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What is Self-Harm?

Scared. Disgusted. Confused. Worried. Frustrated. These are some of the words that I have heard from those caring for and about those who live with non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors, commonly known as self-harm. Oftentimes these caregivers will confuse self-harm with a suicide attempt; believing that their loved one was intending to die. They become emotionally exhausted from attending to the frequent feelings of urgency to address injuries and the emotional dysregulation surrounding the behavior.

The truth is, self-harm is only sometimes associated with suicidal ideation. Of course, knowing this does not make self-harm feel any less scary or baffling to caregivers.  It can be challenging to assess where this behavior is coming from and what purpose it is serving in an individual’s life. To better understand this pattern of behavior we often look at self-harm, not as the problem, but instead, as the solution to a problem. Looking at self-harm in this way can provide the opportunity to explore what other factors have motivated this concerning behavior. Additionally, looking for these motivators can help bring understanding to a pattern that can be difficult to understand.

Self-harm can serve many purposes for those who engage in it. For some, it can be a way to make their incomprehensible emotional pain make sense. They can make the abstract world of emotions, concrete through a physical wound. This often is the case for those who struggle with verbal communication or getting their ideas across effectively. For others, self-harm is a way to express their need for assistance from the outside world. And for still others, self-harm is actually a tool to prevent them from engaging in suicidal behaviors.

In many ways, self-harm behaviors can be seen as closely related to addictive behaviors. When an individual uses drugs and alcohol to soothe difficult emotions or to help express themselves, their other coping/communication skills become underused and a bit rusty. The same process happens with self-harm. When this behavior is solely relied upon in times of distress, other options that may be more sustainable and less problematic no longer get used.

When working to leave behind self-harm behaviors its important to learn about skills such as urge surfing which is based on the idea that no emotion last forever – rather, emotions come and go in waves. These emotional waves can be surfed with the use of a range of skills and so, too, can the urge to engage in self-harm. Of course, building a life worth living through therapeutic lifestyle choices and engaging in problem-solving for the issues that drive self-harm behaviors are also keys on the road to recovery!

Have a little BOOST!


Article courtesy of mental health clinicianLisa B. Courchaine, LCSW

Hello fellow human! Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You know what else? February is national boost your self-esteem month. I know, it was news to me too!

I am a fan of quotes and also a fan of bullet points. So in honor of “national boost your self-esteem month,” here are some tips and things to keep in mind. I encourage you to be your own best friend and to enjoy the process of getting to know, accept and dare I say, love yourself….unconditionally.

Positive and Healthy Self-Talk:

  • “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” -Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” -Maya Angelou
  • There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.
  • Don’t let anyone ever dull your sparkle.
  • Where attention goes – energy flows.
  • Your mind is like a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.

Surround yourself with those who accept and encourage you:

  • “Watch carefully the magic that occurs when you give a person enough comfort to just be themselves.” -Atticus
  • Be with those who bring out the best in you, not the stress in you.
  • “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss
  • “Surround yourself with the dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.” -Edmund Lee

Stop comparing yourself to others:

  • Others’ success is not your failure.
  • Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.
  • Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.

Live according to your values:

  • Make a list of your top 5 values in life. Explore ways you are living in alignment with your values and ways you could improve. Make a plan and notice how it feels to live in alignment with your values.
  • “Practice your values rather than professing them.”-Brene Brown
  • “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.” -Carl Jung
  • Do the right thing when no one is looking.
  • “Don’t share things that aren’t yours to share-it erodes trust and confidence.” -Brene Brown

Be mindful of your past successes and accomplishments:

  • List those times when you really, really, really wanted to give up, and didn’t.
  • List those times when you were scared and self-conscious and showed up anyway.
  • Find the meaning or wisdom gained through life’s challenges.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate goals you have met, no matter how small, progress is progress people!








Grand Opening!


Northwest Passage is celebrating its increased capacity for serving children and families at its Frederic location this week with an Open House. The Prairieview and Assessment programs have gained a new Wellness Center, complete with a gym and both an outdoor and indoor classroom, and Prairieview added a new unit. The event will be held Thursday, August 24 from 3:30 – 5:30 pm at the new Wellness Center at 201 United Way in Frederic.

Situated at the south edge of town, Northwest Passage operates two mental health residential treatment programs serving youth struggling with mental illness ages 6-17. Ellen Race says of the programs, “treatment deals with everything from their physical and mental health, academics, and fun. Adding a facility like the Wellness Center provides greater quality of care, rain or shine.” As a part of the Wellness Center expansion, Northwest Passage has committed to providing an immersive, environmentally themed, project-based educational curriculum.

The students will work with a number of pollinator friendly projects throughout the year. They will work to assist Northwest Passage in the restoration of a portion of its land to native prairie grasses through multiple projects such as the St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards rain garden initiative and the National Park Service’s Pollinator Pledge. They will work directly with pollinators through service at Horst M. Rechelbacher Foundation’s pollinator lab, by tending to their own beehive. They will also grow pollinator dependent fruits and vegetables in their own gardens thanks to St. Croix Valley Foundations support and make pollinator friendly art projects – all of which will be on display at Thursday’s open house.

Tours will also be given of the newest unit at Prairieview. “We’re excited to be showing off our new unit in our Prairieview program,” says executive director Mark Elliott.  “There is a dramatic shortage of residential mental health services in the state and all over the country. This expansion does a small part in reaching that need. It allows us to pursue our mission with even more kids.”

Northwest Passage would like to thank the St. Croix Valley Foundation as a number of these projects received funding from the SCVF and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.


Travel to the Apostle Islands with our kids

Travel Logs of an Expedition of Healing


This fall, six of Northwest Passage’s Prairieview residents traveled to North America’s third coast, the shores of Lake Superior, for their capstone project in the latest chapter of New Light Under the Surface. We ventured north to spend time in this beautiful place and to work in partnership with the National Park Service staff of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and with Artist in Residence photographer, Andrew Walsh. This adventure was made possible thanks in part to the financial support of Wisconsin Sea Grant and The National Park Service Submerged Resources Center.

Lake Superior welcomed the group with unusually warm and calm water, clear skies, and a sunny disposition. We spent two nights and three days camping four miles from the mainland on Sand Island, near the Bayfield Peninsula, the western-most tip of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on which camping is permitted.

Getting to the Island


For the majority of the residents, our first night camping on Sand Island was also their first night sleeping in a tent. It goes without saying that there was much preparation for the trip. In addition to the snorkeling and photography skills they learned and put into practice this summer, the group learned how to set up and take down a tent and how to ‘make their bedroom,’ how to pack a backpack, and how to plan their meals for wilderness camping. By the time we boarded the Park Service boat at Little Sand Bay the girls were well prepared for our adventure.

Great Lakes Fisheries Biologist Jay Glase captained the boat, a sturdy craft with powerful twin outboard motors. It was also equipped with a ramp that can be lowered for loading cargo and passengers directly onto the beach, but most importantly, so that we could slip safely into the water for aquatic exploration.

The water was perfect by Lake Superior standards. A gentle breeze pushed up 1-2 foot waves which was just enough to make water spray across the deck as we cruised to the Island, bouncing over waves.

“Being on the boat gave me an adrenaline rush. I had never been on a boat before. It felt so good as the mist of the cold water hit my face. I watched the waves from the side of the boat fly up. It was so relaxing to watch and brought me so much excitement.” 

Jourdyn, age 15

Setting Up Camp


Upon arriving at East Bay on Sand Island, Jay ran the boat right in to the shallow water and lowered the bow ramp. The group formed a chain and worked together to unload the mountain of gear. We thanked Jay for safe passage and waved as he departed back to the mainland. The group was now on the island and began to settle in for the next three days.

The girls put their camping skills to practice and spent that afternoon setting up camp. Pitching tents, assembling the camp kitchen, building tarp shelters, and gathering firewood. They helped one another out, sharing what they remembered of their training when others got stuck. Once camp was settled, we spent the afternoon getting to know our little corner of the nearly 3000 acre island.

“The two points on the island jut out on both sides of me. They’re slightly curved, as if giving me a hug and telling me I’m safe, nothing will hurt me. The island is protecting me. From what? I don’t know. But the secluded peace of it all gives me a great sense of security.

To my right is the mainland, the place where we parked the car and left. Not only did I leave the town and commotion behind, I left my troubles too. The 2 a.m. thoughts of self-hatred, the constant fear of what comes next, the horrific desire to not desire, the trance of unworthiness that fogs my mind.”

Rachel, age 15

First Night on the Island


After dinner the group rallied the energy to hike the nearly three miles to the northern tip of the Island. We hiked through old growth white pine and cedar and arrived at a small peninsula upon which the historic 135 year old Sand Island lighthouse sits. We got there just in time to catch the brilliant colors of the sunset and see the first of the stars emerge overhead.

Artist in Residence, Andrew Walsh, provided instruction and guidance on sunset photography as the group took in the wild remoteness of the place. We played in the rock pools and explored what felt like the ‘edge of the earth.’

As night set in, we departed back to camp, the group persevered through the long hike back on a dark and buggy trail by singing and joking as we followed the lights of our headlamps. When we arrived back at our well-made camp at East Bay, everyone settled in for the night to get some much needed rest.

“The most challenging part of this trip was coming back from the lighthouse, when I got my hair stuck in the bug tent and the gnats swarmed my face because my headlamp was still on. This showed me that I can overcome struggles.

Hailey, age 14

Exploring the Caves at Swallow Point


The next morning brought perfect weather – again! By the time our boat arrived promptly at 8:45 the group had eaten, cleaned, and secured camp. They were ready and waiting in wetsuits when Julie Van Stappen, Chief of Planning and Resource Management, and their boat captain for the day, arrived on the beach. We boarded with gear and cameras in hand and traveled up the shoreline to Swallow Point.

The Caves at Swallow point are one of the most notable geological features of the Apostle Islands. Their beauty is rivaled only by the caves on Devil’s Island and the mainland caves at Mawikwe Bay (which received international notoriety and tens of thousands of visitors during the winter of 2013).

The caves at these unique locations are formed from red sandstone that has slowly eroded to create arches, tunnels, and deep caverns. They are a living geological feature that continues to be gradually broken down by ice in the winter and smoothed by wave action in the summer. These caves have been photographed by hundreds of explorers and dozens of professionals. But never before have they been explored and photographed like this.

The group stood on the deck and was given guiding words of inspiration and safety by Ranger Van Stappen and their team leaders. We then slipped into the water in teams of three, two “buddies” and a team leader in each pod, and swam to the caves.

As we approached the Sea Caves there were three things that stood out; the geology, the crystal blue clarity of the water, and the sound of the waves ‘galumping’ against the hollows of the stone. To many, the idea of swimming into a cave, in deep cold water would be a terrifying and claustrophobic proposition beyond imagination. These six brave young women dove in and didn’t look back. They boldly went forward chasing their curiosity and the opportunity for just the right shot.

“I felt so calm. I was in my own little world. I didn’t worry about all the stressors going on in my everyday life. I left that all behind. I just sat back and listened to those beautiful waves and took amazing underwater shots.”

Jourdyn, age 15

Going Below the Surface


The unparalleled beauty of these caves can only be fully experienced by seeing both the above water and below water elements of them. The caves that arch overhead, also arch underwater and it takes unique skill and equipment to capture the whole picture. Fortunately the group was equipped with the eye and the gear to do so.

They were driven by the inspiration that they had the unprecedented opportunity to share the beauty of this global treasure with thousands of others. They were bringing the Apostle Islands to the rest of the world.

The excellent weather made hours of photography both above and below the water possible. The morning sun reached far under the water’s surface making for exceptional photographic conditions. We swam deep into the caves and through the arches. After exploring nearly a quarter mile of shoreline, the morning came to a close. We swam onto the boat and returned to our campsite for lunch and conversation with Julie.

“Lake Superior is brilliantly blue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such blue water in my life. I can see how people of other nationalities and faiths base a lot of their beliefs and practices on nature and why they cherish lakes so much.” 

Anonymous, 15

On to Eagle Island


After eating and resting up, the group was given the unique opportunity to visit another of the Apostles. Julie ferried us around Sand Island and across three miles of open water to Eagle Island. Eagle Island, one of the smallest of the islands, sits on the far western edge of the National Lakeshore. It serves as a bird refuge and people are barred from stepping foot on dry ground there for 6 months of the year – fortunately for the group, they were remaining in the aquatic realm.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the submerged rocky ledges and deep crevasses of Eagle Island’s north shore.

By the time Julie had to part ways, the cameras were full of images and our bodies and minds were out of energy.

We returned to camp and wound down day number two on Sand Island.

“Riding on the boat with Ranger Julie Van Stappen made me feel like I was special, that she truly loved taking us out and watching us.  I hope one day I could have her take me to more of the islands.” 

Kim, age 15

Heading Back to the Mainland


Day three defied the forecast and blew expectations out of the water. Instead of the thunderstorms and high waves that were predicted there were gentle clouds on the horizon and clear blue skies above. The water was again, warm and calm in the sheltered East Bay.

We packed up and cleaned the campsite then spent the morning with our guest, Artist in Residence, Andrew Walsh. Andrew has volunteered time with Northwest Passage on two previous occasions, but this was a first for him to join a group on an expedition. On the days previous he had joined the group in the water and on land offering professional insight and tips, he had also spent time doing night photography with the girls the evening before.

This morning he set up on shore and gave the photographers the opportunity to be the stars on the other side of the lens.

After lunch, we loaded the mountain of gear onto the boat and boarded the boat heading back to the mainland. It was bittersweet partings leaving the place that we had all formed a strong bond with over the course of three short days.

Early in my career I spent four years instructing and guiding sea kayaking in the Apostle Islands. I spent thousands of hours paddling and countless nights camping in the Islands. I ushered hundreds of guests to and from the shores of the mainland out to these gems of Lake Superior. Not until this trip, did I realize the potential of this place to help those, in the most dire need of nature’s elixir, find hope and healing.

Ian Karl, Experiential Programming Coordinator

“Into the water I went. Washing away the pain the scars left. I watched the memories float down. Away from my thoughts, away from me. Submerged in the peaceful currents. I let myself go for just a moment. As I rose up out of the water. The sun seemed to shine brighter.”

Jade, age 16

Every child’s journey to mental health at Northwest Passage incorporates therapeutic elements such as those encountered while at the Apostle Islands. The girls practiced a number of therapeutic practices from time spent in nature and recreations to relaxation and time spent building relationships with peers and staff. It is opportunities like this that the girls are able to put their efforts in treatment to work in a rewarding and awesome way.


New Research Supports Efforts at Passage


We see evidence of the power of residential treatment paired with living a therapeutic lifestyle in our clients progress towards mental health up close and personal, but it is always nice to read research to support that experience. This year, a Norwegian study found that using “behavioral therapy that teaches coping skills, used in conjunction with psychotherapy, not only significantly reduces self-harm among adolescents but also more rapidly leads to recovery from suicidal ideation and depression than enhanced usual care.”

Program Director, Ellen Race, says that “we are always happy to see evidence that supports what we are doing for our clients.” The specific therapy addressed in the article is one that Northwest Passage uses in its Prairieview and Riverside programs, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is, “a type of therapy that focuses on developing the behaviors skills and coping mechanisms for our kiddos so that they can navigate life’s challenges in a healthy and sustainable way.” Angela Fredrickson, Clinician Director for Riverside explains. She goes on to say that, “DBT is a part of our efforts to promote the skills and experiences necessary to commit to living a therapeutic lifestyle long after treatment ends. We are giving access to our clients to practice living a healthy lifestyle and DBT fits right in with that. It is grounded in mindfulness, being active and expressive in a healthy way, and building healthy relationships – which are key elements necessary to live therapeutically.”

To learn more about the PassageWay and living a therapeutic lifestyle, please visit our website and to read the article summarizing the research in full, please visit the Medscape article: Self-harm in Teens: Rapid Response With Novel Behavior Therapy. 

We know it is essential to pair expert psychotherapy with the tools necessary to make change, it is something we do every single day with our kids. Our guiding principles are articulated through the PassageWay, which proposes that the journey to building a healthy lifestyle includes the building of skill and insight through psychotherapy intervention, the judicious use of psychotropic medication, and a commitment to providing access to therapeutic lifestyle moments for our clients to actively heal and practice being well.


We’ve Got the Beat


A natural passion for dance struck the halls of Prairieview this winter, it quickly blossomed into a therapeutic phenomenon. We have learned throughout our history of therapeutic interventions with youth that people heal through a variety of channels. We know that real, sustainable change occurs when our clients connect with their community, explore their identity, develop their passions, appreciate time in nature, attend to their relationships, discover effective recreation opportunities, learn healthy nutritional habits, and move their bodies. Often those things can come together in powerful ways. Join the young women of Prairieview as they build relationships, develop strength and stamina, and rejoice in dance.

See below for the origin story of this joy filled feat of self expression taking place right here.

The Birth of a Legend

This year, Prairieview found itself in the midst of a dance phenomenon. The girls spent their down time dancing to music, dancing to the Wii games for fitness, and on the weekends they began requesting further dance fitness routines. There was spinnin’, poppin’, and jumpin’ on both units. Girls began protesting; requesting (if not downright begging) for dance competitions. With these given talents and interests of the girls, as well as the innate therapeutic value of dance, our psychological interest was perked. Plotting, proposing and planning began as the co-founders established the goals, mission and purpose. As the New Year was born, so was Prairieview’s Razzle Dazzle Dance Squad.

Mission Ahead

In the months that followed, the girls engaged in weekly practices and frequently additional practices amongst themselves. At first, they stretched and stumbled with more than few grumbles and frowns but over time with increasing enthusiasm and investment. Multiple songs were learned and rehearsed. Warm-ups were advocated for. Stretching leaders were chosen. Girls with interest or background rose to the top and gracefully became leaders; often naturally guiding and assisting girls without experience. The renegade pop-and-lock competitions died down and instead the unit was fueled with requests for additional dance time particularly for solo and duet projects that also were individually advocated for and created by each individual girl. Girls who had little or no dance experience slowly grew more confident in their “new moves.” Still other girls whom chose not to perform due to cultural, religious. or personal beliefs, participated with valuable encouragement, critiques, dress rehearsals, flyers, and even MC’ing our first performance. The girls slowly, and at first a bit begrudgingly, took ownership, investing in the group and ultimately in their performance. On that day, each one of the girls were skittish and flustered as their debut approached. It all worked though. The uncertain sound system, the nervous girls, the much anticipated audience and a lovely reception after their grand finale.  In the end, each girl glowed with pride, laughed, genuinely encouraged one another and celebrated that one special moment.

Why Dancing?

Dancing is far more than a rite of passage for many adolescent girls (and some boys). Dancing itself is expressive and inherently cathartic. It holds the power to improve emotional, cognitive, physical and social arenas. Studies have shown that dancing is beneficial to one on a physical level as it can increase muscle tone, endurance, and strength. It can also improve balance, coordination, agility and offers a fun avenue for cardio fitness. On top of all this, dance directly benefits mental health. Research shows that dance is effective for mood management, increased self-awareness, improved self-esteem, and it can provide a healthy avenue for the expression of emotions. It is often used for stress reduction and can be incorporated into yoga and mindfulness practices.

Dancing and the PassageWay

Learning to dance is a powerful expression of living a therapeutic lifestyle, a key component to the PassageWay. By learning to plan and practice new choreography, participants are actively “avoid avoiding” by taking one small step at a time in order to learn a much bigger, more complicated dance and reach completion of their goal. Furthermore, as participants work towards smaller, more achievable goals before reaching the long term goal (and fantastic performance) they are working on mastery itself. Learning dance movements and choreography requiring active participation and mindfulness as it is necessary for participants to be fully present, in mind and body, as they practice and master dance skills. For some girls, using dance as an expression of emotion can in itself be a coping skill and valuable as a built-in aspect of PLEASE MASTER to achieve further emotional regulation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, for long term success, dance is an aspect of the therapeutic lifestyle that can easily be transferred from treatment into the community via dance therapists, dance teams throughout schools nationwide, and private dance organizations. This in turn prevents success within a vacuum and instead offers participants a real-life opportunity to implement skills that they are invested in, enjoy, and are valuable towards their personal and emotional success within the community.


For additional information on the therapeutic value of dance can be found at:

American Dance Therapy Association. (2016). What is Dance/Movement Therapy. American Dance Therapy Association. Retrieved on June 2nd, 2016
Castillo, S. (2012). The Happiness Trick You Haven’t Tried. Prevention. Retrieved on June 2, 2016 from
Jackson, M. (2004). Dance Therapy for Mental Patients. British Broadcasting Company. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Dance Can Improve Mental Health of Teen Girls. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2016, from

Meet the Author


Gina’s work is focused around an awareness that the kids she serves have already struggled in their communities and often throughout many other therapies and placements. She sees kids come to us with no sense of hope and no one to believe in them. She believes healing is possible but for that to happen, they must have hope. Gina strives to instill hope in her kids by providing a safe place with her, to grow to trust in a therapeutic relationship, and to work toward change. She works with each of her clients to explore their past and themselves in whatever way is needed so that they can be successful in the community.

  • Specialties: DBT, CBT, ITCT-A, Narrative Therapy, Save Person-Centered Approach
  • Education: BA, Family Social Science; MS, Clinical Psychology
  • Memberships: IPPA, IATP, Association for the Development of the Person-centered Approach
  • With Northwest Passage since 2014

“Dancing is magical! It sets my mind and heart free.”

Ilyna, 15

Spring Fling


Last Chance Summer Dance


Northwest Passage is dedicated to providing access to all eight elements of living a therapeutic lifestyle in a myriad of unique ways. We foster and celebrate staff who take a creative approach to this challenge. Thank you for taking a moment to share the origins story of a dance troop that has taken the Prairieview program by storm and has become a place of renewal, friendship, fun, and more for our girls.


Running Riverside


The Riverside boys ran riverside at the St. Croix Falls, WI, City of Trails Trailrun. A few of our boys ran the 5K race and one even won it! Garrett took first place overall with a time of 18:03.68, with the next racer coming in almost 20 seconds later.

“I started running when I was 13 and never gave it up. I always push through the pain. Today, I showed up expecting to finish in the top five but I took first overall. When I run it feels like it’s me and the course,” Garrett explained.

The City of Trails Trailrun “5K course follows asphalt paths though beautiful woodland, city streets lined with historic houses, and quaint downtown St. Croix Falls. The last leg treks past the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway Visitor Center and alongside the St. Croix River on the Gaylord Nelson Riverwalk to a spectacular finish at the Overlook Deck.” –

The photos of the participants were taken by a couple of their peers.

Northwest Passage believes healthy bodies help keep healthy minds. Exercise is a central component of treatment in the programs, one being running group. There is a large body of evidence that points to the benefits of exercise and movement in the promotion of both mental health and cognition. Taking part in community races is just one way to get the kids exercising.


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