Posted by: Reena Ramos

  • 07/05/2018

Wellness on the trails? The Wilderness Element shares their story

Do you, or does someone you know walk the trails for general wellness benefits?
In agreement with ACRES Land Trust, The Wilderness Element, a newly-forming nonprofit, held a clinical counseling summer camp for teens on The Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve in June. The group shared the trails as part of a two-week preparation for an extended wilderness adventure led by their staff.

Why the woods, wetlands and wilderness as a setting for counseling?
ACRES members, supporters and hikers have extolled the natural benefits of exploring the preserves from the beginning of our organization. Countless individuals have noted direct experience of wellness benefits long before ACRES even began. The Wilderness Element group applies clinical skills and intention to what many folks experience with time in natural places: you usually feel better after a hike.

How does it work from their perspective?
The group’s counselor reports that in wild spaces defenses are lowered, attention spans increase and self-awareness can develop – naturally. The Wildnerness Element extends the time in natural places, leading a several-week long, full-time immersive experience in a variety of settings. The teens are in natural places, all day, for weeks. The group aims to conduct a triple blind study on the benefits of this practice.

Learning about our trails from this perspective informed ACRES staff, who asked a few more questions of Donovan Martin, the group’s leader:

How do ACRES preserves and other natural places support your work?
Martin says: “The natural environment is considered one of our psych labs.

First, it provides a way for the brain to gain relief from the impact of technology and distraction – allowing for the brain to strengthen its neuro-pathway of sustained gratification rather than its dominate pathway of anticipation anxiety, a fast immediate gratification need-based functioning.

The [natural] environment also allows for each person to begin to think on a more simplistic need-based perspective with natural consequences teaching lessons that create a deep impact.”

How do the teens respond differently in natural places?
“Initially they respond to nature as they would to most things that are unknown or difficult.

Once acclimated (1 week), the teens become less defensive while in nature.  Their mindfulness skills greatly increase and they are more aware of the limitations their autism, ADHD or anxiety have in their lives.  They become more open to problem solving and support.”

What would you say to ACRES donors who make trails available?
Martin says: “THANK YOU!!!!  The property and trails allow for families who struggle with mental health problems to gain [some of] the best treatment possible. With their support, our communities’ mental health can dramatically improve!”

ACRES members, thank you for protecting wild places for a variety of community benefits, for good, forever.