Meet Ben: A Q&A on the Family Systems Approach

I sat down with our Clinical Therapist, Ben White to learn about clinical treatment from a family-systems approach and his practice at BaMidbar.

So Ben-

Tell me a little bit about yourself:
I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Group Psychotherapist. In addition to my role as a therapist at BaMidbar, I’m also on the faculty in Metro State University’s Social Work Department, maintain a part-time private practice in Lafayette and am a board member of the Four Corners Group Psychotherapy Society. I spent 10 years as an outdoor educator, group facilitator and as a naturalist before pursuing clinical training at the Smith College School for Social Work. I’ve worked at every level of the spectrum of adolescent and young adult treatment, from outpatient clinics to wilderness programs and therapeutic schools, transitional living programs and Residential Treatment Centers.

What drew you to become a therapist?
I’ve always been oriented toward people. Growing up in Manhattan, I had to learn early how to navigate the sea of people in the city, and I think that played a big role in forming my capacity to be a therapist. As I grew and learned about myself as a young adult in Colorado, I found working with a therapist to be very helpful, encouraging me to grow in ways I wouldn’t have on my own. As I looked for a career, therapy emerged as something that would be engaging, that I had a capacity for, would allow me room for growth, support me comfortably and provide something of value to my community. It seemed like an easy choice.

What type of therapy do you practice?
At BaMidbar I end up practicing a very particular type of therapy. We work with young adults who are struggling to take roots in their adult life and we also work with the families that often support them. So, if I had to call it something, I would say that at BaMidbar I practice “integrative individual and family therapy”, which is really just a way of saying that I work both with the participant and their family in the service of their growth.

What does this family systems approach look like?
I work closely with parents to help them understand their young adult, and to devise new and more effective ways of engaging with them.  In individual treatment, I often say to our participants “I’m not driving this bus”, and try to keep the ball always in their court. The last thing they need is another adult doing something for them they they are completely capable of doing for themselves, and if they ever want to develop the genuine self-confidence they need in order to face the world, they are going to need to stretch themselves sometimes. It’s my job to facilitate this process, and to help families learn to do the same.

What are some of the differences between your private practice and work here at BaMidbar?
The mountain views are definitely nicer! I focus on creating a physical and emotional space that allows our participants to do the work they came to do. Without a baseline comfort it’s very hard, if not impossible to execute the higher level functions that psychotherapy requires. I’d say the biggest difference is the context and time. Having such a short time (8-12 weeks) often results in a lot of work happening in, and between each session.

What do you enjoy most about interacting with the participants?

They’re hilarious. Sometimes in therapy, but definitely as soon as therapy ends many of our participants are quick with a joke and I always enjoy the kind of humor that emerges from many weeks in the woods.

In five years from now what do you hope for BaMidbar’s success?

I hope that we can continue to expand our reach within Jewish communities across the country, and grow our program to include more comprehensive resources for families during and after the initial wilderness experience, without sacrificing our ability to provide scholarships to participants who could not otherwise afford it.

Over this summer we (BaMidbar) have been working on bettering the systems we have put in place. What are the areas you are focusing on?
I’m working with Jory and the clinical team to refine our curriculum for participants. Specifically, I’m refining some of our initial assignments and helping to create an initial experience at BaMidbar that is immediately approachable, and which really helps students orient to all the new things they are surrounded by and are about to experience. I’m also working with the clinical team to develop a series of webinars and learning modules that will be available to parents throughout the program, helping them engage in their own process of growth at home alongside the participants in the field.

Your wonderful dog Buckley is part of the #DogsofBaMidbar, what are your thoughts on animals as part of the therapeutic process? 
He’s helpful in so many ways! Animals have been proven to help regulate the nervous system in times of stress, and Buckley is such a people person that I think he’s helpful way beyond just the soothing sensation of petting him. I think he activates people’s attachment systems, which innately help us form bonds to one another. Anyone who sees him running toward them, smiling and tail wagging in excitement knows what I’m talking about. It’s also diagnostic for me to see how people interact with him and, conversely, participants can gain information about me as a person and perhaps about me as a therapist by watching how I relate to Buckley.

And last one… what’s your favorite outdoor item/tool?
Really? Only one? Probably my little 6’ bamboo fly rod. I don’t so much enjoy carrying all that gear and waders to fish, and I’m more likely to stand on the shore of a small creek in my sandals waving a rod around. This rod is perfect for that, and it also happens to have been a gift from a friend and mentor who is a very important person to me, and I’m reminded of him and what I’ve learned from him over the years every time I take it out.

Thank you Ben for being on our team!