Anyone who has ever busted a fire will attest that the smell of a coal in a juniper nest is an amazing sensory experience. For former students, this experience can help rekindle the feel of the therapeutic progress made in wilderness.
Developing the skill of building fire with a bow drill is a difficult and frustrating process. It often can take weeks for youth to develop the knowledge, physical skills, patience, frustration tolerance and humility to master the skill.
When the magical day finally arrives when a teen looks down at their fire board while moving their bow back and forth and sees a small orange-glowing coal and then dumps the coal into their juniper nest it creates a sensation that is unforgettable.
breathing heavily, hands dirty and bleeding, the teen blows the coal while inhaling the smoke billowing from the nest and witnesses the coal ignite the test and a flame jump out of the nest.
The smell, the feel and the satisfaction of the moment are unforgettable. These are the moments where self-confidence and self-worth are born. Each subsequent time that fire is made in this method, those same feelings are aroused. True to the psychological principle of classical conditioning, in years to come, the simple smell of the smoke from the juniper nest rekindles those feelings and allows for a renewing of belief in self and satisfaction from real effort. In this manner, wilderness therapy taps into the olfactory sense and uses classical conditioning to change young people’s lives for good.
Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.