How to Use the Outdoors as Therapy (Judith Sadora)

Jump To section

What’s the difference between wilderness therapy and just, well, going outside? Judith Sadora, a licensed therapist based in Oregon, practices wilderness therapy with clients outdoors and is an expert in how spending time outside can help us work through trauma. Hear why the outdoors is a great “container” and how to create your own therapeutic experience outside in this thoughtful and insightful episode.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:06] Judith Sadora’s favorite outdoor space

[3:33] Difference between wilderness therapy and therapeutic recreation

[9:50] Why nature makes a good ‘container’

[18:01] Does nature heal trauma?

[20:09] Connecting nature to city life

[22:12] Changing the narrative around what nature is (and isn’t)

[30:14] Judith’s ‘why’

[40:34] How to find your own therapeutic recreation

[45:23] Judith’s favorite and most essential outdoor gear

[48:18] Judith’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Register for our newsletter to win a decal:

Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.


Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. 


Amy Bushatz  0:01  

If you’ve been listening to the Humans Outside Podcast, it’s probably because you have at least a suspicion that spending time outside is more than just good for you in some sort of figurative sense. You probably have seen its impact on yourself, or maybe have just seen a hint of it  – enough to know that you want more. And you probably know by now that I am a shameless outdoor pusher. That’s what the whole at least 20 minutes outside today thing is about, and it’s why my family and I moved to Alaska in 2016 without ever even having been here, looking for a way that we could change our lives to be more outdoor-centric. 


Today’s guest Judith Sadora has an incredible story of her own and has made her outdoor therapy more than just a part of something she does for herself. It’s how she both makes a living and gives back to the world. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, pursuing her doctorate in marriage and family therapy at North Central University, Judith specializes in wilderness therapy for adolescent boys and young adults, particularly those of color with parent and child conflict or mental health issues. And I’m so excited to have her share her story here and some of her wisdom today. 


Judith, it’s an honor to have you on the Humans Outside Podcast. 


Judith Sadora  1:44

Thank you so much, Amy. It is such an honor and a blessing to be here. So thank you for inviting me. 


AB  1:52

We start all of our episodes imagining ourselves just hanging out and chatting in our guests favorite outdoor space, like having these conversations that the backcountry seems to make perfect. You know what I mean? So yeah, where are we with you today?


JS  2:06  

I am in Garibaldi lake in British Columbia. And I went there with my husband for our honeymoon and went back again afterward, a year later. But yeah, we’re on the glacier bowl, the lake, just camping. And just looking at the mountains and yeah, it’s beautiful.


AB  2:32  

This is like a glacier lake, it’s like that perfect blue color. That sort of magic blue?


JS  2:36  

Yes. It’s that magic blue. It’s kind of cold. Yeah, I’m not getting in. But my husband is getting in because he loves doing that. He did that. I was like — how can you go in? Oh my gosh, but yes, that’s my spot. I often think about that spot because it’s just so beautiful. So clear, so crisp. It’s a long time to get up there and the view was absolutely worth the difficulty of carrying that pack up the mountain.


AB  3:06  

That is the best part. And kudos to you, by the way for backpacking for your honeymoon.


JS  3:13  

Yes, we did do that, we had to as a way to kind of, how you say, break in the next few years of our lives.


AB  3:21  

I like it. So talk to us first about wilderness therapy. What is it and give us the lowdown on how it’s different from therapeutic recreation, because that’s an important difference here.


JS  3:32  

Yeah, um, wilderness therapy. I mean, I think even recreation and therapeutic recreation, they all fall underneath experiential therapy. And so it’s just a different way of doing therapy and working with individuals that isn’t talk therapy. I mean, you still talk obviously, but you’re using hands-on experiences to really work with the individual. They’re able to process to access deeper levels of even sometimes consciousness that maybe wouldn’t happen if you’re doing talk therapy. And so a lot of things come up in terms of emotions and feelings and responses, even triggers while you’re doing experiential activities. And wilderness therapy just provides a container and a space to be able to do that, in regards to the therapeutic work. But also, it’s just a great modality in terms of just being out in nature. We know that there’s such amazing benefits of healing when being connected to nature and experiencing it, to the human soul, the human body, the mind, and the spirit. And so, with those benefits, it’s just so much more effective to be able to kind of – I don’t want to say detach from the from frontcountry so much – but to at least recenter yourself to get in a place of limiting the distractions, limiting the chaos and noise in order for your body to regulate, to self-regulate, and be in this consistent place of this just regulating place where you’re actually able to think more, to process, to breathe. There’s just an amazing ability that nature provides for a human being.


AB  5:37  

Talk to me about the difference, though, between doing this with a therapist and maybe you taking yourself out to recreate and calling it — this is my recreational therapy. Is there a difference between those two things?


JS  5:54  

Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, you’re probably the first person that has asked me that question. Even as you asked that, Amy, I’m like — wow, nobody has ever asked that question because a lot of times we lump sum, right? I’ve done that, where I’m like, you know, I go on a hike. And I’m like, this is my therapy, you know. Before I became a therapist, in some ways, and so, but we don’t realize that there is somewhat of a difference when you have the support system and the support team, and have a mental health professional helping you through the process of whatever it is that you’re going through while also being in nature. So yeah, very good question. 


I would say the biggest thing is, I mean, competency level. Obviously, as clinicians, we go to school, we get a degree, we get an education, not saying it’s everything, because there’s a lot that you don’t learn in school. Even just as a therapist of color, I realized so much that’s just not being taught in the educational system in regards to how a lot of these modalities and these therapeutic approaches affect or relate to people of color. I think the biggest thing is obviously competency level and your understanding of how to build relationship. I think that’s the biggest part. 


I think as a therapist, I can say all day long that, yeah, my treatment process, my modality, my therapeutic lens, you know, the theory that I use is so beneficial for the work that I do, and it probably is the most effective that it is in regards to therapeutic outcomes. Right? I can say that, but it’s not necessarily true. We actually have something that’s called – within our marriage and family therapy and psychology as a whole, I believe – but it’s common factors and it’s breaking down what exactly contributes to the effectiveness of therapeutic outcomes with individuals, increases their experience, to be hopeful and to create change. And what we’ve noticed is that the biggest factor is alliance and joining and relationship building. That’s the biggest thing that makes therapy effective. And so as a therapist, what is your ability to join and to connect with your clients? And do you know how to do that? I think that’s what separates us as therapists from maybe some lay people, is the idea that we studied or should be studying as therapists, should be challenged as therapists, to know how to really create space for people. 


And so my job is specifically focused on first creating space for my clients, making sure my clients feel heard, they feel seen, I don’t have an agenda, necessarily. I’m not there to fix them, or to change them. But really, I’m just there to create a safe space for them to process their trauma process, their mental health, and doing it within a space like nature, which is a very safe container. So it’s almost like I use nature as my co-therapist. We talk about co-therapy, I did co-therapy in my practicum quite a bit where it was just me and other therapists in a room with my clients. And I like to say that nature is my co-therapist in a lot of ways. What that just means is I create a container and nature creates a container to be able to see and allow clients to process their trauma, their emotions, their feelings, their hardships, and such – even just their relationships, their dilemma in terms of their relationships with their parents and friends and things like that. So, yeah, I think that’s one of the most important things I think that separates us – a therapist being able to work with a client in nature, from someone just going into nature and experiencing it on their own.


AB  9:50  

Why does nature make such a good container and you know, a co-therapist in a way?


JS  9:57  

It’s consistent. It’s unreliable in a way that you never know what you can get, right? Nature can be like, you know — we’re going to hail today! I went camping with my husband this weekend and it rained and then we thought the rain was gonna be over on Sunday morning when we woke up from our tent, and it started hailing on us while we’re making breakfast. I’m like — What the heck? So I mean, so nature is unpredictable in regards to some of that, which is awesome because it creates this space of the things that are so outside of our control, right? How do I navigate? I struggle with doing recreational activity in the rain and snow, actually really struggle with that. I get really, really cold easily, and it makes things miserable for me. So I am more of a summer, warm spring type of person, outdoor recreational person. But even in that hail yesterday morning, I sensed my frustration, my arrogance, my anxiety, my nervous system started to, you know, jack right up and it started to affect the way I was communicating with my husband and interacting with my husband. And so, so yeah, I think nature has an ability to show you who you really are.


AB  11:18  

It’s that moment where we say that we can, you know, change the things we can and let go the things we can’t, right? Insert that here, like literally any circumstance but also nature, right? Talk about the ultimate moment where you, okay, you can spend your whole life thinking that you actually can change a person and that Serenity Prayer is a bunch of crap, right? And that, you know, you work on it and you work on it, and then you think — okay, we’re good now. And then you wake up one day and find out again, you’re trying to change a person who’s not you. Well, guess what, like that will never be successful with nature and you will never think that it’s actually working.


JS  12:02  

And it will remind you that’s not working.


AB  12:05  

Like it will hail just to like rub it in!


JS  12:08  

And on top of that, I mean, where it holds you in the container is that it is reliable at the same time. It’s consistent, right? I mean, there’s not a whole lot of distractions. So last week or two weeks ago, I went out and this is right after the marches and protests happened. Of course, I have clients of color, and it’s my due diligence, and on top of that, the right for me to share with my clients in the backcountry what’s going on in the frontcountry, especially when it affects them at such a global level, right? And so, I went out there and I brought it, you know, I brought videos, I brought the information on George Floyd murder and all that kind of stuff. And I was like, and I had a group with my kids. And this is a diverse group of kids. I have kids of color in here. And also I’m combined with another therapist who also has kids that are not of color, right? White clients as well, too. And the process was hard and I had a few of my kids, one had to walk away and go sit far, far away on a rock. We had to keep eyes on them far, far away and just like cry and weep. Another one had to take a stick and go in the opposite direction and just bang on the tree, you know, just continually hit a tree. And these are my clients of color. And so wilderness holds that space. I mean, it’s there to say — I get it. I hear you. And go ahead, like feel all the things that you feel. There’s nobody, there’s no parents, there’s no, there’s no police officers. There’s no authority figures  saying — Don’t do that. Don’t do that. I mean, we allow these kids to experience what they experience, feel how they feel in a safe container, and then to come back in and check in with themselves on identifying — Okay, what was coming up for you? What’s happening there? How is what’s happening in the front country connected to your everyday lived experience as an adolescent male of color living in this world, right? And so, so that’s what I mean by wilderness holds, the container, it slows everything down where a kid can actually feel like they don’t have to live up to certain expectations or boundaries or rules in order to save face, right? They can just process what they need to process in that safe container to eventually lead to healthy processing skills, healthy self-regulating skills, eventually, we want to help these clients develop that and that’s how wilderness just as a great co-therapist. I love it.


AB  14:44  

Yeah, that’s great. I got 100% goosebumps while you’re talking about your clients. Those things because I mean, that’s just such, those are just such raw moments. And I think that we, you know, I’ve seen in my own family – my husband has dealt with post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury and he uses the outdoors for that solitude aspect. He’s out there, not in the care of a wilderness therapist, but out there processing this stuff by hiking the mountain. You know, we have a joke in our family about how, you know, we’re going to go see if the mountain is still the boss, right? Can I get up this wicked bad trail without you know, wanting to die? And I mean all trails – important note – all trails in Alaska, most of them go straight up there. We don’t believe in switchbacks here. In fact, when there are switchbacks, people complain that the trail is too long — like why did it take so long to get to the top? So trails have like these really steep inclines and you go up as, you know, you’re trying to go up as fast as you can and you get to the top and you’re maybe a third of the way you’re like — I’m the boss. Today, I am the boss of this mountain. And at the top and you remember that you are not the boss, the mountain is still the boss. You know that the mountain doesn’t change, the mountain will always be the boss, and you can go out there and think that you’re going to be the boss today and you’re not. But that’s reliable, you know, and just such a great way to work through like — I’m trying to be the boss, just in general, and I’m not.


JS  16:26  

And the greatness of being able to correlate that to your everyday life. I think oftentimes, I share too, like if we’re in the business of outdoor adventure, whether it’s wilderness therapy, whether it’s like an after school program to take kids out in the wilderness, or to take them out fishing or camping, or even whether it’s our own individual expeditions – I think that if we’re not in the business of connecting the tools, the skills that we learn out there in the backcountry to the frontcountry, if you haven’t bridged that gap yet, then we’re not learning something, right? And so I’m taking kids I work with – they’re from New York City from California, I mean, they’re major areas, and some of them have never experienced nature the way that wilderness therapy provides nature. They just don’t realize how much they experienced nature in their own everyday life, but not in the context that we offer wilderness therapy, at least not that extreme. And so my biggest work is, how do we bridge this to when you go home? What does nature mean to you, and the tools and skills that you’ve learned? How nature held you as a container and your emotions and your feelings? You need that from your parents, right? Like, you want your parents to be nature to be able to be a container for you for when you are feeling your emotions, you’re struggling and you’re trying to process things, especially if you’re processing things in regards to racism or racial identity development or even just trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse – you would love for your parents to be a container like wilderness is, so how do we have those conversations to facilitate that, and help kids advocate for themselves in effective and assertive ways? So I think it’s super important for us to learn how to bridge the experiences that we have in the wilderness in the backcountry to the frontcountry.


AB 18:13  

So I was going to ask you if you see whether nature heals mental and emotional trauma, but what I’m hearing you say is that nature doesn’t heal it. It gives you an avenue for learning to heal it.


JS 18:26  

There’s so many ways to heal trauma, talk therapy heals trauma in some ways, you know, it’s great, you know, you see a therapist in an office. I mean, I do see a therapist, not out in the wilderness. I have a therapist that I see in office, and that’s helped me so much. So there’s so many ways to heal, or at least embark on the journey to healing for your trauma, and your wounds, but I think that they’re just different things. There are different things out there that create a pathway to that. And I think nature is one of them. I also do think that nature really just allows us to slow down what I think is super helpful in a busy world where we can be so overworked. We’re so much a society, that’s it’s kind of the me society, it’s about self. It’s about achievements. It’s comparing ourselves to others. It can just be really, really absorbed around those things. And I think nature allows us to slow down a bit. So even though there are different modalities that can treat trauma, and different things that can treat trauma, nature has a lot of benefits. I feel like every family should be connected to it in some way, shape or form.


AB  19:50  

Yeah. So you’ve talked about your work with, you know, these kids who are maybe from New York City or somewhere where they have access to nature. But it’s not the nature that so many of us close our eyes and see. Maybe it’s a city park, not a mountain scape, right? Do you find that the benefits of getting out there in the wilderness are more or less apparent for those who have not had consistent access to that, you know, more traditional outdoor sense?


JS  20:26  

Yeah, I think it’s harder. I was born in Jersey in the city and lived like 20 minutes away from the George Washington Bridge until I moved to upstate New York when I was in 10th grade, to a predominantly white neighborhood. But before that, I, you know, lived amongst – I’m Haitian – Haitians, Dominican Puerto Ricans, African Americans, as diverse as it can be. And I didn’t have nature. I remember to this day. I can recall walking to school, every, like, anytime I was going to school I walked and how I enjoyed getting up and going for my walk with my friends just walking outside from town. And sometimes my school would be a little bit far from home. And it was safe enough to be able to just walk, you know, to school and to be outside to catch the bus or to ride bikes, or to even play outside. And so that was a form of nature for me, but I never knew –  you would have brought up hiking to me, I would have been like — what is that? You know, but to me if you would explain what hiking is I would have been like — Oh, so what I do every day to go to school just out in nature, like out in the middle of nowhere.


AB  21:44  

It’s funny, because when you said that I remember my first time trail running, and I was like — wait a minute, assuming that trail running is just hiking, but faster. So I’ve been doing it this whole time sort of. Maybe like if you’re a slow runner, that to me that looks like hiking. Like it’s the same so yeah, yeah different shoes and better snacks. You know, it’s just you know what’s really different here?


JS  22:12  

Yeah, exactly. So I think it really is about changing the narrative around what nature is. I think oftentimes when, even when we go on social media, and I’m guilty of this too, I’ll sometimes put more pictures of me doing an extensive trek, you know, or planning for a long camping trip out in the middle of nowhere where it’s easily accessible to me, but I’m also privileged, I understand my privilege with education and where I live that allows me to have some of that, but oftentimes, we do see on social media or advertising or or even, you know, outdoor magazines where it’s just about nature looks a certain specific way, you know, it’s pretty much like an REI cover. I wonder what would it look like to kind of create more narratives of what nature looks like whether it be a basketball court, whether it be a walk around the park, whether it be a garden in your backyard, even if it’s a small backyard, it can be a different pots of plants in your backyard, even in your home, having plants, indoor plants, whatever it is. I do wonder if if we’re able to break down the narratives around what nature is, then more people will see themselves in nature. They’ll feel like they have more access to nature. And also there’s this idea of, there is a fear in terms of going out into the wilderness. I have friends of color of mine who expressed this fear of like, going out into the wilderness is scary. They have high levels of anxiety just being away from people and not having access to their cell phone and such and being so disconnected. It’s pretty scary for them – and animals and that kind of stuff. So I think there’s, there’s some fear there too. And I think sometimes that’s connected to historical trauma. It’s not like the black community does not have a history with nature. We have a complete deep rooted history with nature. This country has a deep rooted history with nature, Native Americans’ connection to the land’s deep seated rooted history with nature. So we come from that, it’s just so disengaged and disconnected because of unfortunately, just systemic racism and the representation of who has access and who doesn’t, and how that’s represented in society and culture.


AB  24:41  

Yeah, well, but I mean, it’s such an important point. I, you know, we’re talking a lot in our society right now across races about this in a way that should have been happening for a really long time. It hasn’t been. So let’s just write that out there. Like, right, start now. When we talk about representation in the outdoors and those images, I think you’ve really struck on something here.We think a lot about how the outdoor industry should show more people color in their ads, but what you’re saying is the outdoor industry should show different kinds of nature in their ads  – forget like just shopping with people of color. Why are we showing only like inspiring mountainscapes? Why aren’t we showing people in nature where they are actually expanding that definition of that, so when I do my outdoor time I don’t feel like I have to justify it – that my outdoor time is any outdoor time right? I don’t have to be on a mountain peak. 


I’ve spent 20 consecutive minutes outside every day for over 1000 days and one of the things we do on this podcast is talk about that and you know people always ask me — Well, what you know what if you live in a city? But the truth of matter is like outdoor time is outdoor time. Are there versions of it that are more pleasant than others or versions of it that are more picturesque? Sure, right. I mean, it’s nature, like it’s all outside. My time is better than no outside time. And I think that that’s so easy to lose sight of, especially in a culture where we’re sort of one upping each other constantly in social media.


JS  26:34  

Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. So much, so much, so much. I love the way that you pretty much summarized exactly what I’m saying in regards to changing what nature looks like in advertisements and social media and such. I think that oftentimes when I can picture deconstruction of the narrative around what nature is, I think to myself — Well, I wonder how many people of all colors can feel the connection to nature on a deeper level? And what I mean by that, like, what would that perpetuate? And what would that ignite in people in terms of environmentalists, right, in terms of taking care of their environments, in terms of taking care of nature, and in terms of being environmentally informed about things and what they have access to and don’t have access to? And being good stewards of earth, you know, Mother Earth and what it provides us as, as a community. Even just the idea of growing your own food. I grow my own vegetables, I grow fruits. And I started that about two years ago because I was like — I want to go back to my roots, like this is in my roots, you know, of creating and growing your own food and how much have we gotten away from that? And I can do that in my home. Right here in my home. I don’t have to go too far away, I don’t have to, you know, track or you know, anything like that. So it’s just, I think it’s the ability to change what nature actually means. And when a person of any color can see themselves in the nature that they are inhabiting every single day, then they’re more likely to feel more invested in that, they’re more likely to feel more connected to that, which then can possibly open up the door for them to have experiences even outside of their backyard, right? Because if they can see themselves in their backyard, and they can connect to that, they connect that to nature, and in an environment and how that benefits them and how it’s good for their spirit, their soul, their regular nervous system, their ability to regulate, then what they’re probably going to do is try to explore all the more right to other things.


AB  28:49  

How did you find yourself in wilderness therapy? What’s your why?


JS  30:18  

What’s my why? Oh my gosh. I think my why changes, not changes meaning like altogether, changes every day. But the more and more I’m in this field, the more and more my why becomes stronger. Yeah, it’s such a great feeling. It’s so confirming for me, and just gives me purpose. And I think that it’s definitely different from what it was when I first got in. What stays consistent is that when I moved to Vegas in 2009, and that is when I decided to go on a hike for the first time, I went to Red Rock Canyon. And it was beautiful there and I spent three weeks – not the whole three weeks, but I spent three weeks – most of that three weeks, just hiking different trails and just really gaining a better understanding of my emotional and spiritual health. It was the start of it. And from that point, I just fell in love. I just fell in love with hiking, what was something I did by myself became something I did with everybody. Anytime that I wanted to connect with people or hang out with friends, I would just say — hey, let’s go on a hike instead. Rather than you know, go do the regular same old stuff that we do. Let’s go for a hike instead. And I had conversations and connected with people. 


I feel like I was doing wilderness therapy during that time. I didn’t even finish my undergraduate yet when I was doing that. So it’s almost like a foreshadow of where I am today. But I would take out friends or take out people that I would meet at church, and I would just say — hey, let’s go for a hike and just go walk and we’ll just talk about just life and hardships and trials and all that kind of stuff. And so I just would be there for people and connect with people in that way. So it was like I was being a container in a container. It’s really dawning on me even as I’m talking to you about this right now. me so it’s pretty cool. That just started my journey. 


I went on to get my graduate degree in marriage and family therapy. I had a colleague who worked as a wilderness therapist for a program based in Utah, and he told me — Hey, have you ever heard of this? I was like — What? What in the world? I’ve never heard of that. I didn’t know I could put two of my loves together. And I did just a research binge on wilderness therapy everything and found an entire industry and association of wilderness therapy programs. Within this field, the field is pretty dominantly white, cis male, you know, gender, it was founded like that; it’s actually it’s progressively becoming more diverse in terms of female leadership that are in the industry, which is awesome. But nonetheless is predominantly white. And so as I got into the industry in itself, prior to that even when I was on the trail, there weren’t people that looked like me as much. I was like — Where are people? I’m like — oh, nobody looks like me on these trails, like I’m always only, you know, one that’s a person of color that’s hiking, camping or backpacking. And that really like, affected me in a lot of ways. And so, when I went on to pursue a position in the industry, I kind of just told myself that I’m just not an advocate. I’m not only an advocate just for mental health for people of color, but also in representation in the outdoors. And the more and more I fall into this work, and we have the conversation, and the more and more I work with clients, I work with adolescent boys. But my specialty is adolescent boys of color and it just happens that I have a lot of clients of color in my group, and I’m totally okay with that 110%. And a lot of the time, these kids are transracial adoptees, so they’re raised by white parents. Our industry, which I would wish and hope and love for it to be more accessible to other socioeconomic families, but our industry is predominantly affluent white families. And so the clients I work with are clients of color raised in white neighborhoods and by white parents. And so I’m doing a lot of this conversation about racism and racial identity. I mean, that is our conversation constantly out in the field with these kids. And so because they’re in there navigating white spaces, day in and day out, especially with their families, and their families love them and they love their families, but we’re trying to normalize those conversations a little bit more. So I would say that I’m a big advocate for transracial adoptees, for sure, kids of color, and their mental health, for families for interracial families. I’m an advocate for interracial families. I do believe in integration, and how that’s healing and effective in a lot of ways. But really having those conversations about racism is truly important in order for integration to work. And then I’m very trauma informed, attachment informed, and also a big advocate of representing people of color and breaking in nature and breaking down those narratives and those stigmas in regards to people of color being in nature or having accessibility to outdoor adventure.


AB  35:39  

Why is it that it is more, I mean, I think we all intuitively know that there’s not a lot of representation. If you think about it for five seconds, you realize that’s true. And I think we understand that what you’re saying about it is accessible to affluent white families is, you know, intuitively we know that that’s true. Do you have a why for why that’s true and what folks can do to make that not be true anymore? Like, what can we do about this?


JS  36:08  

Oh, that’s a heavy question.


AB  36:11  

Heavy question. So if that’s not something you feel like tackling right now, a pass is a totally acceptable thing.


JS  36:19  

What I love about this field is that I’m in one lane, and one of those lanes is the mental health aspect of things. There are so many other lanes in terms of environmental, social justice, in terms of environmentalist, that I’m not necessarily a part of, because I don’t have the bandwidth to do all the things


AB  36:42  

We have no intention of making you a representative for like solving this whole problem, so please don’t think that. that’s good, too. Because that is not my intention whatsoever. 


JS  36:57  

It’s a good question. I mean, it’s a question that we all have — why, why why? And there’s so many different answers to why. I’ve heard so many different answers. I know that within my industry as a whole, just in general, I mean insurance, accessibility in terms of finances, economics, that that’s a big part of it. To be honest, outdoor behavioral healthcare having to do their own work. That’s a big part of it. But that’s, that’s a lot of industries, right? When you have affluent white industries that are predominantly what it is, and dominating in that way, they have to do a lot of their own work and money tends to be, you know, what talks a lot in a lot of ways. 

There’s some narratives, also, the narrative that there aren’t people of color that have money. I hate that narrative. I’m like — No, there are people of color that have money, they just don’t trust your organization to take care of their black children. Because are you competent enough to work with their black kids? In terms of accessibility, I mean, all of that goes back to real estate, redlining, just how communities were created, how people of color – due to systemic racism – were required to stay in specific areas while white people had access and was a were able to stay in other areas that had more accessibility to nature and such, and so there’s so much that goes into that question from different avenues. 


AB  38:33  

Yeah. So I think it’s definitely you know, as a middle class white woman you know, just gonna put that out there like something that I’ll have you know. When we’re recording this podcast, most people won’t hear this until later this year, but it is the beginning of June right now. And so this is something that we’ve been grappling with a lot, and I would have always said that I was you know, I’m aware, I’m an advocate and all this, all those nice things to say. And I’m fully aware that that is not the case, the way that I would have hoped that it was. So I’ve been staring down that and I know a lot of my white friends have too, and so just a big apology to the whole world, you know, yeah, before right now, too, but saying it again, just — Yeah, like this is just something that we’re that we’re grappling with, even among my friends who have always considered themselves to be more aware than, you know, then other folks, so. So it’s a big subject right now that we’re all working on. And I really appreciate you stepping out and talking about that with us. Because again, we don’t want to sit here and make any one person the representative for something. But these are the conversations that move the conversation forward. So I really appreciate that. I wonder if we can pivot just a little bit to talk a little bit about the practicalities of helping yourself with a little wilderness therapy. We talked earlier about how outdoor therapy by yourself is not the same as you know, wilderness therapy with a therapist. But if this was something that you wanted to walk yourself into, what would you suggest? What are some suggestions you’d give people?


JS  40:22  

And when you say that, do you mean that in terms of becoming a wilderness therapist?


AB  40:25  

No, I mean, in terms of experiencing the wilderness as therapy? Getting those benefits, what would you suggest to folks?


JS  40:34  

Um, yeah, I think getting outside – do it. I mean, plunge and do it and get outside. Oftentimes people think — I’ve always wanted to, you know, go, I drive past a trail that I’ve always wanted to go walk on and I never have because I’m too busy. Whatever. I think making the time = and it doesn’t have to be anything huge. I’m one of the board members for Adventure Mamas Initiative, the nonprofit, and we were having our board meeting a couple of days ago. And we were talking about like about, you know, I’m not a mom, but obviously, my board member colleagues are, and they’re just like — you know, sometimes, being a mom, I can’t picture myself planning a one week trek, you know, that’s like, I don’t even have the time to do that. And so not thinking so big, right? 


Again, going back to what nature means. Nature doesn’t have to be this big old thing. It can be going for a walk, it can be taking your bike and riding your bike around the block. I also understand that that’s also a privilege. We talk about certain people who don’t have access even to a bike or walking around a neighborhood and is it a safe neighborhood and such like that? So I think it’s just finding one thing that you feel like connects you to something that’s bigger than yourself. Because that’s what I think about when I think about nature, right? It’s when you’re wanting to get grounded. It’s really the aspect of pondering on what is greater than me, something that can center me, something that can make me feel this sense of presence. I’m Christian. So God is a big factor of what’s greater than me. And He uses nature to connect to me in that way. And so for me, even just being in my room where I have plants in my room, and then sitting down, putting on some music, some Christian music, we call it worship music. That is a sense of grounding myself and feeling connected and I can smell the plants. I have lavender. I open my window, I have some light that’s coming in, and I want to smell the air as well too. That helps me feel grounded and connected to nature in some ways. I often think that as human beings, learning how to regulate your nervous system is, I mean, it’s such a priority. We’re seeing that in research so much, that trauma, it’s stored in your body, it’s really stored in your body. When you think about chronic illness, when you’re thinking about mental illness, when you’re thinking about all these different things – The Body Keeps the Score. If you’ve never read that book, that’s a good book to read, the body does keep the score and it holds trauma and a lot of ways. And so when you’re able to adapt to these, at least practice some of these regulating skills and tools like breathing meditation, we know it yoga, exercising, getting outside and any kind of way where it’s safe for you, that is a really great way to access that deeper side, like that deeper part of you in terms of your mental health.


AB  43:41  

Awesome. I just love how we’ve been expansive with our term of nature today. That is not because you know, again, we think about it in all these ways. And of course, one of them is just being outside, right. But you’re saying even that is not necessarily what you have to do. Because yeah, it’s in your room and you’re opening the window and you’re listening to some birds through it. And you’re inside. Exactly. Seeing nature in that way, I think that’s just an incredible accessibility thing, you just made nature 20 times more accessible to somebody listening to this than it was before they started listening to this podcast. Yeah. Because you’ve introduced a way to think about it that maybe they hadn’t thought about before. So thank you. 


JS  44:34  

I think that’s so important. And you know, of course, I’m not minimizing the big old treks. I love going up to the mountains and you know, getting completely isolated and disconnected in the world. Those are so fun, but I think there’s a spectrum to nature that oftentimes we as human beings forget that exists,


AB  44:49  

Right? And everything has its place, like you can’t take a big old trek every day, or else you never have a job.


JS  44:55  

Exactly. We got to work


AB  44:57  

You’ve got to work to make the fun happen. Just you know, it’s sort of a version of living for the weekend. 


JS 45:04  

Exactly. And then when situations like COVID happening, that made us change things up. We had to switch things up if like — Oh my gosh, now what do we do, campsites and campgrounds and stuff are closed. We’re social distancing. You know, you can’t even go out in nature, which is social distancing. So I think this is a great way to help us again, take what we learn out in the backcountry into the frontcountry, so we’re not in panic mode, and filled with a whole lot of anxiety and don’t know how to function in a foreign country.


AB  45:34  

So good. Okay, so obviously, we could talk about this all day, right. But let’s shift gears a little bit. Close it up. Talk to us. What is your favorite outdoor gear? Give us the lowdown.


JS  45:46  

Oh my gosh, my favorite outdoor gear. Oh, um, my hammock. Emo Hammock. I mean, we just take it and whenever it’s really warm out, hang it up. It’s perfect. 


AB  46:01  

Do you just sleep in it? I mean, like overnight.


JS  46:04  

When it’s warm, only when it’s warm. When it’s cold – Ooh, it is hard. I mean, they have gear for that to make it a little bit warmer in terms of the hot air for everything. Yeah, they have gear for everything. It’s ridiculous, but nobody wants to pay all that money for extra gear. So I’m like — Yeah, I use it when it’s warm out specifically.


AB  46:21  

What’s your most essential gear? Like something you can’t live without?


JS  46:25  

Oh my god. Right now, especially when I go out into the field, the Kula pee cloths. Have you heard of them yet? Oh, you have to follow them on Instagram. The Kula pee cloth. I’m kind of putting a plug for them. Okay, but yeah, their pee cloth that they’ve created specifically. And they have designs on one side, like all types of design. I have like three of them. But it is just, instead of carrying toilet paper all the time you have that. And it’s just made with material that absorbs and it’s so easy to clean. I love it.


AB  46:56  

Yeah, definitely. We’re gonna end this podcast and I’m gonna Google that, pronto, because talk about real life. Hello, like, I have sons and a husband, right? So they don’t have the same problems I have.


JS  47:15  

The thing is like so amazing and then you hang it. It’s so funny sometimes though, because when I’ll be out in the field and staff, because I hang it on my, you can hang it on your backpack, or whatever. And staff will go — Oh, what’s that — and go to touch it. I’m like — Oh, don’t touch.


AB  47:29  

Yeah, you’re not kidding. But I mean, again, real life. Like these are some real life problems that maybe people who are listening to this are like testing the outdoor waters have not considered. A pee cloth is a thing. It’s a thing. It’s a thing. We’ll let you absorb that information and then we’ll move on, and then check out the show notes and learn more, but like just take it in for a second. Okay, this is a thing. It’s okay.


JS  47:56  

I love it. I love it.


AB  48:00  

Okay, last thing, close your eyes. Tell us your favorite outdoor moment. The thing that pops to mind, take us there. If you close your eyes, think — this is the moment I want to harken back to. You know like, I don’t know. I think that’s something to think about. It is like my happy place right? Like right where are you and what are you doing?


JS  48:18  

Yeah, well I think this is something that just keeps coming in my mind. I know it has to do with work, but it is my happy place. Because I just get to work outdoors. I am picturing me on the trail with a young adult client that was working with me for like 14 weeks and was transitioning to go home. 18 years old and he decided that he wanted to do a big major trek out, and I remember him and two staff, I can just see them. I still picture him just walking down the trail with the staff as a way of his – like a rite of passage as a way to end his process. And I just watched him and you know, I love that. Like, I think of that image constantly.


AB  49:12  

Thank you so much for coming on the Humans Outside Podcast today. I really appreciate it.


JS  49:18  

Thank you for having me!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Jump To section



Humans Outside Instagram

How does spending at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day since Sept. 1, 2017 change your life? 

We’re on a mission to find out.

[instagram-feed feed=1]

JOIN Us Today


Keep up with the latest podcast episodes, resources and announcements