Larry Olsen and Ezekiel Sanchez as they were beginning their wilderness therapy careers in late 1960s
Larry Dean Olsen and Ezekiel Sanchez joined Lon April 9, 2012 to spend an hour sharing their experiences through learning how to use the wilderness to help struggling teens. As explained in this discussion, their journey started in the 1960s with an experiment in taking university college students at Brigham Young University in Utah in survival groups in the Utah desert. They took students who were flunking out on a month long wilderness survival expedition. Not only did all the students survive, but the next year their grades were significantly improved and their lives overall were much better. The next year the results were the same and their reputation soared. The program continued for many years. The discovery was that just experiencing the wilderness helps young people turn their lives around. Many of their students went on to develop their own successful programs, and Olsen and Sanchez came to be known as the “grandparents” of wilderness therapy. In the late 1980s they founded Anasazi Foundation which is still successful and thriving. Listen to this discussion which gives a good insight into the obstacles overcome and struggles endured that created the start of the insight that nature just by itself is very healing and a good foundation for other techniques.
This is one of a series of short interviews about developments in the network of private, parent-choice schools and programs helping struggling teens and young adults. The guests are innovative leaders in this network.
Listen here for Larry’s, Exekiel’s and Lon’s Discussion
There seems to be some magic in wilderness. Many studies and experiments over the years have found that even something as simple as a mural on the wall of an outdoor scene can have a positive effect on a person’s emotions. In the Bible, many significant insights have come from the person going out into the wilderness. A walk in the woods, or even a walk in the park is often referred to as “therapeutic.”
Perhaps it comes from the evolution of humans, which was overwhelmingly in natural settings. The city experience is fairly recent in our history and was often criticized during the past couple of centuries by some thinkers as “dehumanizing.” A large part of the success of wilderness therapy has been perhaps the “back to our roots” aspect. Richard Louv wrote a intriguing book titled “Last Child in the Woods.” He asserts that many of our problems, and especially that of young people, come from a lack of real and consistent contact with nature. He terms that condition “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” The idea is that just not being in regular contact with nature creates emotional problems and perhaps mental and physical problems. I live in north Idaho, a very rural area where most residents can’t avoid having to deal with nature, and that feels more healthy to me than my past experiences living in metropolitan areas.
You take the impact of nature, add to it confidence building exercises and a good therapist with common sense, and that is a formula for real success in healing hurt, trauma and disorders of all kinds. Olsen and Sanchez brought all this together and blazed a trail that got picked up by many others to become a significant contribution to emotional health of young people suffering from — maybe “Nature-Deficit Disorder?” -Lon