Life, death and therapy come together in rural Osceola County

Therapist uses unique approach to teach life lessons

KENANSVILLE, Fla. – It's a subject few of us want to talk about - our own mortality. But one local therapist says coming to terms with death can lead to a healthier more fulfilling life. 

Doctor of Psychology, Sandra Wise, is using experiential therapy and nature exposure to help young adults with life challenges.

Using the 4,700-acre "Forever Florida" ranch as her classroom and office, Wise takes her students on a virtual 'circle of life' tour.

"I really believe in the benefits of getting folks out into nature," Wise says as she points out the cypress trees surrounding Crescent J Ranch in rural Osceola County. " It has a tremendous impact on us mainly because of all this beauty. Its green, with animals, it's really our evolutionary home."  

Wise treats a variety of patients, kids with everything from autism to those that have a history of substance abuse and behavioral issues.  

News 6 caught up with her as she took a small group on a tour of the ranch. First they stopped at a pasture where  newborn cows were seen staying close to their mothers.

"Sometimes we're lucky enough and time it just right to see view the birthing process as it's happening," Wise says. "What we try to do is have our clients experience life."

From there the group moves on to the "Bone Yard," which is exactly what it sounds like.

"Anyone who raises livestock comes up with a problem," Wise says. "Animals die, just like people do. So it's not unusual for a working ranch particularly in a rural area to have a bone yard." 

The Bone Yard is a sea of bright green grass but if you look closely and walk with caution the sun bleached bones of mostly horses and cows can be seen scattered on the soil. 

"We are a death denying culture," She says. "It's hitting home, the idea that life is limited."

Wise admits this program is unconventional but says the results so far have been overwhelmingly positive.

""We've had young clients, adolescents with behavioral problems, write letters about their experience and how it made them think about making changes in their life at age 14,15,16, now realizing that their life is short."

Wise says she began the Death and Dying Program earlier this year and plans to expand the therapy, offering it to all her clients.

"When you actually peal back the layers of the onion, when people bring you common everyday problems, relationship problems, career decisions, anxiety, depression, when you start peeling back the layers of the onion...always, always, always at the core is an existential issue about the meaning of life. What is my purpose".

Wise sums up the experience with statement made several times throughout the day. "The meaning of life is the fact that it ends."


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