By Mallorie Stanely, MS, MSW, CSW
Many family members start their Legacy or Juniper Canyon journey with a lot of anxiety and fear. They may be thinking: What if this doesn’t work? How will I know they’re okay? When will I get to speak with them? What happens afterward? All of these questions are completely understandable—and expected! We know it can be scary to step into the unknown. That is part of the “magic” of Wilderness Therapy. We ask our clients, (and their families!) to step out of their comfort zones and into something unfamiliar in order to interrupt the old patterns that just aren’t working anymore.
These old patterns are often what holds us back from making lasting change. In order to begin the healing journey, we must slow things down, hit restart, and develop new ways of relating to one another. At Legacy Treatment Center and Juniper Canyon, we have a lot of ways of doing this!
Our clinical team believes that long-term healing and recovery is most successful when we can work with not only the client enrolled in treatment but also members of their family. This is because in any family system, no matter the composition, each member of the family has an emotional impact on other people in the family. This interconnectedness can have dramatic effects on how we feel, think, and behave in relationships. This is the basis of Family Systems Theory, which was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, and is the foundation of much of the work our therapists do in family therapy. We believe that the best outcomes in treatment happen when individuals in a client’s closest support system are able to heal with them.
There are many ways that we invite families to participate in their loved one’s treatment. Throughout their stay, families are invited to participate in:
- Letter writing – It can be difficult to say goodbye to family members for the duration of treatment, so clients and families are welcome to use our secure electronic letter-writing system, The Family Bridge. Due to our remote location, snail mail can take a bit longer to get to loved ones, especially those outside Utah. The Family Bridge allows our clients to send letters back and forth efficiently every week, and families will receive photographs of their loved ones from their adventures.
- Therapeutic letter writing – Many families are asked to write therapeutic letters, such as impact letters, support letters, or accountability letters. Unlike the letters exchanged on The Family Bridge, these are assignments from your therapist that are meant to support the client’s goals in therapy. Family members will work collaboratively with the therapist to help communicate their feelings in a supported and structured way.
- Reading assignments – Your therapist will recommend some powerful books to help guide your learning alongside that of your loved one. We often have families read the same books that we ask clients to read, to develop a shared language and understanding of what clients are learning. Family members often say that the books they read during this journey impacted their lives even outside of the work they did with their loved ones.
- Psychoeducational webinars – Each Monday evening, members of our clinical team welcome families to participate in a live video webinar to discuss themes related to treatment. Conversations about trauma, attachment patterns, communication skills, and aftercare planning (among many other topics) can help clarify your loved one’s growth process and treatment planning. Many parents have also found these webinars to be helpful in relieving some of the anxiety that comes with having a loved one in treatment – knowing that you’re not alone in this process! If you’re not able to make it to one of the weekly webinars, we also have recorded webinars available on our YouTube channel, Off The Couch Therapy.
- Weekly contact with the therapist – Immediately after a client’s intake, therapists contact families to introduce themselves, answer questions, and provide support. Afterward, with the client’s permission, families can expect to have weekly contact from the therapist—often voice or video calls—to receive updates on how their loved one is progressing, develop treatment goals, and discuss patterns in the family system that may be a focus in therapy.
- Family therapy – Later in the course of treatment, depending on a client’s and family’s needs, families are invited to participate in video family therapy. As we identify harmful or distressing patterns in the family system, it is important to begin changing these patterns by having honest and vulnerable conversations as a family. Practicing skills such as reflective listening and setting boundaries with the support of a therapist also prepares families to successfully maintain close relationships after clients graduate from the program.
- Family Workshop – Typically between weeks 8 and 10, families are invited to join our community in Loa, UT for a two-day workshop with their loved ones. During this workshop, parents, partners, or other significant individuals can expect to engage in group therapy with other families as well as individual family therapy with the client and their therapist. Families also have the exciting opportunity to spend an afternoon in our gorgeous course area, hiking and adventuring with their clients and members of our field staff!
As you get started on your Legacy or Juniper Canyon journey, remember that you will not be alone in this process. Like your client, you may be asked to share some difficult feelings and practice new skills, and your willingness to do so will set a new foundation for meaningful, connected relationships moving forward. Our admissions team, clinical team, support staff, and other families in treatment are all here to guide you along this unfamiliar but important path to healing your whole family.