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Our 9 Pillars Define the Foundation
of Our Treatment Program and Outcomes

Holistically Trauma Informed

trauma informed icon
Techniques and Overall System

There is a distinct difference between trauma informed treatment techniques (EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Brain Spotting, DBT, etc.) and a trauma informed care (TIC) program system. For the most powerful treatment of trauma, BOTH the therapeutic techniques AND a properly designed program should be in place. According to the Trauma Informed Care Project, "Trauma informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma Informed Care also emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment." We have specifically designed a program based on these principles; indeed, we are pioneers in this type of programming.

Trauma Sensitivity

According to Sam Himelstein Ph.D. (Of the Center for Adolescent Studies) among other program characteristics, a program WITHOUT trauma sensitivity will include: “A misuse or overuse of displays of power, a disempowering and devaluing of consumers, an environment where consumers are labeled and pathologized, and a focus on what’s wrong.” These characteristics are displayed in many wilderness programs through the use of a level system-- a system of consequencing, and a lack of emphasis on acknowledging good and positive behaviors and dispositions in the participants.

According to the same author, a system WITH trauma sensitivity will include: "A recognition that coercive interventions cause trauma and retraumatization, a valuing of the consumer’s voice in all aspects of care, an all-inclusive of the survivor’s perspective, and recognition of person as a whole." These characteristics are displayed in our wilderness program by the fact that we do not have a level system, we do not employ consequencing, we have a sophisticated system for powerfully acknowledging positive internal change in our students, and we have at the center of the 'soul' of our program a complete focus on seeing our students as people to be deeply respected.

Engaging Agency

engaging agency icon

At Expanse Wilderness, we understand the simple yet profound principle that the kind of change that matters, is one that comes from the inside out - a change of heart. We train our staff to be ‘engagers’ of agency and internal choice, rather than ‘provokers’ of resistance and external compliance. The only way one person can to help another person, with an intention toward helping that person change from the inside out, in a genuine and more lasting way, is to engage their agency, not just control their behavior. Among other things, engaging the agency of another human being entails: becoming chosen as a mentor, being an example, cultivating humility, remaining un-offended, capturing curiosity, loving those whom you seek to help, interjecting powerfully, and letting go of culturally pre-conceived ideas of how to get another person to change. We help our staff be this way, and do these things…every single day.

Creating and using cultural wilderness living items, coupled with principles having to do with the character traits that must be maintained by our staff members (mentioned above), we produce a vehicle for establishing a mentoring relationship of trust. Engaging the student’s interests and natural curiosity, and reducing their resistance, is a hallmark of our program. As students become engaged, the metaphors of creating useful tools and developing new-found skills become external models of inward possibilities. As students become engaged, they begin to see that the positive relationships they are having with those in front of them in the wilderness, can extend to those at home. We are pioneers in developing and utilizing this model of Engaging Agency™ in a wilderness therapy setting, and we have been refining it for decades.

If you would like to know more about this concept, reading the following book is a good start:

The Way With Children: Ancient Wisdom for Leading Modern Young People,
by M. Shayne Gallagher

Family Focus

family focus icon

Everything we do at Expanse is to build and unify the connection between our students and their families. The treatment pathway and every aspect of our program is geared towards producing an outcome wherein family relationships become healed and sustained for decades to come. Such permanency has far more to do with each person’s ‘way of being’ rather than with parenting tools and techniques.

In addition to our daily interactions with the students in our care, we also utilize the same groundbreaking scholarly work when we invite family members to participate in the journey to understanding how and why we as humans interact in both positive and negative ways. These groundbreaking concepts address the conflicts at hand and promote a ‘change of heart’ for all those involved in this important family endeavor.

As family members, when you become actively engaged in the literature we promote, the therapeutic activities we assign, the on-site seminars we offer, the family field visits we facilitate, and the overall experience we provide for you, you will begin to understand exactly why we do what we do and why it is invaluable to your overall success.

Together, you and your child will learn the same language, concepts, and strategies we have been teaching to thousands of families who came before you. We are the best at sharing and teaching these ideas, and the benefits have been felt across this country, and around the globe.

If you would like to know more about these concepts, we encourage you to pick up the following books as a good place to start:

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict,
by The Arbinger Institute

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers,
by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D.

Actual Wilderness Experience

actual wilderness icon

Expanse Wilderness is a true wilderness experience. Unlike many of our competitors, we believe in the efficacy of an Actual Wilderness Experience™ (AWE™). This means we use the wilderness as a teacher and utilize every aspect of its primitive landscape and culture to assist us in our processes.

We have learned through years of experience that the wilderness offers a unique atmosphere for healing that cannot be found elsewhere. The stillness and silence of its remote places lends to insightful self-reflection and awakenings, the ability to live modestly lends for deep gratitude and perspective, and the rigors of hiking in simplicity lends for true resiliency, quite strength, and genuine personal power. The type of wilderness experience we incorporate has deep historical and cultural roots and is the basis upon which the original concept of wilderness therapy was both conceived and proven to be deeply transformational. It is often portrayed by the likes of Walt Whitman, Anne Frank, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. We believe in the efficacy of the experience they explain.

Positive Civilization Experiences

We believe that in steering away from the effectiveness of an Actual Wilderness Experience™, other “wilderness” therapy programs create an experience that is largely filled with contrivance activities (rock climbing, kayaking, biking, etc.), similar in scope to that of accomplishing positive things on several outdoor adventures. Although these can be positive civilization experiences and can produce positive results, they are not the same thing as a profound A.W.E., and do not produce the same long term results.

Distractions

In the wilderness, happiness and fun come more from an internal place of authentic joy than an external place of doing distractingly fun things or recreational activities. The adventure our students are going through has more to do with discovering nuances of their own qualities than participating in a series of outdoor events. Even though among the founders of Expanse there is a veteran professional rappelling instructor, two professional high ropes course designers and constructors, a master’s degree in recreation management, and a co-founder of a nationally recognized equine therapy certification program, we don’t rappel, we don't do ropes courses, we don't do adventure or recreation, and we don't do anything with horses. And even though it would be easier to “compete” in the marketplace by making our program easier to sell by including these “innovations,” we never will. In the context of wilderness therapy, we see them as distractions. None of these things create the long term change that only a true Authentic Wilderness Experience produces.

Interruptions

We don't have a basecamp. We don't frequent facilities. We don't live part-time in buildings. We don't get in vehicles to do service projects in town, or travel across the state to the cool recreation spots. We don't camp in camp-grounds. Our office isn’t down the road from where our students camp, so they can be seen by our therapists several days a week (Our students don't even see the lights of town.) And even though it would be easier to “compete” in the marketplace by making our program easier to sell by including these “concessions,” we never will. We see them as interruptions. Interruptions to the wilderness experience do not add quality to the wilderness experience, they detract from it.

We Do Not Use Punishment as Therapy

non punishment icon

A powerful wilderness therapy experience can literally “imprint” certain principles into a participant’s life. We at Expanse believe that when students are confronted with external motivators in the form of either punishments (usually termed ‘consequencing’ in most wilderness programs) or rewards, they will learn (become imprinted) to be externally motivated. Intrinsic motivation is our goal, not solely a controlled change in behavior. Program features calculated to exact a change in behavior are, by design-default, encouraging transitory change. Program features calculated to invite a change of heart are by design encouraging a lifetime change. Teaching and showing these principles not only adds to the power of the experience itself, it adds to the student’s own understanding of what it means to do things “for the right reasons” from an internal locus of control.

Rewards & Punishments

A wilderness therapist can get an entire wilderness group to ‘behave’ with near mystical immediacy by announcing the offering of a special meal if expectations are met, or the denying of brown sugar at the end of the week if behavior expectations are not met; but this type of approach masks the true motives behinds the students actions as it becomes impossible to tell if the students are ‘behaving’ because they actually want to, and it is likely their negative behavior will return not long after the external motivators (or demotivators) go away. At Expanse we don't reward ‘good’ behavior by giving a much desired treat for starting a bow drill fire, or a flashlight and camping chair for moving up the level system.

We never use food or other desired items as a positive ‘behavior negotiator.’ And, we don't punish ‘bad’ behavior by making students do pack drills for time limit infractions (dumping out one’s gear and packing back up in seven minutes or less, sometimes multiple times in a row), or the removal of food (usually brown sugar) as a negative ‘behavior negotiator.’ We do not subscribe to the common notion that a good wilderness instructor is defined by their ability to be a great ‘consequencer,’ instead we know that the best wilderness instructors are those who are the best ‘relators’ and ‘engagers,’ and we know how to train our instructors be just that.

Attempting to Influence or enact inner change through the use of rewards and punishments is the lowest form of methodology a person can use to draw out acceptable behavior from another person, and it also annuls one’s abilities to properly diagnose the motives ‘under’ the other person’s behavior. At Expanse we believe in a more clinically sophisticated ‘higher road’ which by design has more permanent effect and more accurate clinical assessment value. We have practiced our non-punitive, non-consequencing model for decades, and find joy in sharing these ideas with parents and practitioners from across the globe.

If you would like to know more about these concepts, reading the following books is a good start:

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes,
by Alfie Kohn

Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors,
by Heather T. Forbes

Acknowledging Internal Change

internal change icon

At Expanse, we have a deep-seated belief that every person, including each of the students we serve, is capable of dramatic internal change. Part of real change is a returning to, or a re-discovering of oneself. When issues are effectively addressed, personal characteristics are often “uncovered” and brought to light, revealing a unique, talented, and gifted person.

We point the way to the change we are looking for. We teach the principles each pendant represents. Our staff seek to exemplify these life lessons, inviting students to see and explore them. Structured teaching moments are sculpted to clarify and validate the principles found in the descriptions of the pendants, encouraging the students to test and explore them.

Internal Change vs Behavioral Change

As we have mentioned in other parts of this website, many wilderness programs seek to modify behavior by training students to respond affirmatively to external stimuli. This is not the outcome we at Expanse seek. Internal emotional change is the precursor to real behavioral transformation. Our program is designed specifically that each student may walk their own individualized journey to emotional and behavioral freedom.

The Power of Acknowledging

Powerfully acknowledging this kind of change reinforces it, giving it “solidity” and long-term significance. When students find positive meaning in themselves, this triggers not only positive emotions in the moment, but it creates impetus for positive upward spirals. Positive emotions become self-reinforcing. (Broaden and Build” Theory, Fredrickson 2002).

The Pendants

As a student begins to work through the Expanse Wilderness process, they make changes and uncover traits (forgiveness, strength, cheerfulness, responsibility, setting goals, making amends, etc.). When this happens, we celebrate with them by offering a pendant symbolic of the very changes they are making. This is done in a ceremony of profound honoring toward them. We seek to facilitate authentic personal validation of the deepest sort. This validation is something they can carry for the rest of their lives.

Symbols of Change

On this page, and in other parts of this website, you will see images of our pendants and symbols. Click on these images to explore the meanings behind them. As you explore know that these meanings are the very things we seek to exemplify and teach every day in the wilderness and on the trail of life.

No Level System

no level system icon

Rather than having every student go through the same “growth packet” with its accompanying level system, we provide a personal track within the program adapted to each student. Truly individualized treatment is fostered and created in this way, in fact, it can’t really be created in any other way. We don’t punish or reward by utilizing a level system and the externalized motivations such a system is designed to promote. At Expanse the structure of each student’s treatment reveals itself throughout the process, not at the outset before we even know the student.

Hoops

Students tormented by depression won’t even try to jump through hoops, defiant students love to defy hoops once identified, trauma suffering students often are potentially re-traumatized by being ‘made’ to jump through hoops, maladaptively pleasing students will acquiesce to jump through hoops hoping for approval, and manipulative students love to jump through hoops to show that they are ‘getting through the process.’ For thirty years working with thousands of children in the wilderness, we have not used hoops, and never plan to. We simply don't need them.

Connection

Given the fundamental differences between a level system and a treatment plan, there is a distinct disconnect amid the behaviors demanded in a generalized level system (and the consequencing that comes with it) and the individual clinical treatment needs of each student. When a level system is utilized, it’s like there are two ‘tracks’ going on at the same time, that are not connected by design. This is a recognized problem in the behavioral treatment space, but few programs have tackled it.

At Expanse we avoid this disconnect altogether. Core issues are addressed by utilizing what a TRUE wilderness experience NATURALLY provides, there is no need to ADD a level system, that's why we don't. Expanse’s Executive Director has presented at regional and national conferences many times on the virtues of not having level systems. Several programs are catching on, many have significantly modified their level systems, or have jettisoned them altogether. We at Expanse are pioneers with regard to this concept.

Relationship Driven

relationship driven icon

Many wilderness therapy programs use in vogue phrases like; “relational therapy,” “alliance based,” and even, “trauma informed,” when describing their therapeutic approach. Although these phrases sound great, they almost always refer merely to the actual techniques or approaches used by the therapists themselves during a session, with little to no account for a matching approach in the greater program. At Expanse the program itself is the foundational relationship driven structure upon which all other activities are sustained.

Informed by more than four decades of groundbreaking scholarly work on the subject of how and why human relationships function, Expanse’s relationship driven philosophy is our preeminent feature. It permeates all aspects of our staff training, family work, and clinical practices. Expanse stands unique in its capacity to ensure that a powerful therapeutic alliance is being continuously fostered between our students and every Expanse staff member they encounter. We are well known for our ability to help heal relationships on all levels.

If you would like to know more about this concept, reading the following book is a good start:

Bonds that Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves,
by C. Terry Warner

Negotiating the Therapeutic Alliance: A Relational Treatment Guide,
by Jeremy D. Safran, and J. Christopher Muran

Clinically Centered

clinically centered icon

WinGate's unique program is built around providing the most sophisticated clinical experience in the wilderness treatment arena today. We employ the dedicated efforts of talented clinicians who know how to utilize the best of what a wilderness experience has to offer, joined with their professional expertise, and united with the unique philosophical structure of our program.

Reducing Resistance to Clinical Efforts

Our program at Expanse creates a healing milieu specifically engineered to drastically reduce resistance to therapeutic interventions. Our program’s distinctive features allow for dramatic acceptance (by the student) of the clinical process itself. Treatment failure is often a result of subtle yet persistent treatment resistance. We have honed our approach to such an extent, we are often successful even after an individual has experienced several treatment failures before coming to us. We know how to reduce resistance, and this makes a vast clinical difference.

Robustly Clinical by Nature

Expanse, unlike other wilderness programs, also provides a robust and genuine actual wilderness experience. Our therapists are not only trained in their clinical craft, but also in skills that help them use the wilderness to its fullest extent, while also not detracting from the natural wilderness influence. Our therapists understand that the wilderness itself is a powerful magnifier of their clinical efforts, and that their success as clinicians is dependent on their student experiencing this magnifying tool.

Clinical Effectiveness Multipliers

Although our clinicians are amazing, our philosophical structure is unparalleled, and the wilderness experience we provide is the most profound, it's the combination of these three features that really matters. These coalesced components are not clinical ‘add-ons’ to one another, but multipliers to one another. No therapist, as effective as they might be in their own right, will be able to facilitate genuine clinical progress while the program itself is causing internal resistance in the student when the student leaves the session. No program, as effectual as it might be, will be able to facilitate genuine internal change if the therapist doesn't also align with the preeminent aspects of the program. And on top of that, both the program features, and the therapist’s efforts are stunted if not carried out in the most effective wilderness experience possible.

Through experiencing all three features together, and nothing less, students are most authentically prepared to work through their deep therapeutic issues. We know how to use these three clinical assets in combination, better than anyone else.

Holistically Trauma Informed

trauma informed icon
Techniques and Overall System

There is a distinct difference between trauma informed treatment techniques (EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Brain Spotting, DBT, etc.) and a trauma informed care (TIC) program system. For the most powerful treatment of trauma, BOTH the therapeutic techniques AND a properly designed program should be in place. According to the Trauma Informed Care Project, "Trauma informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma Informed Care also emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment." We have specifically designed a program based on these principles; indeed, we are pioneers in this type of programming.

Trauma Sensitivity

According to Sam Himelstein Ph.D. (Of the Center for Adolescent Studies) among other program characteristics, a program WITHOUT trauma sensitivity will include: “A misuse or overuse of displays of power, a disempowering and devaluing of consumers, an environment where consumers are labeled and pathologized, and a focus on what’s wrong.” These characteristics are displayed in many wilderness programs through the use of a level system-- a system of consequencing, and a lack of emphasis on acknowledging good and positive behaviors and dispositions in the participants.

According to the same author, a system WITH trauma sensitivity will include: "A recognition that coercive interventions cause trauma and retraumatization, a valuing of the consumer’s voice in all aspects of care, an all-inclusive of the survivor’s perspective, and recognition of person as a whole." These characteristics are displayed in our wilderness program by the fact that we do not have a level system, we do not employ consequencing, we have a sophisticated system for powerfully acknowledging positive internal change in our students, and we have at the center of the 'soul' of our program a complete focus on seeing our students as people to be deeply respected.

Engaging Agency

engaging agency icon

At Expanse Wilderness, we understand the simple yet profound principle that the kind of change that matters, is one that comes from the inside out - a change of heart. We train our staff to be ‘engagers’ of agency and internal choice, rather than ‘provokers’ of resistance and external compliance. The only way one person can to help another person, with an intention toward helping that person change from the inside out, in a genuine and more lasting way, is to engage their agency, not just control their behavior. Among other things, engaging the agency of another human being entails: becoming chosen as a mentor, being an example, cultivating humility, remaining un-offended, capturing curiosity, loving those whom you seek to help, interjecting powerfully, and letting go of culturally pre-conceived ideas of how to get another person to change. We help our staff be this way, and do these things…every single day.

Creating and using cultural wilderness living items, coupled with principles having to do with the character traits that must be maintained by our staff members (mentioned above,) we produce a vehicle for establishing a mentoring relationship of trust. Engaging the student’s interests and natural curiosity, and reducing their resistance, is a hallmark of our program. As students become engaged, the metaphors of creating useful tools and developing new-found skills become external models of inward possibilities. As students become engaged, they begin to see that the positive relationships they are having with those in front of them in the wilderness, can extend to those at home. We are pioneers in developing and utilizing this model of Engaging Agency™ in a wilderness therapy setting, and we have been refining it for decades.

If you would like to know more about this concept, reading the following book is a good start:

The Way With Children: Ancient Wisdom for Leading Modern Young People,
by M. Shayne Gallagher

Family Focus

family focus icon

Everything we do at Expanse is to build and unify the connection between our students and their families. The treatment pathway and every aspect of our program is geared towards producing an outcome wherein family relationships become healed and sustained for decades to come. Such permanency has far more to do with each person’s ‘way of being’ rather than with parenting tools and techniques.

In addition to our daily interactions with the students in our care, we also utilize the same groundbreaking scholarly work when we invite family members to participate in the journey to understanding how and why we as humans interact in both positive and negative ways. These groundbreaking concepts address the conflicts at hand and promote a ‘change of heart’ for all those involved in this important family endeavor.

As family members, when you become actively engaged in the literature we promote, the therapeutic activities we assign, the on-site seminars we offer, the family field visits we facilitate, and the overall experience we provide for you, you will begin to understand exactly why we do what we do and why it is invaluable to your overall success.

Together, you and your child will learn the same language, concepts, and strategies we have been teaching to thousands of families who came before you. We are the best at sharing and teaching these ideas, and the benefits have been felt across this country, and around the globe.

If you would like to know more about these concepts, we encourage you to pick up the following books as a good place to start:

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict,
by The Arbinger Institute

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers,
by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D.

Actual Wilderness Experience

actual wilderness icon

Expanse Wilderness is a true wilderness experience. Unlike many of our competitors, we believe in the efficacy of an Actual Wilderness Experience™ (AWE™). This means we use the wilderness as a teacher and utilize every aspect of its primitive landscape and culture to assist us in our processes.

We have learned through years of experience that the wilderness offers a unique atmosphere for healing that cannot be found elsewhere. The stillness and silence of its remote places lends to insightful self-reflection and awakenings, the ability to live modestly lends for deep gratitude and perspective, and the rigors of hiking in simplicity lends for true resiliency, quite strength, and genuine personal power. The type of wilderness experience we incorporate has deep historical and cultural roots and is the basis upon which the original concept of wilderness therapy was both conceived and proven to be deeply transformational. It is often portrayed by the likes of Walt Whitman, Anne Frank, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. We believe in the efficacy of the experience they explain.

Positive Civilization Experiences

We believe that in steering away from the effectiveness of an Actual Wilderness Experience™, other “wilderness” therapy programs create an experience that is largely filled with contrivance activities (rock climbing, kayaking, biking, etc.), similar in scope to that of accomplishing positive things on several outdoor adventures. Although these can be positive civilization experiences and can produce positive results, they are not the same thing as a profound A.W.E., and do not produce the same long term results.

Distractions

In the wilderness, happiness and fun come more from an internal place of authentic joy than an external place of doing distractingly fun things or recreational activities. The adventure our students are going through has more to do with discovering nuances of their own qualities than participating in a series of outdoor events. Even though among the founders of Expanse there is a veteran professional rappelling instructor, two professional high ropes course designers and constructors, a master’s degree in recreation management, and a co-founder of a nationally recognized equine therapy certification program, we don’t rappel, we don't do ropes courses, we don't do adventure or recreation, and we don't do anything with horses. And even though it would be easier to “compete” in the marketplace by making our program easier to sell by including these “innovations,” we never will. In the context of wilderness therapy, we see them as distractions. None of these things create the long term change that only a true Authentic Wilderness Experience produces.

Interruptions

We don't have a basecamp. We don't frequent facilities. We don't live part-time in buildings. We don't get in vehicles to do service projects in town, or travel across the state to the cool recreation spots. We don't camp in camp-grounds. Our office isn’t down the road from where our students camp, so they can be seen by our therapists several days a week (Our students don't even see the lights of town.) And even though it would be easier to “compete” in the marketplace by making our program easier to sell by including these “concessions,” we never will. We see them as interruptions. Interruptions to the wilderness experience do not add quality to the wilderness experience, they detract from it.

We Do Not Use Punishment as Therapy

non punishment icon

A powerful wilderness therapy experience can literally “imprint” certain principles into a participant’s life. We at Expanse believe that when students are confronted with external motivators in the form of either punishments (usually termed ‘consequencing’ in most wilderness programs) or rewards, they will learn (become imprinted) to be externally motivated. Intrinsic motivation is our goal, not solely a controlled change in behavior. Program features calculated to exact a change in behavior are, by design-default, encouraging transitory change. Program features calculated to invite a change of heart are by design encouraging a lifetime change. Teaching and showing these principles not only adds to the power of the experience itself, it adds to the student’s own understanding of what it means to do things “for the right reasons” from an internal locus of control.

Rewards & Punishments

A wilderness therapist can get an entire wilderness group to ‘behave’ with near mystical immediacy by announcing the offering of a special meal if expectations are met, or the denying of brown sugar at the end of the week if behavior expectations are not met; but this type of approach masks the true motives behinds the students actions as it becomes impossible to tell if the students are ‘behaving’ because they actually want to, and it is likely their negative behavior will return not long after the external motivators (or demotivators) go away. At Expanse we don't reward ‘good’ behavior by giving a much desired treat for starting a bow drill fire, or a flashlight and camping chair for moving up the level system.

We never use food or other desired items as a positive ‘behavior negotiator.’ And, we don't punish ‘bad’ behavior by making students do pack drills for time limit infractions (dumping out one’s gear and packing back up in seven minutes or less, sometimes multiple times in a row), or the removal of food (usually brown sugar) as a negative ‘behavior negotiator.’ We do not subscribe to the common notion that a good wilderness instructor is defined by their ability to be a great ‘consequencer,’ instead we know that the best wilderness instructors are those who are the best ‘relators’ and ‘engagers,’ and we know how to train our instructors be just that.

Attempting to Influence or enact inner change through the use of rewards and punishments is the lowest form of methodology a person can use to draw out acceptable behavior from another person, and it also annuls one’s abilities to properly diagnose the motives ‘under’ the other person’s behavior. At Expanse we believe in a more clinically sophisticated ‘higher road’ which by design has more permanent effect and more accurate clinical assessment value. We have practiced our non-punitive, non-consequencing model for decades, and find joy in sharing these ideas with parents and practitioners from across the globe.

If you would like to know more about these concepts, reading the following books is a good start:

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes,
by Alfie Kohn

Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors,
by Heather T. Forbes

Acknowledging Internal Change

internal change icon

At Expanse, we have a deep-seated belief that every person, including each of the students we serve, is capable of dramatic internal change. Part of real change is a returning to, or a re-discovering of oneself. When issues are effectively addressed, personal characteristics are often “uncovered” and brought to light, revealing a unique, talented, and gifted person.

We point the way to the change we are looking for. We teach the principles each pendant represents. Our staff seek to exemplify these life lessons, inviting students to see and explore them. Structured teaching moments are sculpted to clarify and validate the principles found in the descriptions of the pendants, encouraging the students to test and explore them.

Internal Change vs Behavioral Change

As we have mentioned in other parts of this website, many wilderness programs seek to modify behavior by training students to respond affirmatively to external stimuli. This is not the outcome we at Expanse seek. Internal emotional change is the precursor to real behavioral transformation. Our program is designed specifically that each student may walk their own individualized journey to emotional and behavioral freedom.

The Power of Acknowledging

Powerfully acknowledging this kind of change reinforces it, giving it “solidity” and long-term significance. When students find positive meaning in themselves, this triggers not only positive emotions in the moment, but it creates impetus for positive upward spirals. Positive emotions become self-reinforcing. (Broaden and Build” Theory, Fredrickson 2002).

The Pendants

As a student begins to work through the Expanse Wilderness process, they make changes and uncover traits (forgiveness, strength, cheerfulness, responsibility, setting goals, making amends, etc.). When this happens, we celebrate with them by offering a pendant symbolic of the very changes they are making. This is done in a ceremony of profound honoring toward them. We seek to facilitate authentic personal validation of the deepest sort. This validation is something they can carry for the rest of their lives.

Symbols of Change

On this page, and in other parts of this website, you will see images of our pendants and symbols. Click on these images to explore the meanings behind them. As you explore know that these meanings are the very things we seek to exemplify and teach every day in the wilderness and on the trail of life.

No Level System

no level system icon

Rather than having every student go through the same “growth packet” with its accompanying level system, we provide a personal track within the program adapted to each student. Truly individualized treatment is fostered and created in this way, in fact, it can’t really be created in any other way. We don’t punish or reward by utilizing a level system and the externalized motivations such a system is designed to promote. At Expanse the structure of each student’s treatment reveals itself throughout the process, not at the outset before we even know the student.

Hoops

Students tormented by depression won’t even try to jump through hoops, defiant students love to defy hoops once identified, trauma suffering students often are potentially re-traumatized by being ‘made’ to jump through hoops, maladaptively pleasing students will acquiesce to jump through hoops hoping for approval, and manipulative students love to jump through hoops to show that they are ‘getting through the process.’ For thirty years working with thousands of children in the wilderness, we have not used hoops, and never plan to. We simply don't need them.

Connection

Given the fundamental differences between a level system and a treatment plan, there is a distinct disconnect amid the behaviors demanded in a generalized level system (and the consequencing that comes with it) and the individual clinical treatment needs of each student. When a level system is utilized, it’s like there are two ‘tracks’ going on at the same time, that are not connected by design. This is a recognized problem in the behavioral treatment space, but few programs have tackled it.

At Expanse we avoid this disconnect altogether. Core issues are addressed by utilizing what a TRUE wilderness experience NATURALLY provides, there is no need to ADD a level system, that's why we don't. Expanse’s Executive Director has presented at regional and national conferences many times on the virtues of not having level systems. Several programs are catching on, many have significantly modified their level systems, or have jettisoned them altogether. We at Expanse are pioneers with regard to this concept.

Relationship Driven

relationship driven icon

Many wilderness therapy programs use in vogue phrases like; “relational therapy,” “alliance based,” and even, “trauma informed,” when describing their therapeutic approach. Although these phrases sound great, they almost always refer merely to the actual techniques or approaches used by the therapists themselves during a session, with little to no account for a matching approach in the greater program. At Expanse the program itself is the foundational relationship driven structure upon which all other activities are sustained.

Informed by more than four decades of groundbreaking scholarly work on the subject of how and why human relationships function, Expanse’s relationship driven philosophy is our preeminent feature. It permeates all aspects of our staff training, family work, and clinical practices. Expanse stands unique in its capacity to ensure that a powerful therapeutic alliance is being continuously fostered between our students and every Expanse staff member they encounter. We are well known for our ability to help heal relationships on all levels.

If you would like to know more about this concept, reading the following book is a good start:

Bonds that Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves,
by C. Terry Warner

Negotiating the Therapeutic Alliance: A Relational Treatment Guide,
by Jeremy D. Safran, and J. Christopher Muran

Clinically Centered

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WinGate's unique program is built around providing the most sophisticated clinical experience in the wilderness treatment arena today. We employ the dedicated efforts of talented clinicians who know how to utilize the best of what a wilderness experience has to offer, joined with their professional expertise, and united with the unique philosophical structure of our program.

Reducing Resistance to Clinical Efforts

Our program at Expanse creates a healing milieu specifically engineered to drastically reduce resistance to therapeutic interventions. Our program’s distinctive features allow for dramatic acceptance (by the student) of the clinical process itself. Treatment failure is often a result of subtle yet persistent treatment resistance. We have honed our approach to such an extent, we are often successful even after an individual has experienced several treatment failures before coming to us. We know how to reduce resistance, and this makes a vast clinical difference.

Robustly Clinical by Nature

Expanse, unlike other wilderness programs, also provides a robust and genuine actual wilderness experience. Our therapists are not only trained in their clinical craft, but also in skills that help them use the wilderness to its fullest extent, while also not detracting from the natural wilderness influence. Our therapists understand that the wilderness itself is a powerful magnifier of their clinical efforts, and that their success as clinicians is dependent on their student experiencing this magnifying tool.

Clinical Effectiveness Multipliers

Although our clinicians are amazing, our philosophical structure is unparalleled, and the wilderness experience we provide is the most profound, it's the combination of these three features that really matters. These coalesced components are not clinical ‘add-ons’ to one another, but multipliers to one another. No therapist, as effective as they might be in their own right, will be able to facilitate genuine clinical progress while the program itself is causing internal resistance in the student when the student leaves the session. No program, as effectual as it might be, will be able to facilitate genuine internal change if the therapist doesn't also align with the preeminent aspects of the program. And on top of that, both the program features, and the therapist’s efforts are stunted if not carried out in the most effective wilderness experience possible.

Through experiencing all three features together, and nothing less, students are most authentically prepared to work through their deep therapeutic issues. We know how to use these three clinical assets in combination, better than anyone else.