Deschutes Clinical Team

Lori Vallelunga, PhD Clinical Director, Young Adult Primary Therapist

Xela Goodman LCSW Primary Therapist, Adolescent

James Nippert MA, LMFT Primary Therapist, Adolescent

Annette L. Pelletier, LCSW Primary Therapist, Young Adults

Mariah Vlach, MFTA Primary Therapist - Adolescent Program, Family Therapist - Family Services and Parent Coach

Steve Sawyer, LCSW CSAC Senior Clinical Consultant / Co-Founder

Lori Vallelunga, PhD

Position: Clinical Director, Young Adult Primary Therapist
Dr. Lori Vallelunga is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than a quarter-century of clinical and program administration experience. She comes to Deschutes Wilderness Therapy with an adventurous spirit and a passion to help others become their best selves. As Clinical Director of the Adolescent Program, Dr. Vallelunga’s skills in team building, staff communication, and support as well as program development and operations will be relied upon. She comes to her clinical approach from a positive psychology/resilience-based mindset with a strong grounding in family systems.
Dr. Vallelunga has held many leadership positions where she developed as an effective change agent. Those include Sr. Vice President, Strategic Development, The Hope Institute for Children and Families, Executive Director, PACE Center for Girls, Pinellas County, Clinical Director, The Psychological Wellness Center, Clinical Director, Central Illinois Center of The Autism Program of Illinois, among others.
Dr. Vallelunga is new to the Northwest and is excited about the adventures that await.  She recently relocated from Northeast Florida with her pack of three (well-loved) dogs. She is trying out tiny house living for the first time. Dr. Vallelunga enjoys the outdoors, exploring new places, hiking with her dogs, traveling in her camper van, and photography. She is “artsy” by nature, and her largest project to date is a river flow dining table. In the near future, she plans to own some property for her tiny house and build a large workshop for her hobbies and projects.

Xela Goodman LCSW

Position: Primary Therapist, Adolescent

After receiving a B.A. dual degree in Education and History, Xela served in the Peace Corps for nearly three years in South Africa. It was during this pivotal time when she fully understood her passion for being of service to others. Upon returning to the States, Xela started her work in wilderness therapy as a field instructor, where she spent several years supporting and inviting change in adolescents. Soon after, Xela received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Arizona State University. Spanning over a decade, Xela has worked at several wilderness therapy programs and therapeutic boarding schools. Xela has a natural affinity for relationship-based work with adolescents and easily connects and aligns with individuals and families to clarify strengths and issues, build insight, and guide needed changes. She believes that the wilderness setting naturally provides a very meaningful and powerful environment for adolescents to improve their self-worth, sense of belonging, and connection to self and others.

James Nippert MA, LMFT

Position: Primary Therapist, Adolescent

James Nippert started working with adolescents and their families in wilderness therapy in 2004 and has been passionate about wilderness therapy ever since that time. James’ personal approach to therapy focuses on the need for both the adolescent and the family to heal together. James received his Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Appalachian State University and has worked for a number of wilderness therapy and therapeutic boarding schools. James is trained in Emotional focused family therapy, Brainspotting, Truama center Trauma sensitive yoga and has been mentoring new clinicians to become power wilderness therapists in their own right. James is thrilled to bring his talent and love of teens to the Oregon woods with New Vision Wilderness.

In his spare time, James is an avid reader, board gamer, enjoys painting and learning how to perfect gluten-free and keto cooking methods as well as developing an understanding for the nutrition mental health link in his own life.
James focuses his work in two primary ways. First is to understand that all behavior is some form of communication, and that there are always deeper emotional roots to the day to day struggles teens are facing. The second focus is the understanding that healthy relationships lead to healthy individuals, and that if a teenager can actively repair their relationships they are more likely to turn towards the resources of their family instead of away from them as they grow up and experience the challenges of adolescence. When not working with the boys in the woods or mentoring newer clinicians, James loves spending time with his growing family and enjoys the playful energy of his young daughter as she experiences growing up and enjoying the expanding world around her.

Annette L. Pelletier, LCSW

Position: Primary Therapist, Young Adults

Annette is a licensed clinical social worker who earned her master’s degree in social work from Texas State University. She was born and raised in a small town in New Hampshire, where she developed a love for the outdoors. Annette spent hours exploring the forest behind her house and found refuge there from the daily stressors of her life. Annette moved to Austin, TX, where she lived and worked for 14 years. She found rock climbing in Austin and met her supportive and loving husband. Annette and her family later moved to Southern Utah and now embark on a new adventure in the beautiful Northwest.

Annette approaches her work through trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), reality therapy, motivational interviewing, equine-assisted psychotherapy, and adventure therapy interventions. Annette is certified in choice theory and reality therapy through the William Glasser Institute and received EMDR training through the EMDR Institute, where she received her certification of completion for EMDR part 1 and part 2. Additionally, Annette is trained and certified in trauma-focused equine-assisted psychotherapy and has specialized training in the use of equine-connected EMDR through The Natural Lifemanship Institute. Annette is also a certified adventure therapist through the Association for Experiential Education.

Annette walks individuals through the healing process of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, family relational issues, attachment disorders, substance use disorders, emerging personality disorders, and other challenges. Annette is passionate about working with young adults and their families. She recognizes everyone has strengths to build upon to work toward growth and healing. Annette enjoys helping individuals see those strengths and build on those strengths to help them see their personal worth, helping them recognize they are enough, always have been enough, and always will be enough. It is important to Annette to help others learn how to navigate expressing their thoughts and feelings more openly and honestly so they can use their voices and show up in their lives more authentically.

In her free time, Annette enjoys spending time with her family rock climbing, hiking, camping, and caring for her three rescue horses.

Mariah Vlach, MFTA

Position: Primary Therapist - Adolescent Program, Family Therapist - Family Services and Parent Coach

Mariah joined Deschutes Wilderness Therapy as a clinician working with families and adolescents. Mariah specializes in trauma, attachment, emotional dysregulation, and family systems functioning.  For most of her life, Mariah has been interested in understanding the impact trauma and dysfunctional life events have upon the human body and mind and how those interruptions can be addressed and repaired. In 2010 she pursued an education in East Asian Medicine and Acupuncture, seeking a deeper understanding of the body’s innate ability to heal. It was here that Mariah realized the mind and body must be addressed together to activate the healing process and invite the possibility of experiencing wholeness.

During her M.A. program in counseling psychology, she became fascinated with studying the family system and the web that connects and influences the patterns that shape and affect a family unit. Mariah understands that it can be challenging to see the forest through the trees when identifying and addressing needed changes in one’s family system. Therefore, Mariah holds great respect and reverence for families willing to seek outside support to address these issues. She has found her calling in wilderness therapy, guiding adolescents and their families to strengthen this web through education, reflection, cathartic self-expression, inquiry, and practice. Mariah understands the natural environment of wilderness lends a deeply supportive energy that amplifies one’s innate strengths while also bolstering the therapeutic process in a way the office space setting often cannot reach. She advocates that it is through this environment and process that true healing and change are within reach.

In her personal life, Mariah likes to spend time outside with her dog, traveling, and learning all the world has to offer.

Bridgette Hutton, MSW

Position: Case Manager

Bridgette (she/her) was born and raised in a small town called Platteville, Colorado, where she grew up playing many competitive sports such as softball, volleyball, and basketball. Bridgette studied at Colorado State University and received her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2019. During her undergraduate degree, she was also a student-athlete at Colorado State University and played for the softball team. Bridgette then went on and pursued her master’s degree in social work and graduated in 2022. During her master’s degree program, she interned at an adoption agency in Fort Collins, Colorado, called Adoption Dreams Come True.

After finishing her master’s degree, Bridgette decided to move to Bend, Oregon, and be closer to her partner. Bridgette’s interest in social work stemmed from her experience in psychology interning in other case management roles with the elderly and persons with disabilities, as well as her interest in mental health among student-athletes. She loved the many aspects social work could bring into her professional role and wanted to explore more about this profession. Bridgette learned many therapeutic techniques in her graduate program and has been very interested in wilderness therapy and horticulture therapy ever since. Bridgette strives to bring her experience within adoption and attachment-related concerns to Deschutes Wilderness Therapy and her experience within case management roles.

Bridgette enjoys spending her time baking, painting, hiking, meditating, and being outdoors in general.

Steve Sawyer, LCSW CSAC

Position: Senior Clinical Consultant / Co-Founder

New Vision Wilderness, Deschutes Wilderness Therapy, First Light Wilderness Chief Clinical Consultant/Co-Founder
Brainspotting International Senior Trainer
Heartmath Interventions & Resilient Heart Programs Co-Author
Wellbriety Mending Broken Hearts Trainer

Steve is a dual-licensed psychotherapist filled with passion and knowledge surrounding the intervention and change process. His experience comes from two decades of intervention with tough-to-reach client populations in therapy settings ranging from residential, community-based, outpatient, and wilderness therapy. He is a trainer of several unique therapeutic models, including Brainspotting and HeartMath. Steve co-founded New Vision Wilderness Therapy, Deschutes Wilderness Therapy, and First Light Wilderness programs with a trauma-informed and clinical focus. He continues to work as a core therapeutic training development staff with the Institute of HeartMath, receiving their Humanitarian Heart award in 2018. He is a leading active International Brainspotting trainer.

Along with his training in Phase 1 and 2, he created the Developmental Trauma-Focused Model of Brainspotting. Steve is also a Native-focused a Wellbriety Mending Broken Hearts trainer and Generation Red Road facilitator. Steve spends time amongst trauma-focused treatment masters like Gabor Mate and Bessel Van Der Kolk, and his training is recognized nationwide for cutting-edge therapeutic techniques, science, and inspiration.