Justin Swensen is currently a clinical intern at Legacy Treatment Center, however his passion for the outdoors and for Wilderness Therapy started long before he came to Legacy. To learn even more about Justin, read his bio here.
Shortly after I completed my four-year enlistment in the US Navy I found myself in a rut. I was caught up in toxic relationships, working a job that I did not enjoy, living a very unhealthy lifestyle, and drinking to manage my depression. My father had died from alcoholism while I was deployed in the Middle East. My escape from it all was to spend as much time as I could in the high desert or mountains mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing, or exploring the dirt roads in my Jeep.
I recall one life-changing experience in the mountains very vividly. I was on a solo backpacking trip in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah in the late summer. After a hard climb up a steep canyon, I found myself in a small meadow of tall grass speckled with patches of yellow flowers, perfectly framed by aspen trees with light green leaves fluttering in the breeze. The late afternoon sun at my back cast a soft light on the meadow and lit the tall alpine peak beyond with a radiant glow. I walked slowly with the tips of my fingers touching the top of the grass. I could smell the wild fragrance and hear the leaves lightly rustling in the breeze in harmony with the nearby gurling stream and buzzing insects. The song from a small bird off in the distance almost brought me to tears…In those moments, all my worldly worries melted away. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a whole person; a healthy, loving, ambitious person. That day, standing in the meadow, looking up at the glowing 12,000-foot peak, I decided that I wanted to help other people experience the natural world like I was in those moments.
That following spring a series of (unfortunate) events led me to a random encounter with a person who worked for a Wilderness Therapy program. I told her that I was interested in the field, and she got me an interview later that day. Two weeks later I was out for a week on my initial training. Now, after more than two decades of working in Wilderness Therapy in a variety of positions from Field Guide to Field Director and most recently Program Director, I am excited to be in my role as a Clinical Intern. I believe that my experience in the field has helped me to develop a greater understanding of how we can use wilderness adventure, ceremony, creativity, and clinical interventions in harmony to provide a comprehensive mental health treatment.