Discover U Podcast: Wolf Therapy, a New Model for Healing, with Teo Alfero
Montare Media presents this week’s episode of the Discover U Podcast: Wolf Therapy, a New Model for Healing. Putting wolves together with humans for therapeutic purposes may sound a little crazy, but amazingly, it works!
JD Kalmenson interviews Teo Alfero, the founder of the Wolf Connection sanctuary and creator of Wolf Therapy®, a singular program that empowers individuals dealing with psychological and emotional pain, addiction, and trauma, using the human-wolf bond. Some of the stories Teo and JD share will open your heart, and inspire you with newfound faith in the ability we all have to reconnect with our innate well-being.
Teo is a transformational teacher whose work is strongly influenced by that of Carlos Castaneda. He is a TEDx speaker, one of the 100 Making A Difference, and a member of the Association of Transformational Leaders. He has been featured in the New York Times, LA Times, and other major media. Born in Argentina, he now lives with his wife and daughter and the Wolf Connection pack in California.
Host Kalmenson is the CEO/Founder of Renewal Health Group, a family of addiction treatment centers, and Montare Behavioral Health, a comprehensive brand of mental health treatment facilities in Southern California. Kalmenson is a Yale Chabad Scholar, a skilled facilitator, teacher, counselor, and speaker, who has provided chaplain services to prisons, local groups and remote villages throughout the world. His diverse experience as a rabbi, chaplain, and CEO has inspired his passion and deep understanding of the necessity for effective mental health treatment and long-term sobriety.
Learn More about our comprehensive mental health (Behavior Health) treatment programs at Montare Behavioral Health here
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Teo Alfero and JD Kalmenson: Welcome to another episode of Discover You. Our podcast exploring innovative and effective solutions to issues in mental and behavioral health. I'm JD Kalmenson, CEO of Montare Behavioral Health, a family of dynamic and comprehensive mental health treatment centers in Southern California. I'm so honored to be able to introduce you to our inspiring and engaging guest today, Teo Alfero. Teo is the founder of the Wolf Connection Sanctuary and creator of Wolf Therapy, a singular program that empowers individuals dealing with psychological and emotional pain. Addiction and trauma using the Wolf Human Bond.
Teo is a transformational teacher whose work is strongly influenced by that of Carlos Costaneto. He's a TED speaker and one of the 100 making a difference and a member of the Association of Transformational Leaders. He's been featured in the New York Times, the LA Times, and other major media. Born in Argentina, he now lives with his wife and daughter and the Wolf Connection PAC in California. Welcome Teo. So happy to have you with us today. Let's jump right in. Putting wolves and kids together is not something we normally think would be therapeutic or even safe. Wolves have such a reputation for ferocity and many of the ancient stories and fables myths include bad wolves, the little Red Riding Hood's grandmother gets eaten by the wolf, the three little pigs, and their houses destroyed by wolf, etc.
How did you come upon this idea to begin with that, wolves would be therapeutic for humans? And maybe you can with us a little bit about your journey and what brought you here today?
Teo: Well, first of all thank you for having me JD. It's a pleasure for me as well. I actually stumbled upon it. I didn't conceptualize the Wolf Therapy saying, well maybe the best way to present adolescence and young adults with behavioral issues and mental health is to throw them to the wolves, would be the best way to go about it. But I began, I was working in LA with Foster Youth and adolescence with behavioral challenges and I was also lecturing schools on peaceful communication and so forth. And I want to create a project that would have a lasting effect. I didn't know what that would look like and parallel to that or seemingly unrelated. I got to rescue a little wolf dog puppy that needed help from a backyard breeder in the San Fernando Valley.
Reluctantly, I take this puppy. Her name was Tala who eventually became my interventionist companion and partner in all my activities. I figured some of the youth that was working with wanted to see her more than they wanted to see me. And so, looking for a playmate for this animal. I came in contact with 16 wolves and wolf dogs in a hoarder facility up in the Mojave Desert that needed help. Instead of adopting one to take a home as a pet, I decided to stay and volunteer and help out. I remember the day I came in I mean I saw these animals that my heart cracked open and I could not leave them. So, I knew I had to come back and help.
JD Kalmenson: So, you went from famine to feast, from one wolf to 16.
Teo: To 16 yeah, 17 really with Evitara. So, on a total whim, again, I rescued, I adopted this this this puppy reluctantly on a total whim. One day I decided to take all 16 of them and found a little piece of land. Raw land in the San Gabel Mountains where I put a trailer with no plumbing or electricity at the beginning and I moved in with 16 wolfs.
JD Kalmenson: Wow.
Teo: So, I found myself the founder of a wolf sanctuary. I remember I had just lectured at Hollywood High School for the senior year, the two-day training on violence prevention and anti-bullying techniques. So, I called the teacher and inviting them to come and visit the wolves. I didn't have a curriculum or a plan or a program was just the kids I work with for two days coming to meet the wolves, and what I saw in front of me was magic. Some of the youth that I couldn't get a single word out of them through a two-day training. One-word answers, mono syllables to sharing stories openly, joking, laughing, crying, all this transformation was happen right in front of me by the power of the wolf's presence.
I didn't do much. I just make sure that no one got hurt. So, soon I realized that I had something of value in my hands. I knew how to put a curriculum together so I developed, I began to observe the wolves and I translated some simple life coaching principles to the wolf behavior. So, I merged them and those became the original Wolf Principles who were you that became the program. So that was all nice and dandy. The next challenge was to convince, like I said earlier, school administrators and managers of Foster Care Facilities and even worse elected politicians and appointed officials that the best way to take care of these troubled youth was to put them face to face with wolves.
But eventually some therapists give it a shot. People that knew me and trusted me personally they thought, well it cannot be too crazy. So, we're going to give it a shot and then success story after success story after success story begin to emerge. But that's how I realized that it was effective, by seeing it, by developing it. It was never an intellectual concept.
JD Kalmenson: That's amazing and in my experience the source of many behavioral health issues can be traced to a feeling of not belonging of not being affirmed or existentially valued and validated. That's why as a whole working with animals, would seem to provide clients or troubled individuals with a strong bonding experience where they feel affirmed and validated and valued regardless of what they may or may not have achieved or accomplished. Regardless of how beautiful or successful society might perceive them to be. So, animals sort of offer this unconditional non-judgmental connection and love that is constantly validating and affirming. So, pets and animals that seem to have that very deep and impactful effect. They never show disapproval.
How would working with wolves differ from other traditional therapy such as equine therapy or dogs that are therapeutic dogs? How would the Wolf Therapy which to be clear to all our listeners and viewers out there, Teo is actually invented this modality. This is not out there. This is it's been he's been doing this for a very long time but this is really a signature singular contribution that he's brought to the world of therapeutic intervention. So, how would this differ and what makes this unique in the larger scheme of other therapies facilitated by animals?
Teo: Well, first I think JD you give me way too much credit. Is the wolf doing the magic? I just happen to be there.
Teo: So, first of all you give me a too much credit. The wolves are the ones doing the magic and just happen to be there. You mentioned this human insecurity right, this lack of belonging and that's really a human affliction. No other being in nature has that lack of sense of belonging and performance and anxiety and shortcomings, right. So, the first wolf principle that we teach is that wolves are okay with who they are, right. And so, it's not about dominance is not about performance. I mean they're wolves. They're not pretend to be what they're not. And that's why they're so comfortable.
JD Kalmenson: Comfortable in sheep's clothing.
Teo: Right. That's a human projection, right. So, how is it different from equine and dog therapy? Both equine and dog therapy have huge value. Now unlike Wolf Therapy that was I created that was developed at the ranch. A lot of people doing equine and dog therapy in, we need to add the word assisting or equine, the horse assisted or we can equine assisted therapy, dog assisted therapy. Because practitioners of those modalities are doing it in 100 different ways, depending on what their training is. If there are trained therapist or they are somatic practitioners or body movement or whatever that is. They add the dog or the horse to the practice of for instance leadership training with horses is a lot of reflection.
So, the way you show up energetically. The horse will reflect follow, nor follow, come nor come and that's what have a within the session. For children on the spectrum, they will put them on the horse. So, the movement of the horse will create neurological connection that assist with the emotional processing for the child. For a dog therapy, we're finding that is a lot of companion therapy, because the dog unlike the wolf, we have bred the dog to seek the same kind of validation that we seek. So, if you at a dog, I mean they're going to be seeking that connection. Wolves are a lot more independent that typically I say, it's a canine that acts like a cat.
And one of the lessons that we teach at the ranch is that, a dog will seek this validation. See you as their master when a wolf will see you as their peer. So, it's a meeting of equals with a wolf. They come; they check you out. So, if you don't have a D presence and ground grounding presence yourself, they will probably become uninterested. So, the wolf, I mean the horse will give you that feedback as a prey animal. The wolf will give you that feedback as a predator, which has a different intensity to it.
Lastly, we can say that the dog therapy is a lot more of a modern human type of relationship while the relationship with the wolf is a primal relationship. The wolf talks to our ancestral self that used to be a lot more grounded, connected, balanced and did not need that much validation. Because we have it internally, eventually with our modern times and the creation of buildings and artificial light and shoes and electronics and so forth. We have created an environment for ourselves where we are a little bit more disconnected.
JD Kalmenson: Wow. That is extraordinary. So, the idea really is that the wolf becomes the sort of model for how we ought to really live our lives self-sufficient, self-sustaining and not relying and being dependent on people, places, and things to validate us. Instead of doing so much just being a lot more comfortable in our own skin. That's an amazing thing. I understand that the work that you do with people is primarily those who've experienced trauma. How can wolves be therapeutic for trauma?
It would seem to me that working with trauma requires a lot of processing, a lot of verbal communication and it is something that would seem to be an ongoing experience which then would have to be integrated with daily living. So, tell me a little bit about how the Wolf Therapy also becomes an incredible contained platform for trauma healing and how often does that happen? How long does it take? And what does post wolf connection experience look like for somebody who has had trauma.
Teo: What is a profound and question that we need to unpack? So, let me preamble that by saying I'm not a traumas therapist or a licensed psychologist. My experience comes from spiritual training and with what the wolves had taught me and my team on how to work. As a dad said, my director of programs as a PhD in psychology and we have therapist working on the team. But I'm going to give you the tail answer and not the licensed psychologist answer. So, from the tail answer, I actually disagree that requires a lot of talking. Because trauma resides in the body in my opinion more than in the mind and there's a somatic way that the wolf teaches to literally shake it off.
And if you watch a wolf going go through trauma, sometimes vicious fights with neighboring PACs or trying to take down a bison which is many times their size. They get kicked. They get trampled over and so forth and they have this way to stand up recenter shape, literally recalibrate and shake their body off sometimes other wolf come to check on them and do some contact. They lean on each other and you can see the animal move and all of a sudden, they're resuming the chase.
So, how long can it take? Nonlinearly, I can tell you that I witnessed trauma disappearing like that. And in other cases, you have the trauma.
Teo: I can read from it. That'll be fun. So, very recently we just finished a group with wounded female veterans in partnership with the LA County Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. Which served the females specifically, because they have a specific need that males don't have. So, one of the females were talking about, she was looking for animal therapy when she saw this, she jumped on it. As she said, she'd been going through set of possessions for years now after being deployed. And it didn't make a lot of a difference in many cases even she said that talking about it was reinforcing the trauma opposed to releasing it.
It's almost like a relieving in a traumatic way those events. She said that when she met the wolves, she felt that she was back in the military with her platoon having each other's back knowing that they could count on each other. Because the wolf has a pack that they live and die for. They put the pack before them and that's the same in the military. Put the platoon or the comrades before them. And she felt that sense of being back at home without experience the trauma. She said, I don't feel the jumpiness that I typically feel. I'm not anxious, I don't feel the anxiety. She says, it's actually weird. That was her words, right.
And we offer her, I mean we've seen it many times. This is the best I can explain it. The wolf connects at a primal level and an ancestral part of ourselves that resides beneath all the socialized learned behavior. So, all the pains and hurts and trauma and that lives in a more of a modern human side of ourselves, gets bypassed, dug under by the wolf tapping to a more grounded side of us. And some of like a factory reset. We see this, you see in their eyes and their body posture is like. And they look around like something missing, some of my inner doubt or my inner hesitation, my insecurities missing. Yeah, that's the best way I can find.
JD Kalmenson: That's amazing because that ultimately what you're saying is something so powerful specifically for folks who are struggling with trauma is the healing taking place in the manifestation of externalizing those experiences. And not allowing them to paint and taint our inner identity to sort of going back to that pristine dimension of healthiness, of dignity, of comfort in one's own skin. And going back to that place and being in the presence of this powerful animal that does it on the daily. That manages to integrate constantly, not allowing any of the hostile or adversarial hunting experiences from the other wolves to really tamper with their inner equilibrium. Just being in that sort of presence, imbues and imparts that energy to those who really could use this the most. That's an amazing thing because yes, there's two ways.
I love what you're saying, because there's two ways of dealing with trauma. There's sort of recognizing the traumatic incident an event in our life is being a seminal focal point. Sort of a pre and posters before this happened and then there's life after it happened. And then how do we deal with the event? How do we deal with the aftermath? What are our coping mechanisms? What are the skills, the coping skills that we're going to utilize to reduce the harm to try and maximize functionality and optimize our humanity even post this event? But ultimately that whole sort of genre is acknowledging that this is an extremely powerful event that really did change the trajectory of our lives. We sort of have to work with it and try and reduce its toxicity to the best of our ability.
But here we're talking about a factory reset and I love that word choice. We're trying to go back to the pre and to say there's no long going to be pre-imposed, but we have to be so in sync and in harmony with that sphere of our existence that we're able to truly just transcend the entire event as it were. That is very very powerful. Did I paraphrase that correctly?
JD Kalmenson: Okay. Just to make sure. I don't want to put words in your mouth. But I've heard incredible anecdotal reports about your success bringing wolves to addiction centers. We've done a lot of work with the chemical dependency demographic. And in our experience, we see three distinct pathways that lead to addiction. The brief overview without getting into too many of the details is that there are those who struggle with a traumatic event. There are those who have circumstances that lead them to addiction. They've had an operation. They're prescribed painkillers. They have a predisposed hereditary susceptibility to poor impulse control and they end up abusing these painkillers. And then the prescription runs out and they're looking for street drugs. So, sort of the addict.
Somebody who parties too much or has a very high-pressured lifestyle leads to cocaine, leads to other mind-altering substances to escape. So, the circumstantial addict as it were and then there is the unresolved mental health, those who contain immense pain. Whether it's a chemical imbalance, whether it's a chronic depressive disorder. Just unresolved, untreated mental health and for that demographic, the mind-altering substance is not a high that they're seeking necessarily, but rather relief to numb that inner pain that they're feeling constantly. So, they're looking for the drug to simply silence this intense discomfort that they experience.
And then lastly, the sort of the intrinsic addict which is those who feel a certain void, a certain inner vacuum that only becomes fulfilled with hyper meaning and purpose in their lives. So, it's almost like a spiritual melody of sorts where they are more spiritually sensitive than the average individual, and require a higher dose with higher frequency of meaning and purpose for them to feel good about themselves. So, this inner vacuum or void is typically experienced at a very young age and they don't know that drugs can help quiet that void or quiet that pain. But when they experience a mind-altering substance for the first time, they feel a certain peace, temporary, and artificial that creates a tremendous addictive quality. But ultimately, the spiritual intervention for that demographic is the sustainable one. Evidence by the 12 Steps and other spiritual programs.
So, let's say we sort of break the pathways with these three distinct causations. The circumstantial addict, the unresolved mental health addict and the spiritual or the intrinsic addict. What would you say in your experience of Wolf Therapy providing hope and healing for those struggling with addiction? Do you that all of these three categories receive the same type of benefit with the same type of effectiveness and efficacy? Or, are you finding that maybe it's one over the other? What would be your thoughts with the work that you're doing on the ground and the success that you're seeing as it would pertain to these three separate categories?
Teo: Couple of different ways to answer that. The simplest one is we have served addiction treatment facilities and our clients already go through a certain process at the facility with their therapist and counselors. So, when they come to the ranch, we go back to the basic like I just described. We bring them back to a primal sense of being grounded and being connected to nature, the wolves and themselves. And then what that does is again from my background, I describe it as expanding their emotional, psychological and energetic capacity. So, when the capacity is expanded and they're able to hold the trauma or they're able to hold in there, there's no short circuiting the need for the substance lessons.
So, and then what it does also it opens all kinds of doors for future conversations with their therapist and their counselors back at the treatment facility, right. So, we work in conjunction with the therapist, because many times they hit a wall, right. And the client doesn't want to open up, or something was said on the previous session that they got triggered and then takes three weeks until they open up again. So, with the wolves we shorten that curve immensely. Some they got triggered, but they can process it somatically and during this ancestral connection with the wolves in a way that on this next session they're ready to jump back in into the therapy process.
I just mentioned briefly the ancestral connection with wolves which is I think worth expanding on. What we are capitalizing on is the fact that the wolve is the first animal we ever associated with. So as humans, we have the longest relationship with wolves than with any other animal. The second one is the horse which follows by tens of thousands of years. So, archaeological discoveries keep emerging, putting these dates further and further back in the past. But we know now that perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, wolves and humans were already paying attention at each other. Collaborating in hunting, taking care of each other's pubs. Some of the genome mapping is beginning to suggest. Some indigenous mythology and stories, where they would say the wolf pub and the human pubs were right now around together, right.
And now it seems like there were some times in our evolution of the last 100,000 years where that could have been true. That humans and wolf really develop a very tight bond of collaboration, mutual support and survival. And this co evolutionary biologist now believe propose or that we have a genetic memory of that connection with the wolf. So, what we've been trying to demonstrate at the ranch is that a connection in the presence of a live wolf that ancestral memory gets activated and that the source of the healing that we see.
JD Kalmenson: Wow. That is very, very interesting. One thought and an example that comes to mind sort of the wording that you are referencing a factory reset of sorts, going back to a state in which we're able to transcend certain experiences. And really just go back to a space within us that preceded all of the challenges. An example that comes to mind and I'd love to just get your take whether this would be an accurate depiction. So, there was an example and analogy that I was told many years ago about two ways to solve an issue.
There were two students who came late to a class once. And one of them comes late a teacher says, ‘Why you late?’ And he says, ‘Well, I had a headache and I slept in’. Okay. And the second student, the teacher says, ‘Why are you late?’ And he says, ‘Teacher, I wasn't really late. I was in the corner of the class. There's a lot of students and you might have been distracted, but I was actually in fact here the entire time’. Supposing that the second student is stating the truth. It would be inaccurate to say that both students answered the teacher's question about why they were late.
The first student answers the question by providing information that explained and resolved the difficulty of the question that the teacher asked, ‘Why you late?’ But the valid premise of the question remains that the student was late. Whereas in the second case, the method of resolving the question goes a lot farther and a lot deeper. It in fact invalidates the very premise of the question and that which the entire difficulty was predicated upon. So similarly, what it's seeming like hearing these words about primal and factory reset is that, this method of intervention as it were seeks to sort of go into a space and a sphere within the human psyche and experience that really doesn't even acknowledge the negativity and the harmfulness of the problem, the trauma, the addiction. And just takes us to a place or reminds us of a place that we came from and that we can draw inspiration from that reservoir of identity. Would that be an accurate summation?
Teo: Absolutely. We don't accept the premise that humans are broken and lost and insecure and screwed up.
JD Kalmenson: I love it.
Teo: And if that happens is momentarily but we can quickly go back to center. One of the things we tell the youth the first day they come. I tell them personally, first of all you have an A plus. That's it. Just by coming in here, you don't need to prove anything to me. But secondly the wolf doesn't care what has happened to, where you've been, what have you done, some of them just came out of prison, what have you done to others? The wolf cares who you are in your heart right this minute. Right here, right now, who you in your heart, that's what the wolf cares about and that's they're going to reflect it back to you in real time.
So, that's I find it to be a very powerful reset like I said before is a clean slate. So that's up to them to show up but they're not dragging that bag of what happened to them.
JD Kalmenson: Amazing, and we cannot get enough of this genre of this stream of thought because it is so empowering and so vital in today's day and age. Next, an important question that's been on my mind is, can you tell us a little bit about the specific curriculum that you've developed for working with your clients? And how did that evolve? Maybe in there, you can explain a little bit of what you referenced earlier, the Wolf Principles are. And perhaps maybe give us an example of how one or more of your clients that you've worked with have benefited from those principles.
Teo: Sure. Well, with my team, we operate as a Wolf-PAC. So, the curriculum in was created by me and those Wolf Principles the original wording was mine. But as my directors of program come in, I encourage them to bring their flavor. So, that has evolved over the years. The Wolf Principles are simple life lessons from wolves to humans that are one sentence that as students learn and they come accompanied by a whole experiential piece. So, wolves okay with who they are, right. So, they get to be with the wolves and see that. They get to hear the stories of the wolves. I mean we don't do much talk therapy at the ranch. So, when the youth come, they get to hear the stories of this wolf was neglected and abandoned and mistreated or beat up.
Some of them come from fur farms. So, they're being raised for the pelt. Some of them come from roadside attractions, so they were mistreated. And the youth begin to see themselves in the wolf. But what they see front of them is a wolf that is having a good life. So yeah, they came from the same background but they're not carrying it. So, this is an okay with the trauma and this being okay with the healing process and then being okay with the like you mentioned before, the life after. So being okay means being in the moment. Wolves work together to succeed.
Now we have all kinds of collaborative projects that they do, arts projects, construction, murals, songs and music. Wolves are into being not into doing. So, we hike to a top of a mountain with the wolves and we see it over a cliff of looking at the vista for 20 minutes and there's nothing to do. It's all to be and then you see these photos of the youth and the and the wolf next to each other, just their eyes lost into the distance. Wolves know how to lead and how to follow and you cannot lead if you don't know how to follow.
So, this lesson of rotation of leadership that a Wolf-PAC demonstrates so beautifully. I mean in a Wolf-PAC not always the alphas are the ones leading. The best hunter leads the hunt. The best nanny takes care of the pups. The best tracker needs the next migration or the next, they find the next hunting territory. The female, the alpha female determines where the den is going to be, right. So, in today's use, it’s a lot of pressure them becoming leaders which if you look at nature, there's no pop of any species leading anything, right.
JD Kalmenson: Right.
Teo: So, we have strayed from the natural lessons and we push teenagers to be leaders. And some of them have the personality to lead which is mostly dominance and not true leadership, but the majority of them ends up having anxiety around the fact that they need to now perform, know what to do, tell others about how to do it. I mean they're not prepared psychologically, biologically, energetically, spiritually, to lead anything. So, at the ranch, they don't lead anything. We lead and we demonstrate the best quality of leadership we are capable of. So, they experience what that kind of leadership feels like. So, when their time comes to lead, then, they have a model. In the meantime, they can follow.
JD Kalmenson: I love that saying that even leaders sometimes have to follow, because it really does represent the diversity that each and every one of us have within our faculties. That there are aspects of our lives in which we need to lead an acts and parts of our lives and faculties that need to follow. There are times we are doing and there are times of being. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who once said, give me 6 hours to chop a tree and I'll spend the first two sharpening my axe. There are times that we just have to stop and take a pause. I recently came across a great line from Thomas Friedman that said, something to the effect of machines when you press the pause button, they stop. But when you press the paw button on human beings. They actually start. So, there's a part of our humanity that we can really learn from those wolves.
JD Kalmenson: Yeah. So, do human beings process trauma differently from wolves and how would you distinguish the emotional intelligence of homeo sapiens of human beings from the emotional intelligence of the wolves?
Teo: Good question. Again, I mean we don't accept the premise that humans are broken in any way. So, at our core at our essence in our spirit, the emotional intelligence of humans is rich and precious and deep and beautiful and exquisite. We all have, I mean we have broken the traditions of, the social traditions of the elders teaching the young how to, right. I'm halfway through my life and I can say that emotional I don't think that too much training that can really advance emotional intelligence more than just time on the planet. But we have figured out a way to discard our elders in our culture, so they feel useless. We treat them as such and we go on trying to figure it out by ourselves. As our emotional reactions are typically modeled after immature people, that we have in leadership or prominent positions in the media and other and other areas.
So, it's a lot of confusion about what emotional maturity really means and what it looks like. So, wolves have a much more straightforward way of being. I mean their pups don't lead anything; the adults train/educate the pups in what's important. Which typically don't die and then after done dying then service to the PAC is next and then your needs right after that. But first, you need to alive, okay.
JD Kalmenson: Yes.
Teo: But then it's a service is a very high priority, collaboration and the strength of the pack, Kipling said it beautifully, right. The strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf. I think it's core to that, so they are selfless in that sense. Which I think at the core of our emotional immaturity is the selfishness that humans have and many schools are training.
Lady: That’s a pause because of the siren. Sorry.
Teo: So, the wolf's emotional maturity is centered on selflessness and the service of the pack and the honoring the bond that they have with each other. I think at the core of our emotional immaturity as humans is selfishness. Even some schools of self-development elicit what do you want? What do you need? Speak your truth and still me, myself and I, right. Opposed to let's see if I can speak our truth. Let's see if I can pay attention to what we need. Give us attention what we want as a community and then be a voice for that and I find that to be a lot more emotionally mature.
JD Kalmenson: That's so interesting and you do see this with the wolves so acutely because of how they interact really together as PACs in a collective front as a unit. Obviously, Kennedy famously said, ask not what your country could for you, but ask what you can do for your country. And that noble lifestyle of thinking in broader terms larger than ourselves is tied directly into what the wolves teach us in a sense. I once heard that ego which is really one of the root causes of selfishness, that ego is really just a distraction that we utilize to take our attention away from ourselves.
So, we identify with our accomplishments with our net worth versus our self-worth with all of these external factors to ultimately sort of try and shift our attention away from a certain lack of existential intrinsic affirmation of validation. Which doesn't require any of those external accomplishments, achievements, or factors to make us feel good about ourselves. So, when we're truly comfortable in our skin like the wolves are, which is what you've what you see every day and what you've been teaching us just now. Then that allows space for others and the interweaving nature of this collective unit of the PAC becomes a sustainable reality.
So, they go hand in hand this notion of being comfortable with ourselves, but also very much having the PACs self interest in mind. So, that is a beautiful sort of intersectionality of two things that we've been talking about. I want to ask you another question. Do you have a way of assessing on the technical side the efficacy of the therapeutic work that you're doing? Whether it's third-party evaluators. If you don't, are you planning on bringing that sort of thing? I mean treatment today there are certain regulatory bodies. I know with addiction there's ASAM, the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Do you have a vision that ASAM or other agencies like that would recognize it one day? Maybe insurance would even cover it. That would become a much more formal sort of integrated modality within the general behavioral health arena.
Teo: That sounds interesting, maybe the next guy will go through the paperwork needed to get those certifications and insurance coverage. We had a partnership a three-year longitudinal study with Claremont University, Psychology Department that came and follow the students through the program for that period of time to assess efficacy of the program. So, the results are staggering. We measured; I'm paraphrasing here. I can send you the report if you care to see it. But we were evaluating self-regulation, social emotional processing, integration with nature and the integration back into their communities. And the results collectively are in the ninetieth percentile and huge increases, improvements.
For the school programs that we do we served a school that is as an expulsion school. Basically, in a whole school district without going to into too much detail. They have 11 or 12 high schools. All the kids that get expelled going land into this one school. And these students typically began as, they call it the cycle of expulsion. So, from they spend the entire high school going back and forth from this expulsion school. They do one semester. They send them back to the comprehensive site, get expelled again back and to and so forth.
So, when we did the study the principal of that school tracked the 9 or 10 years at that time of all the students that went through the Wolf Connection program. 100% of them never got expelled again. 100% of them.
JD Kalmenson: Wow.
Teo: Yeah. Never got expelled again. So, we're talking about 1,000 students that went through the program over a 10-year period from that particular school. And so, that speaks to something shook him up. And of course, this particular principal is a great educator and very committed to the students. So, I'm sure he had a lot to do with that, I don't pretend to claim 100% of the success, but it was telling.
JD Kalmenson: That's astonishing, God bless you. That's an amazing thing. You mentioned the team that you have. So, you do have licensed psychotherapist on your staff even though obviously the foundation is something that doesn't necessarily limit itself to any specific therapeutic model. Is that right?
Teo: Yeah, that's correct. But since we are serving youth under the care of the Foster Care system or under the care of the probation court, I thought it was good to build a team with the necessary to serve them. We currently have a partnership with Pacifica University, where the practice students for the doctor do the hours with us, the internship hours with us as well. So, part of our leadership program team are doctor students at Pacifica.
JD Kalmenson: That's amazing. I have to ask you the million-dollar question even though I'm sure you get asked this all the time. Have any people or how many people have been hurt or had scuffles with the wolves? Have there ever been any incidents that would compromise security? Is there any concerns for somebody coming in from the outside never having been face to face on the inside of a human closure as it were with a wild animal?
JD Kalmenson: Fee years ago, we had a 13-year-old girl that in Foster Care, that she had been beaten by a Sherman Shepherd in the face when she was 3. So, she was absolutely terrified of dogs. She was having a suicidal thought. She was a little overweight and her Foster Care therapist a friend of mine, thought that this could be transformational for her. So, she brought to the wrench and spent a little bit of the beginning of the visit just going through the fence to meet the animals one by one and telling some of the stories like I said before. But eventually the time came to go for a little nature walk with one of the wolves.
I picked one of our gentle giants, a wolf named Rocky was about 4 feet tall, at the time 110 pounds or so, male. That had a particular talent for identifying people with dog phobias in a crowd. He would just plow through a crowd to find that person that was totally terrified in the back and then give him comfort. So, we went for a hike. This young woman was holding the therapist hand about 40 feet away. I was walking with Rocky here on a leash up a dirt road and then those 40 feet became 30 and then they became 20 and then they became 10. And within 20 minutes, this young woman was sitting on the floor with Rocky towering over her licking her face and pulling her in playfully.
It was like a cathartic crying that she was having. I mean like at the release her body was a little convulsing a little bit and crying and laughing and crying again and laughing again. So, from that single exchange, she became a volunteer of ours for several years after until she aged out of the Foster Care system. So, I started your answer with a story to say that in knock on wood, in 13 years, we never had a single incident or any of our visitors getting hurt in any way. Scratch, bit, stamp, nothing. I mean, I in the first few years I was learning how to work the animals. So, I took some risk and sometimes I got nipped. But wolves have this way of giving you many warnings.
They're extremely expressive with their bodies. So, they will coward, they will try to get away, their ear will drop, their tails. And then they're got a little scared and then they will growl and wimp. I mean you have 10 chances to walk away and they'll create an incident with them. Then my team is super well trained to read the body language of the wolves at the very slight insinuation of discomfort to lead them for a little walk. Pee on a tree, come back, sniff, and then come back and reintroduce them. We never force an introduction, an interaction, sorry. So, if an animal is done which we can easily tell. Go back to the enclosure and that's the end of it.
JD Kalmenson: So interesting.
Teo: In addition to that I mean we have developed; we have some wolf dogs and some wolves. So, wolf dogs are mixed of wolves and dogs. So, we have them color coated. So, the green and blue wolves are the ones we call them introductory level wolves. So, they're very permissive, they're very doggy acting. You can make noise; you can be distracted. You can trip and fall around them and they're not going to get startled. So, they're very permissive and they seek connection very much in a way that a dog would, like a large dog would. And then we have as the program progresses wolves that need a lot more presence, a lot more self-awareness, a lot more spatial awareness which is part of the training. So, they can introduce to those gradually.
JD Kalmenson: Very interesting. What are the future plans? 5 years, 10 years, do you have plans to expand the work that you're doing with the wolves into other behavioral issues like OCD, PTSD? What would you like to see Wolf Therapy look like in 10 years from now?
Teo: Great question. I think there are more books to be written. I wrote the last one couple of years ago published by Simon and Schuster which basically is the foundation of the World Therapy Method. But I think there is more to write so there going to be more publications. We are already in collaboration with the LA County Department of Veteran Affairs, working with the PTSD and combat vets and so forth. I'm a veteran myself. So, there are plans to expand the facility into the ability to have our program participants stay at the ranch for a day, a week over the summer. And also, our residential treatment facility that is proposed with 36 beds. So, our residents will be learning skills and jobs and trades. So, that's one side of it.
The other one we were you and I speaking offline earlier and I find if we create all the magic, this lab, this unique lab of animal/human connection and wolf human connection at the ranch. And find a way to broadcast that with very high-quality videos and interactive platforms and even virtual reality at some point, so people all over the world can experience the ranch and the wolves. I think that would allow, give access to what set up to a lot of people.
JD Kalmenson: Wow. That's incredible. Why would you say, and this is an interesting question? There might not be a, I'm not going to ask this question. I was going to ask you, why isn't therapy more, will therapy more widespread and accepted? That's something that we did kind of is alluded to and what are the, okay.
Thank you so much Teo for joining us for this incredible episode of the Discover You Podcast. We truly appreciate you sharing your time and expertise with us into this really fascinating and not so well-known genre therapy that you've pioneered and created. Is there anything else that you would like to add before we wrap up?
Teo: I want to thank you for having me. It's been a wonderful conversation. I like to perhaps invite people to check us out online and see what we do. And in addition to all our therapeutic programs, we offer an array of community programs where the general public can come and join and experience a little bit of the magic.
JD Kalmenson: Wow, what's the website called?
JD Kalmenson: Wolfconnection.org.
JD Kalmenson: Amazing. So, inspiring Teo. Really, really enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you so much and thank you to our audience for joining us through today's episode of the Discover You Podcast. At Montare, we want you to know that you are not alone on your journey and for inspiration, you can find out more at Montarebehavioralhealth.com on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the web. Wishing all of you great health and see you next time.
Alright. Thank you.
Teo: Thank you. That was a good interview.
JD Kalmenson: Thank you. Yes.
Teo: What do you think Susan?
Lady: Yes, it just good.
JD Kalmenson: Okay, give me one second. I'm going to put my phone back on silent. We'll go right back into it. So, what Teo can do is he could segue into you this.
Teo: Back to the therapy piece.
JD Kalmenson: Yeah, right and we can add it into, I think it was question three or four about some of his experiences with addiction clients. So, it could just be an add on. Okay.
Teo: So, speaking about substance abuse remember encounter with a young woman that will call Sarah for the sake of this story. This was a new treatment facility opening up in the Malibu like many others and we began, they wanted to have something different. So, we did Wolf Therapy and there was the first time I we came to this treatment facility. They had at the time 6 clients; I believe. So, 5 of them come out, we get the wolves, we arrive with the truck, we get the wolves out in the lawn so they can drink some water. 5 of the clients come out to meet us at the lawn and there's one missing. And the residential counselors tell us that this woman Sarah, she doesn't go outside. She stays in her room all the time. She hops around over the cracks on between tiles on the floor, so she doesn't step on cracks.
She had a lot of phobic behaviors and so I said, ‘Well, can we bring one of the wolves to meet her indoors?’ Sure. So, we're going doors and we go up the stairs and she was standing sitting outside her room. We bring the wolf Ayasha a little this was a wolf a small coyote wolf would still have her, that came and meet her. So, lick her hand and she was, Sarah was apprehensive petting Ayasha she goes, what come outside. So, at that point, I began to see this this looks, that started happening with the different counselors with everybody try to pretend that it was okay. So, she walked down the stairs walks out the front door and then to the edge of the dirt and she stood there. She doesn't walk on crunchy leaves and dirt. So, she stopped there.
So, we at that point we did an introduction of the wolves and this is Miko and this is Ayasha and these are the stories and so forth. And part of the being in the mountains of Malibu, we had a trail head right behind the house. So, part of the program is after having an interaction on the grounds go for a hike. So, now I introduced the hike and she goes, ‘I'll go’. So, we started walking. She waited for rest of the group to leave and then she started walking at the very end in the back. One mile into the trail, Sarah was still 3 people behind me and tagging alone. And then at this point she connects with another wolf much larger female named Mico. A very wild very present wolf.
So, we keep hiking, hiking eventually we get to the mountain top and we practice this being into being instead of doing. So, we find a spot and everybody quiets down and then Sarah goes to signals to touch Mico to pet her. Mico more than just opening up. She throws herself on Sarah's lap. It's 100-pound female wolf. So, Sarah roll on her back on the leaves and the dirt and the crunchy whatever that she didn't want to step on. So, with a wolf on top that is licking her face and leaning on her chest. And they start rolling on the floor back and forth like, and all she could say was, I wish Dr. Bursting could see this. I mean also her psychiatrist. That's all she could say. I wish the doctor could see this. I wish he could see this. I wish he could. That's all he could say over and over and over. She couldn't believe it herself.
JD Kalmenson: Wow.
Teo: So, she comes back with this huge smile. She's dirt from head to toe. From that single interaction, Sarah was dismissed from the residential treatment facility 30 days sooner. She got a therapy dog and with a help of the therapy dog, found a job, went back to her husband. I mean her marriage was falling apart, relationship got rebuilt, found a job. I believe she had to went back to school, she was trying to finish some degree. So, completely changed. It was like I said earlier right, this the phobia whatever it was that she was carrying, vanished under a big 100 pound female wolf.
JD Kalmenson: Extraordinary. That is an amazing story Okay. so, do you want to do, was there another one?
Teo: Do one more.
JD Kalmenson: Please.
Teo: So, speaking about PTSD, we visited a veteran facility with Abaco Wolves. And typically, the way we do that is we get, the veterans they were doing a retreat for the weekend and so the veterans came. This was special forces veterans that had been mutilated in combat. So, all these veterans were missing limbs and bomb, disposal units, that kind of stuff, right. So, we have them sit in a half moon shape and then we bring the animals. And we begin by an explanation that, how to offer your hand and not to pet them hard because they get spooked. We begin to apologize that to the males, typically the wolves are more attracted to female energy softer. It's a little bit more welcoming, more nurturing.
So, to the males if they don't come to you, don't feel you know left out that kind of. We, in the middle of giving that spill when Willow a female wolf, beelined for a big burley veteran. This man had a big beard, big guy. Part of his face was all disfigured. He was losing an arm and partial leg and bee lined for him and smother him. I mean licking, I mean putting his legs around his neck and just licking him licking him licking, again on his lap, different wolf same behavior. We couldn't believe it because he's typically a shy female. This man is begins to cry and melts, but the effect that the love of this wolf was having.
And then he began to share that the worst part was not being disfigured in combat, the worst part was how he was received here. Because the way he looked, the kids were afraid of him, people look at him weird and he didn't feel. He got the hero's welcome; he was expected. He felt outcast and segregated because of the way he looked. And that the Willow's love made him keep feel accepted and recognized in a way that his fellow humans, were not able to do.
JD Kalmenson: Wow. It was a new lease of life for him. That's amazing.
JD Kalmenson: That really is amazing. Thank you, guys, very much
JD Kalmenson: When did you serve?
Teo: I served in Argentina.