Meet Marisa: Q&A from the field

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Marisa out on masa

We chatted with Marisa to learn more about her passion for wilderness, what it means to be a field therapist and to get a glimpse of field life.

Let’s start with a short introduction.

Hi, I am Marisa Horn and I am the Field Therapist here at BaMidbar. I grew up in Metro Detroit and lived in Michigan until about a year ago when I moved to Wisconsin to work as a Field Instructor at a wilderness therapy program. I have always loved the mountains and am thrilled to have relocated to the west side of the country.

What motivated you to seek a career in social work?

I ask myself this question a lot and I have yet to find a specific moment when I became interested in social work. It was something I wanted to do for as long as I can remember. For me, social work is an opportunity to help other people and provide support for people who may not have access to resources otherwise.

Why wilderness based therapy programs?

I first began looking in to wilderness therapy programs after a professor had suggested it to me during grad school. I was thrilled about the idea of being able to spend the majority of my days moving around outside. Once I looked into it even more, I realized how special this type of work is. It gives me a chance to move away from typical talk therapy and to do therapy as moments arise. As the field therapist, I have the unique opportunity to spend two weeks straight with our students. I get to see the students during their best moments and during some of their worst. On masa, I get a chance to work through some of the more nitty gritty stuff our students came to BaMidbar to work on as the situations happen. Additionally, our students use a variety of primitive skills to survive out in the field. Working on these skills with our students gives me the opportunity to understand the students’ mindsets and see how they work through challenging situations. I can then help the students generalize these experiences and find ways to connect them to their day-to-day life outside of BaMidbar.

What drew you to work at BaMidbar?

About two years ago, one of my friends who is very involved in the Jewish nonprofit world received an email about BaMidbar and forwarded it to me. At the time, I had been looking in to a variety of different wilderness therapy programs throughout the country and I was thrilled to find a place where I could combine my love for the outdoors, passion for therapy, and Jewish identity.

What does your typical day at BaMidbar look like?

I am not sure there is such thing as a typical day in the wilderness therapy world, haha, but I’ll give it a shot. Every day at BaMidbar, my day begins with Shmirat Ha Nefesh, a time for spiritual practice. After that we move in to breakfast. Each person cooks their own meal over a fire and checks in about how they are feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Additionally, everyone creates a SMART goal for the day. Most days, after breakfast we pack up camp and head on a hike. During these hikes, I try to have one-on-one conversations with each student to check in and see how that student is doing. Halfway through the hike, we stop for lunch, hopefully with a view. After the hike, there is usually time to play a game, work on primitive skills, do a team building activity, or work on individual assignments. This usually gives me a chance to help students on therapy assignments or work through a challenging activity. Our evening begins with either an individual dinner cooked over a fire or a group dinner prepared by the students. At dinner, everyone has a chance to check in on their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, as well as if they were able to complete their goal successfully. Our day ends with a nightly growth group, which is a staff-led discussion or activity that allows for personal reflection and group connection. As the field therapist, I do my best to connect the field side and the clinical side. Therefore, when the therapists are at the ranch, I spend time checking in with them to ensure everyone is on the same page.

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Marisa celebrating the holiday of Purim

What are some of your favorite moments while on the ranch?

I have been lucky enough to be in the field for all of the Jewish holidays this season. Both Purim and Pesach were two of my favorite moments at the ranch. During Purim, the students created costumes, performed skits, and made some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. There was a lot of laughter and fun was had by all that night.

Additionally, any time a student has an “ah ha” moment or does something for the first time, it’s pretty cool. I love seeing how proud the students are after finishing their first spoon, getting their first spark rock fire, or making it to the top of a tough hike.

What are some of the challenges you deal with and how do you address them?

If there is one thing I have learned from working at BaMidbar, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. As I mentioned earlier there is no such thing as a typical day in wilderness therapy. Between the weather, people coming in and out of the field, and Jewish holidays, our day to day schedule is constantly changing. As someone who loves structure, this was a challenge for me. I have learned the importance of flexibility and with the help of my co-staff I have figured out how to have time management while also being flexible.

If you could change one thing about the Jewish community what would it be?

I would love to see the Jewish community talk more about mental health. Time and time again I have seen the Jewish community come together during tough times and offer support. However, when it comes to mental health there tends to be stigma and people are either afraid to discuss this with their Jewish community or the Jewish community shuts them out. BaMidbar is definitely providing a space for this conversation to happen and I hope other aspects of the Jewish community are able to do the same.  

Favorite meal to make over the fire?

My favorite meal to make over the fire has got be a breakfast burrito, which I usually eat for dinner. There’s nothing like sautéed sweet potatoes and onions mixed with hash browns, beans, tvp, and of course cream cheese inside of a warm tortilla after a day of hiking.

And most importantly of all the dogs at BaMidbar- who is your favorite?

Hmm… this is a tough one! I think I’d have to say my favorite is Dav.