building the relationship on a firm foundation of trust and unconditional love and acceptance, then we can start talking about the really difficult things.”
Getting an Expedition Education
Unlike traditional outdoor leadership schools or wilderness therapy programs, Expedition Therapy offers world-class adventures intended to target key treatment goals for each student. Every new student is welcomed into the expedition community with a celebration. Their mentor teaches them expedition fundamentals, assertive communication, outdoor skills, natural history and culture. Students then embark on a series of expeditions: aviation, rock climbing, fly fishing, canyoneering, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, backpacking and more.
In addition to learning technical skills, ETA students use their developing organizational and leadership skills to prepare and plan for each expedition. Once the expedition begins, students learn to adapt to unforeseen situations. Expedition field instructors are not only certified wilderness first responders and emergency medical technicians but also highly skilled at facilitating powerful growth experiences.
For Kyla, one of the most challenging expeditions wasn’t difficult because she was carrying a 40-pound backpack through a snowy canyon. It was difficult because, even after five weeks on expedition, she was still carrying the burden of her trauma.
“I was talking to one of my instructors, and he said something that triggered me,” Kyla recalls.
“I freaked out. I was an emotional mess. I didn’t want people to know that I was unhappy — it’s funny how hard I was trying to hold everything together — so when they found out, it shattered everything I was trying to portray. I was completely vulnerable. That’s when things shifted, and I was able to grow.”
Between expeditions, students return to base camp and meet with their treatment team who identifies strategies and resources that strengthen communication and develop leadership.
“I think success in life comes from managing risk versus avoiding it,” Wilson says. “Being able to do that in an expedition environment with highly trained professionals who are there to support you as you learn is extremely empowering.”
By week 11, Kyla was helping guide a canyoneering trip near Zion National Park. With every slot navigated, anchor set and pothole escaped, she developed confidence, self-efficacy and personal leadership.
“Success builds on success, until a student is in a much different place from where he or she began,” Wilson says. “It’s hard to believe that you’re not good enough, smart enough, fast enough when you’re doing things you never thought were possible for yourself.”
In addition to exciting outdoor adventures, ETA also offers support for the completion of college coursework to obtain academic credit as well as certification programs, including PADI Open Water Diver Certification and Advanced Adventure Diver Scuba Certification, Avalanche Level 1 Safety Certification, Leave No Trace Certification, FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Remote Pilot License and a series of American Red Cross Lifeguard Certifications.