Reflections & Updates, Therapist Journal

Blackwater Outdoor Experiences: Introduction and Prologue

Blackwater Outdoor Experiences is a unique experience to work for as a professional counselor. Blackwater Outdoor Experiences is a therapeutic wilderness expedition program that operates out of Midlothian, Virginia. The program focuses on taking groups of four to six individuals who are between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight out into the wilderness in order to work on themselves whether that is substance abuse, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, poor social skills, or poor coping skills. This program has a major focus on bringing the individual out into the wilderness to help them work through the negative experiences and effects that are going on in their lives while having the family work with family therapists at the Adolescent and Family Health Center.

My job is a unique one in that unlike a lot of therapists that work with wilderness programs my role is to be with the clients and a field guide out in the field for the entirety of the twenty-two day long trip. In my role I am in charge of distributing medications, conducting individual therapy, conducting group therapy, and teaching psychoeducational lessons while helping the field guide teach skills such as cooking, canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing. This unique experience allows for there to be real time work with the clients as well as observation of what might being happening in their everyday lives. While out in the field I am supervised by a clinical supervisor and receive feedback from the family therapy sessions. The feedback I receive I am then able to implement in planning for the next day’s lessons, therapy sessions, and even everyday interactions with the clients.

In a previous post I described being able to find balance through adventure; there is a unique experience to be gained by venturing into the woods with a group of individuals and living with them without the extras you experience in everyday society in the United States of America. In order to prepare for such an adventure however as a therapist takes a dedicated amount of time in order to prepare a lesson plan, conduct intakes, develop treatment plans, and work with the field guide and program coordinator to plan the logistics of the program. At Blackwater Outdoor Experiences we work to make sure that we are understanding the client’s strengths both from the present and the past. As a treatment team of a field therapist, field guide, admissions coordinator, medical director, and family therapists we work to help the client learn and growth through out the twenty two day trip. A particular point of the trip in which we challenge the clients is by asking them to complete a 72 hour solo experience in which they live by themselves within the range of the other students and field staff. During the solo experience the students receive their medications, check ins by the field staff, and individual therapy sessions by the field therapist but are asked to journal and be by themselves (potentially for the first time in years).

By asking the clients to delve into such an experience and by working with the families throughout the trip Blackwater Outdoor Experiences believes that the clients are truly students of life and of the therapeutic wilderness expedition experience. The families join the students that are in the field by participating in the family sessions at the Adolescent and Family Health Center and then reuniting with them for a family weekend at the end of the trip. Prior to and during the family weekend Blackwater Outdoor Experiences staff work with the families to develop after care plans that focus on the strengths, needs, and goals of the individual client and the family members. All in all the experience of being either a staff member or a student in this program is a learning experience and a blessing.

As we prepare for out trips we would like to hear from you if you would like to learn more or are interested in a trip. You can find out more information by clicking any of the links above or going to Feel free to call the Blackwater Outdoor Experiences office at 804-378-9006.

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