Wilderness Interventions: Sweat Lodge

wilderness-therapy-outback-therapeutic-expeditionsA sweat lodge is the Native American version of a sauna.  Every so often at Outback we will make a sweat lodge and tie this powerful experience into a student’s therapy.  One such therapeutic intervention happened with a young male student that had been in the program for three weeks and was holding firmly to his resentments towards him parents.  He felt that he had been wronged by them and would not even attempt to see their perspective or find forgiveness for their weaknesses.  So, one day we had the group make a sweat lodge and build a big fire to start heating up rocks to provide the heat while in the lodge.

Before entering the lodge, we all sat down and discussed the things in our lives that we struggle with.  We identified our weaknesses, our pains, our struggles and our anger.  We then designed symbols for each of these areas and painted them on our faces to represent the issues that affect us negatively that we were wearing around for everyone to see.  Then we entered the sweat lodge and began one of four sessions.  During the first session, we introduced the topic of gratitude and anyone that wanted to share could talk about something they were grateful for in their lives.  Without coaxing, each person in the sweat lodge shared deep and meaningful things they were grateful for.  My student, talked about his family in general terms.  He admitted that he struggled with them, but that he could see how they intended the best for him.

At the end of each session, we would leave the sweat lodge and pour water over us to cool our bodies down and rinse off all of the sweat.  Then, after 20 minutes, we would enter the sweat lodge for another session.  During the second session, we introduced the topic of letting go, from which students shared a desire to let go of their insecurities, fears, pride and addictions.  My student talked about letting go of the resentment he felt towards his family.  He acknowledged that his parent’s faults were largely exaggerated and admitted that his frustrations were toxic to their relationship.  He opened up about how he had contributed to the cycle of hurt and resentment that had been building over the years with his parents.  Then, we exited the sweat lodge and cleansed ourselves with water.  The third and final session began by pointing out that the facepainting we had done earlier to represent the negative things we carry with us had all been sweated off and washed away.  This left our faces clean and clear.

This was much like a fresh start, a new beginning.  We could paint whatever we wanted on our faces for the world to see.  So, during the final session, the topic introduced was about what values and characteristics do we want to ‘paint on our faces’ for others to see.  My student talked about becoming honest with his parents, open to his therapy, and willing to stand up to negative influences.  He pledged to become more forgiving and less spiteful.  He committed to starting the path of accountability.  Afterwards, we exited the sweat lodge, cleansed and ready for a new day.


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