In 2006, my life was falling apart. I was addicted to painkillers, struggling with suicidal thoughts, and constantly fighting with my family and friends. I was on the brink of losing my job and I was failing nearly all of my classes in college. During that year alone, I saw, and worked with, about half a dozen counselors while trying several different types of medication — but nothing worked.
In short, I felt lost. It was as though I had fallen into a deep, dark canyon and I couldn’t find my way out.
All of that changed after my dad suggested I look into wilderness therapy.
Anasazi Foundation (based in Mesa, Arizona) is a leading wilderness therapy program. Licensed and accredited, the program helps individuals ages 12-30 who struggle with drugs, alcohol, suicidal ideation, or other emotional and behavioral challenges. In essence, Anasazi Foundation is a type of rehabilitation program, but with several key differences — and these differences are profoundly significant.
Anasazi Foundation was co-founded by Native American Ezekiel Sanchez (Good Buffalo Eagle), a pioneer of wilderness therapy. As such, the program is steeped in Native American traditions and philosophies that describe life as a walking — or a journey — and nature as a master teacher.
The idea that nature can teach us (and even heal us) is not unique to Anasazi. In March of 2016, Psychology Today published an article concerning the connection between nature and well-being:
The link between exposure to nature and well-being is strong. Urbanites are more likely to be anxious and depressed and to suffer from other mental illnesses. But city dwellers who visit nature-rich environments see an immediate reduction in stress hormones. In one of many such studies, Stanford researcher Gregory Bratman found that college students who walked through green, leafy parts of their campus were happier and more attentive afterward than those assigned to hang out near heavy traffic.
Those who sign up for Anasazi’s program experience a rigorous, but enlightening dose of this “wilderness therapy.” Guided by trained staff, participants are taken into the Arizona wilderness for fifty days (sometimes longer) — away from the technology, noise, and distractions of civilization. Participants wake up when the sun comes up and go to bed when the sun goes down. They eat a balanced, healthy diet and hike 20-40 miles a week. Throughout their experience, participants meet with licensed therapists on a weekly basis and learn about “The Anasazi Way.” This “Anasazi Way” is described as “a course of healing through nature,” and has inspired two bestselling books — The Seven Paths and The Anatomy of Peace.
With almost thirty years of experience, Anasazi has served over 3,000 participants (and their families) and their rate of success is astronomical. According to their their own outcome tools, 86% of parents would recommend Anasazi to others in similar circumstance and 92% of participants said that they they were satisfied with their experience at Anasazi.
Stepping beyond Anasazi’s internal metrics, it’s hard to deny that Anasazi Foundation is the most effective wilderness therapy program in the world. Over a hundred independent reviews of Anasazi Foundation on Google, Yelp, and Facebook give the organization an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars. Since 1988, Anasazi Foundation has been endorsed by numerous, prominent individuals such as: Les Stroud, Stephen R. Covey, Richard Paul Evans, C. Terry Warner, Wynonna Judd, Marie Osmond, Bart Starr, Danny Ainge, Steve Young, and even former First Lady, Barbara Bush.
On a personal note, the wilderness therapy offered through Anasazi Foundation changed my life. Although I didn’t go to Anasazi as a participant, I was lucky enough to work there as a guide, off and on, for several seasons. Those were some of the best times of my life. I found myself and walked taller. I felt as though the Arizona wilderness brought all of the color back into my life.
I remember one time, perhaps a month or two after working on the trail, I took my mother out to dinner and she kept giving me a strange, quizzical look. When I asked what was on her mind, she said, with tears in her eyes: “You have a light about you. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that light.”
If you’re feeling lost on your own journey through life, I ask you to consider wilderness therapy–even if it’s just a brief walk through nature. Walking with Anasazi through nature healed my heart… and perhaps it will do the same for you.
To learn more about the Anasazi Foundation, please visit www.Anasazi.org
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
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