An Introduction to Blackwater Outdoor Experiences

By Jonathan Ugalde posted Sep 19, 2016 11:15 AM


Over the past year I have gone out with groups of three to six varying from all male to co-ed with a field guide into the wilderness in order to canoe, backpack, and rock climb all while taking on the challenge of trying to help the group learn to understand themselves, recognizes the problems in their lives, and help them reconnect with their families at the end of the trip. When considering wilderness therapy for someone we take into account their history, their personality, and the benefits the individual could receive from the trip. Over the course of the 22 day trips I helped individuals canoe for the first time on a river even going through class three rapids at one point on the Shendanoah river. During the trip I worked with participants as they walked away from the group in order to process their anger, anxiety, depression, or other experiences on the trip. 

Throughout the day I conducted psychoeducational lessons around the benefits of journaling, goal setting, self awareness, healthy lifestyles, change, models of addiction, future planning, and more. Psychoeducational lessons provided information and skills that the participants were able to practice throughout the trip and provided a framework for the participants journaling each day. Participants spent an average of 30 minutes per day journaling about their experience on the trip, what they were learning, how they were feeling, and responses to journal prompts. Group therapy was conducted morning as part of a morning check in and every evening. Group therapy during the trip allows the field therapist to facilitate specific conversations around anxiety, coping skills, and other topics that the group has in common allowing for discussion and practice of skills beyond individual therapy sessions. Overall, this comprehensive experience allowed for participants to change in their self awareness, self esteem, and motivation to change. Each participant was able to leave at the end of the trip having developed a family contract with their family members and creating a plan for their future whether continuing counseling, getting psychological testing, or being referred to another program. Blackwater Outdoor Experiences works with the participant and their family members in order to research and help coordinate appropriate after care resources.

Blackwater Outdoor Experiences understands the level of intensity of our programming and provides every resource we can as a a comprehensive treatment team to make sure that the participants are getting as much from the experience as they can. Our treatment team has consisted of field therapists, field guides, program director, clinical supervisor, family therapists, and a medical director. With a new psychologist joining the Adolescent and Family Health Center we are able to consult and refer our participants for psychological evaluation within our own treatment team. The life of Blackwater Outdoor Experiences and the Adolescent and Family Health Center staff includes a working relationship in which we meet once a week in order to discuss cases from Blackwater Outdoor Experiences and the private practices in the Adolescent and Family Health Center. This unique relationship allows for everyone involved to provide the best care possible to the clients that come to receive our services.

Additionally, as a field therapist at Blackwater Outdoor Experience I am working with the program director and the rest of the treatment team in order to develop after care support group meetings, an individual transition program, and other programming to offer the best services we can to the community of Midlothian, VA and the greater Richmond, VA area beyond our 22 day trips. As our programming develops keep your eyes and ears out for more information regarding these new programs and their availability.

As we prepare for our trips we would like to hear from you if you would like to learn more or are interested in a trip. You can find out more information by going to Feel free to call the Blackwater Outdoor Experiences office at 804-378-9006.