Mark Sipowicz is a different kind of therapist. His clients come to him with questions, and nature is his answer.
Almost two years ago, Sipowicz quit his job as a book salesman, uprooted his wife and two sons from their home in California and moved to Boulder, Colorado to start a Jungian wilderness questing practice.
“Nature is the backdrop of all of it in my work,” he said. “It’s dropping in to the most natural way I can see why I’m here on this earth.”
In his practice, Sipowicz said he wants to guide clients into their subconscious by stripping away distractions. He does this by taking clients on a physical and mental journey into the wilderness. Some commit to an hour of his guidance, and others sign on for multi-day adventures.
He said people choose wilderness quests over traditional therapy because they’re able to return to a natural state that has been overshadowed by technology.
“In my mind and in my way of nature questing, it’s just a time and a place to strip down to some elemental and natural ways of being,” he said. “To tell myself and perhaps tell my family and people back at home that I’m ready for a more connected and ultimately a bigger life.”
Sipowicz went on this journey for himself 10 years ago. He set out on a wilderness quest in Death Valley, California for 10 days with no food and no company.
He said the grueling journey in the desert was a turning point in his life.
“I was just at one of those crossings that a lot of folks get to where things are going reasonably well, but there’s some deep questioning that’s surfacing and distracting and almost becoming a problem,” Sipowicz said. “It just brought up a whole bunch of questions about, ‘Is this everything? And am I tackling life the way I was meant to?’”
From there, Sipowicz said he wanted to gain understanding of a different kind. He began working toward a master’s degree in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in California. Depth psychology, he said, delves into the unconscious and honors nature questing as a practice.
He incorporates his knowledge from this field when he addresses the concerns of his clients.
For example, Sipowicz said, a client told him she wanted to hone and develop her creativity to become a better artist. When they were together in the wilderness, she became attached to the colors, tone and texture of a small rock. Sipowicz said he urged her to think about the ethics of removing a rock from public lands.
“We talked through it, and I said something about circles of this environment where perhaps the question ultimately is does the rock want to be picked up,” he said. “She went to pick it up, and she looked up at me with her eyes wide, and she said, ‘Mark, it’s too connected. I can’t take it with me.’”
Sipowicz said since he started his business two years ago, he’s seen an increase in the number of nature quest services offered in Boulder and the number of clients reaching out for help.
That’s because people spend too much time indoors and in front of screens, and this affects the psyche and unconscious mind, he said.
“It seems like it’s a good time to be in the nature business,” Sipowicz said. “It seems like a good time to be taking people out, to ask people to set down their screens and see what’s out beyond that screen. I think there’s a low level, sometimes a high level, of hunger for feeling our lives without the presence of a screen.”
Wilderness therapy has become more popular in Boulder over the past 10 years, said Eve Ellis, a professional counselor who specializes in wilderness therapy, equine therapy and play therapy. She said Boulder residents have come to realize that it’s a valid form of treatment.
It’s particularly effective for children and teenagers, who often struggle to talk about their issues, Ellis said.
“The woods and the outdoors help your health and calm your nervous system down,” she said. “It can provide more of an integrative, real life experience, and the skills you learn travel with you afterwards.”