Healing in the Outback

Healing in the Outback

An Outdoor Therapist Reconceives His Role

By Will Dobud

March/April 2022

Whether it’s getting a promotion, moving into a shiny new office, or finally hanging up your well-earned diploma after years of hard work, there are plenty of moments in a therapy career when it’s easy to succumb to the feeling that you’ve made it. These are the moments when you’re sure of yourself, when you feel like you’re firing on all cylinders, and the path in front of you appears clear and stable. But sometimes, the biggest career transformations happen when you least expect them. In the blink of an eye, everything you think you know about therapy can get turned upside down. For me, it happened Down Under.

Eight years ago, I got off a rickety white bus and dropped my backpack onto the red clay of the Australian outback. It landed with a foreboding thud, covering my boots in a thin film of dust.

Following close behind was a group of 10 Indigenous teenagers, all young women, as well as Sarah, a fellow therapist. We’d be spending the next eight days out here, hiking nearly 60 miles in total, moving from campsite to campsite as part of an outdoor therapy program I’d been tapped to lead.

As the teens took stock of their camping gear, chattering excitedly, I squinted in the blistering heat and gazed into the distance. I’d heard this land could be unforgiving. Now I knew why. By day, temperatures easily surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, they dropped near freezing. Never sleep in a dry creek bed, I’d been warned. Flash floods…

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