In the Spring of 2020, after 15 years of operating with single-gender adolescent groups and all-gender young adult groups, True North introduced an all-gender adolescent group, one of the first of its kind in the field of wilderness therapy. While True North has always had an inclusive approach, and has worked with many students to find the right fit within the previous group structure, it was clear that adolescents were rapidly demonstrating a need for a group that could more widely fit their expanding identities.
With Margo Kelly (they/them), LICSW, at the helm, the group quickly attracted students who were struggling with a range of mental health issues and who did not easily fit into the binary structure of single-gender groups. Many of these students are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some of them simply need a more diverse milieu in order to have the best chance at success in their therapeutic journey.
Crucial to providing the best care for these students and their families, True North espouses the principle of social affirmation. Social affirmation is affirming a person’s gender identity and expression through social interactions with people and spaces. Research shows that when we affirm a person’s gender identity and expression through social affirmation practices, rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior decrease to levels equivalent of their cisgender peers (Russell 2018).
In order to provide a safe milieu for all students, True North is committed to social affirmation across all departments and among every employee. From student hygiene to clothing and accessories, it is critical to affirm gender. Utilizing names and pronouns that affirm a student’s gender increases the likelihood that the student will feel seen, validated, and safe, which improves the overall impact of the therapeutic work they do in the wilderness. It is vital that systems be implemented to ensure that all written and visual materials, all internal documentation and vernacular, and all individuals working with students and families reflect this commitment to social affirmation.
As of November, 2022, True North is proud to announce an expansion in all-gender programming for adolescents. Margo has accepted the position of Director of All-Gender Programming, lending their outstanding leadership and superior knowledge to all aspects of the program. Margo will continue to work with a caseload, while also providing programmatic insight and support for therapists and guides working with all-gender groups.