Mindful U Podcast

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by NaropaU / April 16, 2019

Kate Mazuy: Healing through Wilderness & Equine Therapy

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The newest episode of our podcast, Mindful U, is out on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and Fireside now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features Naropa alumna and instructor Kate Mazuy (MA Transpersonal Counseling Psychology), who teaches in Naropa’s Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program and also currently works as a certified Hakomi Therapist and teacher for Matrixworks/ Living Systems Institute.

play-icon Kate Mazuy: Healing through Wilderness & Equine Therapy

“The natural world is unconditional, and it welcomes us in whatever state we bring ourselves to it. It invites a level of presence. It sort of insists on a quality of presence, because while there’s incredible stillness in the natural world there’s also sort of constant movement—even if that’s grass being blown by the breeze in a meadow, or a squirrel in a pine tree preparing for winter. There’s always a little bit of movement and there’s this quality of vastness, right? The natural world is so much bigger than us and in that unconditionality, I think we’re invited into an experience that helps us deepen our connection with ourselves, but also helps us get out of our own way.”

Full transcript below.

Kate received her Master’s degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology in 2000. She is a certified Hakomi Therapist and a teacher for Matrixworks/ Living Systems Institute. She has taught in the MACP, TCP, and Environmental Leadership programs at Naropa University, and has served as the assistant director for the Wilderness therapy program there as well. Currently, she has a body-centered psychotherapy practice in Boulder. She is also a nature-based therapist, drawing from her experience of over 20 years of working therapeutically in communion with the natural world.

Full transcript
Kate Mazuy
Wilderness Therapy Program

[MUSIC]

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place of the modern mindfulness movement.

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DAVID:
Hello, today I’d like to welcome Kate Mazuy. Kate teaches in the Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program. So welcome to the podcast.

KATE MAZUY:
Thank you.

DAVID:
How are you doing today?

KATE MAZUY:
I’m good thanks.

DAVID:
I’m really excited to talk to you today so we have a program called the Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program. And I’m curious can you just define that for us? Can you tell us what that actually means?

KATE MAZUY:
Sure. So, the Wilderness Therapy program is housed at Naropa in the department that is the Transpersonal Counseling Psychology department. And when the program was founded — the decision was made to house it here because of the inherent nature of the wilderness being transpersonal. That it invites us to a level of awareness that is outside of our normal everyday awareness and experiencing.

DAVID:
OK. So, when it comes to being transpersonal in a wilderness therapy program compared to just being a wilderness therapy program — what is the difference between those two? Like when you use the word transpersonal on top of the wilderness therapy program — like what does that actually mean?

KATE MAZUY:
Well I can only speak to this program and the way we define wilderness therapy and the way we practice wilderness therapy. What I would say is because we’re housed in this program, we incorporate a lot of mindfulness in our work in the natural world.

KATE MAZUY:
Awesome. How would you incorporate mindfulness — like when you’re walking near a creek or something or you’re having like a moment in nature — do you just pay more attention to the feelings that arise? Do you pay attention to the natural landscapes that you’re being surrounded by? Like how does that work?

KATE MAZUY:
All of that.

DAVID:
OK.

KATE MAZUY:
All of that and what I would say is that the culture that gets cultivated in the program is one of mindfulness so that we’re practicing different forms of mindfulness. And that course is whether were inside or outdoors — whether we’re in a park or whether we’re in the back country somewhere is that really that the approach that we use is based in mindfulness.

DAVID:
OK. Oh, I like that.

KATE MAZUY:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Yeah. It’s interesting because then you have this holistic approach to thinking about everything — of your actual feelings, your internal being and then your external being of being around nature. I really like that. Why would someone want to take the Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program? Like what sort of therapeutic teachings do they learn? How did they end up facilitating people through a process of healing?

KATE MAZUY:
Mm hmm. So, this as far as I know is the only program of its kind in the world. When we have admissions interviews, we ask prospective students why do you want to come to this program and why now? And inevitably the answer we get for why this program is because it’s the only program of its kind out there. And people are drawn to this program because of their own previous deep relationships with the natural world — largely based on time spent outside, therapeutic, spiritual experiences with the natural world.

DAVID:
Ok, so someone who is essentially interested in this program is someone who has a relationship with nature already?

KATE MAZUY:
Yes, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve worked in the field of wilderness therapy. I think a lot of prospective students have concern that maybe I should have worked in the field before. But what we’re really looking for is people who are largely just deeply connected, have their own personal relationship with the natural world. And a lot of times those students come in and they say I can’t imagine a counselling program that didn’t include the natural world.

DAVID:
Interesting. Wow. I’ve actually never thought about that. Because you can take therapeutic classes and you just don’t even touch the natural world.

KATE MAZUY:
Right. In a lot of psychology, the natural world is not included.

DAVID:
Oh, so that’s kind of fun. You get the like play with nature. What kind of person would be drawn to this other than the people who would naturally be drawn to the nature or, for instance as a therapeutic approach? Not someone who wants to learn how to facilitate the therapy, but for someone who is wanting to have a therapeutic approach to their healing. What type of symptoms would somebody need and or experience to say to themselves like hey, I should try this out this might work for me?

KATE MAZUY:
I think a lot of times clients who come to me to do specific nature based work again already have that strong experience of experiencing healing in nature. Of having experienced different states of consciousness in nature and are drawn to just working in that way.

DAVID:
OK. Interesting. The other population that will come to wilderness therapy will be to come to a specific wilderness therapy program.

DAVID:
Ok, what did this specific therapy programs look like?

KATE MAZUY:
There are all kinds of them. So, the way the field developed was through wilderness therapy work with youth at risk.

DAVID:
OK.

KATE MAZUY:
Those programs originally started in Utah. Well I should say in Utah and Arizona. And they really coined the term wilderness therapy. These days wilderness therapy programs exist for kids, for adults, for eating disorders, for substance abuse. And then there are all kinds of different nature based programs that are not wilderness therapy. Or that that I should say it’s not that they’re not wilderness therapy that they’re more front country — they’re more available in town.

DAVID:
So, how I am understanding is like front town means they use the national environment, but it’s not going into the wilderness.

KATE MAZUY:
Right.

DAVID:
OK. You’re not going as deep, but you are using the natural settings.

KATE MAZUY:
Yes, sometimes I think calling the program wilderness therapy is a little bit of a misnomer because we don’t necessarily need to go into the wilderness to experience its healing power.

DAVID:
Why is that?

KATE MAZUY:
Because nature is available in the middle of a city. Nature is available — like I think about plants growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk. Like nature insists on itself in the way that life insists on itself. So, it’s everywhere and certainly in a place like Boulder we have a lot of access to open spaces and wilderness, but even the experience of being able to walk by a river by — by the North Platte River in Denver or being in a city park gives us experiences with nature.

DAVID:
OK, I hear that. And also, there’s a wilderness within you.

KATE MAZUY:
Yes.

DAVID:
That you could probably go into and kind of interact with as well.

KATE MAZUY:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

DAVID:
Wow, the vastness of the soul. So, I understand that we don’t have an equine therapy program, but we do work with the equine kind of nature of therapy. Can you just explain that a little bit and like how that shows up in the program?

KATE MAZUY:
Sure, and I wonder if we should make this conversation a little bit bigger and talk about the different sections that students are in.

DAVID:
Please.

KATE MAZUY:
OK. So, in the second year of the program students are exposed to many different forms of wilderness therapy. They do an extended 14 day backcountry — so wilderness trip in the canyons of southeastern Utah.

DAVID:
Wow, ok.

KATE MAZUY:
They do a ropes course section here in town through CU and they learn how to lead ropes course work and do challenge activities with different populations. They do have an equine section. They spend a week up at a ranch about 45 minutes from here and they study the human horse relationship.

DAVID:
Ok, what is it about that relationship that there was a program — equine — you know like this thing was coined therapy with horses?

KATE MAZUY:
I don’t know a ton about it. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to study, and I have not yet studied it. But horses and humans have a long-standing relationship throughout history. Humans are the predator in that relationship. Horses are the prey animals. And horses are very sensitive to energy, what humans put out and what they invite towards them. And so, the experience of being with a horse is this incredible mirror that you can’t deny it. Right so, as you were saying earlier like being afraid of a horse — the horse is going to feel your fear and they’re going to respond to that. Whereas with a human you might be afraid of people and people won’t know how to communicate that to you. A horse is going to communicate it to you in a way that you can’t deny.

DAVID:
Yeah, and we were talking earlier because we were talking about the horses and how I was just — I’m not essentially afraid — maybe I am afraid of them. But they’re just harder to read. They’re hard creatures to read, but maybe that’s just a reflection of just being a hard creature to read.

KATE MAZUY:
Well and then I think a question that an equine therapist might put back to you is do you find people hard to read? Do people find you hard to read?

DAVID:
Mm hmm. LAUGHS. I feel like I know how to read people, but my readings could be wrong. I feel like I’m a mystery. I would say.

KATE MAZUY:
Uh huh, so a horse is gonna pick up on that.

DAVID:
Yeah, they’re just so big. They’re scary sometimes, but there’s like super cute and fluffy and I just love animals and I just want them to love me. But dogs just seem to just have that trust and cats a little bit less.

KATE MAZUY:
They’re also predators.

DAVID:
Oh okay. I like this view of the dynamic of the relationship to human to animal and how they like — predator prey or animal that is been domesticated or something like that. There’s like this relationship that has been long going. It’s like creating a relationship in the psyche of the animal and the human as well.

KATE MAZUY:
Yes, yes. And that actually touches on the definition we used to define what wilderness therapy is. We say wilderness therapy is the conscious incorporation of the natural world into the therapeutic process.

DAVID:
I like that.

KATE MAZUY:
So, it’s like there’s two therapists. There’s the natural world and there’s the human acting as the therapist.

DAVID:
Whoa, you got my little brain ticking over here. Wow, so is that something you say to a client and or somebody going through therapy or is that like the tool of therapists presenting the vastness of like healing?

KATE MAZUY:
It’s not something necessarily that I would share with a client — it’s how we teach. It’s the base that we use to teach wilderness therapy in this program so that we all have common language around it.

DAVID:
Okay, say for instance a student enrolls into this program what sort of educational side of the program would they be exposed to? What is a wilderness therapy classroom setting look like compared to like an outdoor setting?

KATE MAZUY:
That’s a great question. So, each year in the three years of the program looks different. The thing we start with is a 10 day intensive. And that happens before any of Naropa’s orientation happens. Students — we meet down at this old retreat center in the southern part of the state. And we start to introduce them to wilderness therapy and the kinds of things they’ll learn in the program. We also use that time to really help the cohort come together and begin to build the community of the cohort. The second half of that program takes place in the southern Sangre de Christos in the southern part of the state in the back country. So, right off the bat we’re outside in the back country for the second five days. And I think that really set students up for success. Unfortunately, then in the first year they are inside for the rest of the year and students are often like why can’t we go back outside. But that first year is spent really learning the core clinical classes because we want students to have a solid foundation in clinical mental health counseling. So that when they graduate from this program they can work anywhere. The second year of the program there are some in town classes. They have a required practicum. So, they have to be in town for those things. But during that time, they’re also coming and going from the field. And the field might be the ropes course down at CU. And the field might be six hours away in the desert. In the spring we have students do a weeklong river section.

DAVID:
That’s what I would want to do. That sounds fun.

KATE MAZUY:
I teach that course and then they finish with a rites of passage.

DAVID:
Ok, what does the rites of passage look like?

KATE MAZUY:
The rites of passage corresponds with a class in transitions and so the students spend the first part of the semester studying transitions, looking at their own transitions in their lives, and the rites of passage that they experience is part for them to experience it because it’s definitely a part of this field. And also, to get a sense of how one might facilitate a rites of passage. It is non-sectarian. We want to be really careful of cultural appropriation. So that what’s happening for students is deeply personal and not created by some external social structure borrowed from the Native Americans.

DAVID:
Oh, I like that. Ok, very cool. So, you said earlier when it comes to the classes — the class model you take a lot of clinical health — mental health classes. What are some of the mental health classes that you would find yourself in?

KATE MAZUY:
So, they are all the classes that you would take to get a degree — a master’s degree in counseling psychology. They take classes. They have a yearlong class in counseling and helping relationships. They take research, they take diagnostic psychopathology, they take assessment — and unique to Naropa is that they take meditation throughout. In the second year, students study things like eco-psychology, they study group dynamics and leadership particularly as it applies to working in wilderness settings. We also look at contemplative practices that are nature based. So, we sort of broaden the meditation lens to include different mindfulness practices.

DAVID:
Ok, so if going into this program you’re not just going to be exposed to nature and learning how to like tie a knot so you’re not going to fall off a rope course or anything that you’re actually learning clinical mental health therapy lessons — you’re going to be a well equipped person to deal with different situations for people needing therapy.

KATE MAZUY:
Absolutely.

DAVID:
Yeah, ok so you’re not just like staring at a tree for 10 days and meditating on contemplativeness.

KATE MAZUY:
No, the program draws from two distinct fields. One is the field of adventure therapy and the other is the field of eco psychology. So, we blend those two.

DAVID:
OK. It almost sounds like you can self-defined it, but what’s adventure therapy?

KATE MAZUY:
Adventure therapy is a field of therapy largely developed around experiences and challenge in the wilderness. So, examples of adventure therapy programs are programs where there’s a sense of like a high challenge and a high perceived risk. Ropes course for example is more of an adventure therapy experience. The 14 days that we do in the desert in Utah because we’re in the back country that whole time has more of a sense of adventure therapy in it because of the physical challenge. Eco-psychology is the study of the human nature relationship.

DAVID:
Interesting. Wow, it’s such a breakdown. Like when I think of wilderness therapy, I just think of going out in the wilderness being contemplative and kind of meditating on some things. But what you’re telling me is like there’s this thrill seeking component of going beyond your boundaries but being amongst community to push you and really encourage you. And then there’s also the relationship aspect of touching in with nature. So, you’re learning — you’re in touch with yourself and push boundaries, but then you’re also learning how to be amongst nature.

KATE MAZUY:
Yeah that’s really well said.

DAVID:
It’s really cool. I want to do that.

KATE MAZUY:
You should come join us. I know you said you do the rapids. I’m down.

KATE MAZUY:
We don’t do the rapids. We do do a river section.

DAVID:
I’m still into that. That sounds fun. How does one sign up — just for that class? So, when people decide they want to take a step in their healing process and use therapeutic approaches why do you think they would choose wilderness therapy other than just having a connection to it? Is it really good for relationship issues? Is it really good for self-inflicted ideas upon oneself? Does it help in other realms better than others? Like — like how does that work?

KATE MAZUY:
I think what you’re asking is does wilderness therapy apply for specific clinical issues?

DAVID:
Yeah.

KATE MAZUY:
Well, first thought, best thought. My bias is that being connected to the natural world is just fundamentally good for our health.

DAVID:
I think you’re right.

KATE MAZUY:
And like if I think about people that I’ve worked with over the years from people with PTSD to people with major depression to people with anxiety disorders to people grieving — people wanting to mark a life transition — the natural world is unconditional, and it welcomes us in whatever state we bring ourselves to it. And it invites a level of presence. It sort of insists on a quality of presence because while there’s incredible stillness in the natural world there’s also sort of constant movement even if that’s grass being blown by the breeze in a meadow or a squirrel in a pine tree preparing for winter. There’s always a little bit of movement and there’s this quality of vastness, right? The natural world is so much bigger than us and in that unconditionality I think we’re invited into an experience that helps us deepen our connection with ourselves, but also helps us get out of our own way.l—n

DAVID:
Wow, yeah, I’m hearing this idea of we are part of nature and we are not disconnected from it. So, by going to the root of where our source from we are able to find healing components to kind of discover what is going on with ourselves.

KATE MAZUY:
Yes.

DAVID:
Ok, so you were saying something about how it could be good in groups. Is this ever used in like a single person sort of situation? Like a solo with one person?

KATE MAZUY:
Yeah.

DAVID:
Who really needs it? Or is it mostly facilitated in groups or like is it both or how does it —

KATE MAZUY:
It’s both — its both. Traditionally wilderness therapy has been facilitated in groups and we have graduates from all over who will do work outside with people.

DAVID:
That sounds fun. Once someone gets a degree here, they’re able to kind of just go out and start a program. Where could they see themselves using this sort of degree once they’ve acquired it?

KATE MAZUY:
Sometimes people come into the program and they want to work in what I would say is a typical wilderness therapy program. They want to go be a therapist and spend time working with groups of people coming in and out of the field. But many people are drawn to the program not specifically because of that, but because of their relationship with the natural world and the inevitability of the healing that takes place in the natural world. So, we have people who have gone on to create their own programs. We have people who have created their own counseling centers that have nature based elements to them. We have people who work in like a more standard mental health agency that are working to expand the way the agency sees counseling and health. And students are developing programs that clients can go outside in.

DAVID:
So, there’s like multiple different forms of therapy — how important do you think it is to incorporate the wilderness and or the natural settings compared to just sitting on a couch and talking — like having talk therapy? Like because there is a lot of therapy that doesn’t incorporate nature. Do you feel like there’s more longevity within the approaches when you have a natural approach compared to just like a talk therapy approach?

I would say it’s different and it’s different for each person. Like I think about the experiences that I’ve had with people outside that are profound and deeply transformative and life changing. And I’ve seen people have that same experience inside through the course of a counseling relationship. I think it mostly depends on the client and what their orientation is.

DAVID:
OK. Yeah, so it’s mostly like a perspective of what might work better for this person because the wilderness might not actually do something for someone on a deep level.

KATE MAZUY:
Right, like I’m thinking about a client that I’ve both worked indoors and outdoors with and the experience of being with them outside — they’re so much more grounded outside, they’re so much more at ease. This particular person feels fundamentally safer outside than they do inside. And so, our work is varied based on where we meet.

DAVID:
Yeah, yeah because some people can feel weird outside — they’re like oh there’s so many things out here.

KATE MAZUY:
Right, and that’s a bias that we need to teach students right off the bat that this concept of wilderness for some of us we see as deeply healing and safe and really inviting, but that’s not everybody’s experience of the natural world. Everybody relates to the natural world and depending on where you were raised or what your social location is this whole idea of wilderness is different. Like the idea of wilderness is actually culturally constructed.

DAVID:
Wow, you’re like just opening my mind so much — it’s so great. So, we just have a little time left. I just want to ask you one more question. Do you have any sort of fun stories or like a breakthrough moment with maybe your teaching or healing or sort of adventures in the wilderness and or like a student’s experience? Is there anything where you’re just like wow this is really good work? That was a big question. I’m sorry.

KATE MAZUY:
Well I’m good — don’t worry about it. I’m going to go — this might not be the best example, but I’m going to go with it because it’s what came first. We had a group one year in the canyons, and they were in horrible conflict. And they were really sort of stuck in it. And one of the things you need to watch for in the canyons is flash flooding. It’s a requirement then when we camp were camped you know a couple of hundred feet above the wash. But this particular group had had their kitchen down in the wash at the bottom of the canyon, which is fine so long as nobody was sleeping there. So, it had been raining and my co-instructor and I woke up in the morning and we knew we were headed down canyon, but that the canyon got narrower and we realized oh there’s a potential here for a flash flood. And the students were so ready to be done. We were nearing the end of the trip and a student came and asked us when we were leaving, and we said actually we need to pause on that we really need to see what this rain is going to do and if the canyon flashes. And within 10 minutes there was a raging river at the bottom of the canyon. And, you know that the students had to grab their kitchen gear at the very last minute and — and kind of get up and everybody was just blown away by the power and the intensity. You know it was like entire cottonwood trees were going down the canyon — rushing down the canyon you could not have crossed the wash. And it really shifted the group. And it’s not that the conflict went away, but the conflict was no longer primary. It was clear that what was happening was so much bigger than them, but it actually was — you know it was like the metaphor was profound that this thing just came and swept everything away. That it was so much more powerful than the students were, and they were forced to have to work together in a different way. Because we got marooned on the side of the canyon and finding fresh water — because everything had been so stirred — the water was so dirty and so muddy. And then the next day we didn’t deem it safe enough to continue down canyon. So, we had to wade up a canyon to find different ways out. And it was an incredibly — it was a hard experience. It was very uncomfortable. And sort of scary, but it was a profound experience.

DAVID:
I mean they don’t call them floods — they call flash floods and they happen super quick. I can totally relate how that could be a moment where it shifts your perspective on what do we actually need to deal with in this moment — the conflict that you may be having is just — it’s not primarily like you said it’s secondary — it’s just like right all right well that exists ok. We noticed that but there is a bigger issue that we have to deal with right now.

KATE MAZUY:
Right, and then I can think of an example of sort of the opposite being true — being in the middle of a class and a rainstorm coming through and rain in the canyons is really beautiful because everything’s dry one minute and then there’s these incredible waterfalls everywhere because of the rock formation down there and students just stopping what they were doing and dancing and playing in the waterfalls and just delighting in it.

DAVID:
Yeah, like what else you got to do — just look at it?

KATE MAZUY:
Right, and then it’s — just incredible celebration.

DAVID:
And then it’s a wilderness dance party outside.

KATE MAZUY:
Yes exactly.

DAVID:
Oh my gosh. Ok this sounds like a really fun program — it’s so different than just being strictly in a classroom setting. And you’re — I mean it sounds like there’s some real moments in this, but they’re challenging uplifting workable moments that actually teach you how to be a good therapist and they also teach you how to understand what’s going on within you. So, you’re able to dissect yourself to help other people dissect them as well.

KATE MAZUY:
Yes, I think this program really requires that you look deeply at yourself and your patterns and ways in which you are in the world and ways in which you are in the relationship. And that part of why you do that work on yourself is so that you can be sort of a clear channel for your clients.

DAVID:
Yeah, the more people I speak to who teach in the psychology department or like mental health sort of zone — there’s this idea of you have to work on yourself. You have to do the work and then by doing the work you actually see the healing you see the process and then you can skillfully guide people through that.

KATE MAZUY:
Right, and I think part of what you learn in that process is that to be a therapist is never to be the person who’s got it all together or to be the one in the know, but perhaps one who is increasingly able to be in the dark and the unknown you know in the psychological wilderness and to be with somebody in that process.

DAVID:
Psychological wilderness. Oh yes. All right, so that is our time. I really appreciate you speaking with me today. It’s — it’s just so fun to hear like a different perspective. You might be the only person I’ve spoke to that just has a different perspective on what a classroom looks like. So, it’s just really fun to hear your work that you’re doing and how it shows up in the community and how people are using this in a therapeutic approach. So, I really appreciate you speaking with me.

KATE MAZUY:
Thank you.

DAVID:
I’d like to thank Kate Matzuy for speaking with me today. She teaches in the transpersonal wilderness therapy program.

KATE MAZUY:
Thank you.

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On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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