Llamas are an integral part of the therapeutic change process. Participants choose a llama to be their trail companion during the entire journey. Participants quickly bond with their llamas and talk to them as they walk along the trail. There is much learning about give and take.
The youth leads, feeds and cares for his or her llama and the llama, in turn, carries equipment and food, provides unconditional acceptance and demonstrates, along with herd mates, how to be part of a cooperative team/community. The llamas form a protective relationship toward their human partners, which seems to give participants a sense of security. At the beginning of a trek, there is "the human group" and "the llama group." By the end of the journey, these two have melded into a single community.
Llamas are gentle animals with a strong social structure. Each llama has a unique role in the herd and the herd itself provides a vivid living metaphor that CA therapists use to teach lessons about cooperation and teamwork. The llama also provides a projective device that can be integrated into therapeutic conversation; participants frequently project their own identity, wishes and motivations onto their llama. The CA therapists gradually help participant to recognize those parts of themselves that they are attributing to the llamas, to "own" the issue or characteristic and to set personal goals to improve negative or deficit areas.
The challenge of the wilderness journey requires that all participants learn to work together for the success and welfare of everyone in the group. However, that level of teamwork is not easy for children who have been victimized and traumatized or families who have been through difficult separations. For example, all foster care children, but particularly those in therapeutic foster care, have problems with trust, establishing boundaries and forming appropriate cooperative relationships. Nevertheless, each participant quickly bonds with his or her llama and the CA therapists use this relationship as a bridge to cultivate other appropriate trusting relationships within the group.