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We have all heard inspiring and impactful stories about brave individuals who overcome seemingly impossible odds and challenges. Often, these life-changing stories begin with the smallest of steps. Even the greatest journeys and adventures begin when we firmly place one foot in front of the other.

Alia & Erin

A few years ago, veteran "program kid," Alia arrived at WinGate. Although this wasn't her first, or even second program, it was her first (and last) wilderness therapy experience. Upon admission, Alia was paired with a therapist and assigned a group. Oftentimes, openings in therapeutic programs are filled according to demand and availability; and clients are assigned a therapist dependent upon the clinician's current caseload. That however, is not true at WinGate; a fact that would greatly impact and shape Alia's wilderness experience.

WinGate/Expanse focuses on each client individually, fitting the program to their needs rather than forcing the client to fit the program. The foundational piece of this treatment system is ensuring that each admission is assigned to the group and therapist that best supports their growth. From the beginning, it was clear that therapist Erin, and her clinical area of focus and expertise would best support Alia.

One of the areas in which Alia needed support was personal safety and care. Alia was a cutter, and had "blown out" of several programs, in part because they were unable to help support Alia in keeping herself safe. All of this changed upon her arrival at WinGate. When Alia met Erin, she found someone who was patient, listened, and genuinely cared about her. Erin worked specifically with Alia, helping her make healthier choices, and developing the tools she needed to keep herself safe.

Taking Ownership of the Therapeutic Process

It was the first time in a long time that Alia felt seen and heard. Instead of just telling Alia to "stop," Erin patiently and caringly took the time to find the solution with Alia, rather than for her. As Alia built a relationship of trust with Erin, she began taking more ownership of her therapeutic process and journey. In the end, Alia spent ten weeks at WinGate, never once cutting or self-harming during that time. Those ten weeks changed Alia. Instead of simply surviving, she learned how to thrive and take care of herself.

During her time at WinGate, Alia was recognized with the "Rise Above" pendant, honoring her hard work, and bravery in rising above her personal trauma and challenges. It was an honor specific to her, not befallen on all clients. The simple physical token is something that Alia still values, and she continues wearing the pendant years after her journey in the desert.

Clients at WinGate/Expanse experience profound and lasting growth, and relationships in ways that continue to change and shape their lives long after they leave the desert. Beyond wearing a petroglyph pendant around her neck, Alia continues to infuse the lessons she gained in wilderness into her everyday life. A little over a year ago, Alia graduated high school. She has since finished her first year of college, and is presently living and working on her own. During her graduation from high school, Alia looked out at the crowd, and recognized a familiar face. It was Erin, or as Alia calls her, "the woman who saved my life."

About the Author:
Josh Nelson
Josh Nelson

Roots Director

Josh Nelson has a deep, and extensive background in...

Josh Nelson has a deep, and extensive background in wilderness therapy, having grown up around some of the very first wilderness...