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Q&A with Primary Therapist Elizabeth Seib, LMFT

Elizabeth works with adolescent girls ages 13-18

Q: Can you tell us about who you are and what your background is?

A: I’m Elizabeth Seib, and I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. You’ll hear some people call me Lizzy. Before becoming a Blue Ridge Primary Therapist for adolescent girls, I spent several years working as a Family Therapist for our Family Program.

I attended Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia and earned my Masters in Family Therapy. Following graduation, I did in-home therapy for families in the court system. I would see them three times a week in their home. So that’s the first exposure I had to family therapy after licensure. It was challenging, as many of the families I worked with didn’t necessarily volunteer to participate in therapy.

After some time with the court system, I began actively seeking out ways to get back into the wilderness industry, since I was a wilderness field guide for about 2 years in Utah prior to attending graduate school.

In 2018, I began my role as a Family Therapist at Blue Ridge, which was a newer position for the company at the time. I was passionate about the idea of starting a Family Program in the context of wilderness therapy. The other therapeutic contexts that I’ve worked in have been more traditional, and didn’t emphasize parental involvement like this program does. The parents and children would write letters back and forth, but the family didn’t have their own therapeutic process happening at home. So the idea of bringing the whole family into the child’s process was something that I felt genuinely passionate about.

That was further bolstered by being in the previous in-home therapy position, where I witnessed how systemic, whole-family healing was often necessary for growth. So, together with another clinician, we built the Parent Workshop component, facilitated weekly phone calls with parents, offered psycho-educational literature, and provided emotional support to parents as they navigated the process of having their child here. I also helped develop our Parent Pathway materials. Now, I’m continuing my career with Blue Ridge in the role of Primary Therapist for adolescent girls.

Q: What drew you to come to Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness, specifically?

A: When I interviewed here, I was on the phone with Dan McDougal (BRTW’s Owner and Founder) on the same day that I saw the job opening. He took the time to talk to me… and I could tell how passionate he was, how he essentially lives and breathes wilderness therapy with a clinically driven focus on how to best serve our students.

When I first worked for a different wilderness program many years ago, it was owned by one big corporate organization— it felt less personal, and I rarely interacted with any of my bosses. On the other hand, Blue Ridge is owner operated with the owner (Dan) being on site most days of the week. This structure allows our team to have a deep working relationship and consistent access to leadership. This is rare in the field of wilderness therapy and I feel grateful to have it.

What I really liked about Blue Ridge is how strong of a community it is: it’s a community of people who care deeply about the work and each other, and who’ve been in this industry for decades.

Q: Why do you choose to work in wilderness therapy?

A: I’m a huge proponent of encouraging intentional, temporary separation from the home in cases where the child is struggling and when other modalities of therapy haven’t stuck. In general, I think that out-of-home placement is the right step for a lot of people. I also believe in the power of mother nature as a catalyst for change in our students, and as a force that they must reckon with. I believe in the ways that the resiliency and malleability they acquire in wilderness can then be applied to their lives at home.

I think about this a lot: if you can thrive out in the woods, you can do just about anything. I also believe in the value of not having the distractions, or the frills and thrills that other residential or wilderness programs introduce. Out here in our immersive wilderness setting at Blue Ridge, we are truly setting each student up to identify how they can optimize each moment from their own volition. It’s the tried and true Nomadic Model, and I appreciate that Blue Ridge emphasizes that nuance of the modality over other styles of wilderness therapy.

I also love this part of the country— these are the mountains that I grew up in. The kids from the communities that I’ve lived in the last 10 years don’t often experience this level of exposure to being outdoors, and I believe that that’s becoming more and more true for a lot of communities. This is a unique experience that can even serve as a rite of passage in a world where adolescents and young adults don’t often honor the sacred process of growing up.

Q: What are your modalities as a Primary Therapist? What is your goal working with the adolescent girls in Group 7(G7)?

A: I really aim to validate the adolescent experience— it’s my belief that adolescence is just an awkward and complex spot to be in, developmentally. So I go into therapy with the approach of knowing how the teenage years can be such a difficult phase of life. I approach my students with the knowledge of what it was like to be in their shoes developmentally. This helps me to understand them as well as our relationship without personalizing their reactions and choices.

I connect with students in G7 by providing them an outlet to differentiate from, much like the way they would attempt to differentiate with their parents. I allow myself to step into a relationship with them where they can fully express themselves to me, and I show them that I’m not going anywhere. Adolescents often need this stability from adults in their lives. Parents don’t always have the ego-strength to deal with their teenagers when they are upset, angry or making dangerous choices. It’s harder for them to sit with, especially when things haven’t always been this way.

So, I see my role as therapist with these teenagers as providing another outlet for them to push against. Another mirror for them to see and reflect on the results of their choices and actions. I give them the space to process and vent about some of their family dynamics, or some of the things that they’re struggling with, while also truly thinking about how their thought patterns have been reinforced by the narratives being written at home. I work with my students to help them better understand themselves through the context of their upbringing and their family.

Q: How do you build relationships with your students’ parents?

A: Working as a field instructor and family therapist in this industry has helped me to establish a firm foundation for understanding both our students and their families. I have a level of competence with both parties that I think is valuable for managing expectations with everybody involved in this process.

In my previous role of family therapist, I’ve accrued years of experience directly attuning to a parent’s emotional process throughout this challenging time. As a former field staff, this sometimes parallels my experience with adolescents. Because of that, I have a deeper understanding of both the parent and child experience in wilderness therapy. I have a strong level of insight into what parents are struggling with, as well as the resources that we have to offer at Blue Ridge. Having developed the Family Program here, I know the ins and outs of the psychoeducation that goes into both the parent and student pathway.

In my conversations with students’ parents, I really like to be clear and transparent about recommendations and suggestions, so that parents know they are getting the most out of this process. I try to be as intentional as possible about providing specific assignments for parents to further process their emotional experience and to do the healing they might need, too.

Q: What is your student profile?

A: I work well with kids who struggle with anxiety and depression, as well as those who are acting out in risky ways, whether that’s self harm, substance abuse, or general defiance. I work with students who have challenging family dynamics, attachment issues, and early childhood trauma.

Q: What does success look like for your students?

A: The “success question” is pretty ambiguous because each student comes here with a unique set of challenges and therapeutic goals. No matter how you cut it, I think that the minute that kids leave the wilderness, whether or not they go to a step-down program or directly back to their high school, they are going to once again face the real world struggles of being adolescents.

My hope is that the students I work with are able to identify these challenges and utilize their newfound emotional management skills. I hope for my students to feel equipped to advocate for themselves and to communicate assertively. My wish for the adolescents I work with is for them to also recognize how they’re showing up when they are doing well, and not just when they are having a bad day.

I believe that knowledge is power, so I hope for my students to have access to the context for understanding either their diagnosis, or something that they brought up in therapy to help them grasp their experience. Ultimately, the goal is for the students I work with to learn how to set boundaries, whether it’s with family members, peers or themselves. My wish as their therapist is that they grow to experience feeling empowered after they’ve navigated through a struggle.

Q: Thanks so much, Lizzy. Final question: Where can we find you when you aren’t at work or in the woods with your girls?

A: I really like to cook and exercise. My husband, Matt, and I really enjoy seeing and spending time with our friends in Macon. Our families live close by as well, so we love visiting with them. Outside of that, I love live music, being outside, looking after my cute dog who requires a lot of attention, and I hope to have a garden one day.