In the lead up to True North Expeditions’ July Boys Expedition I had met each of the students attending and was excited to see their interactions despite considerable differences. I was also a strong believer in Adventure Therapy from what I had read and was very interested to see its application.
The first four days of the trip were beautifully pleasant with the students all showing genuine enthusiasm about learning new skills such as the ability to make a fire without the use of matches and the construction of their own shelters to sleep under. The group would walk for much of the day with breaks for lunch or a drink but to also engage with their journals and curriculum before arriving at the night’s camp in the mid afternoon. The novelty of seeing kangaroos gliding through the bush or up a mountain, emu’s running madly and the chorus of local bird life was not lost on the staff or participants.
Whilst the physical aspect of the trip could be trying for the students at times, the sheer beauty of the location and the teamwork within the group proved a successful combination for applying therapeutic skills. These elements helped the students speak openly and break down the barriers of communication that seem so prevalent in everyday settings. My belief in the application of Adventure Therapy was growing each day with the children’s willingness to participate as group members and their understanding of individual responsibilities.
This would be tested on day 4 when after arriving at camp we were informed of ‘impending snow fall and extreme cold’. As night fell we found ourselves huddled around a fire for warmth. Our fearless leader returned to base camp to collect the car and return us to the safety of a gas oven and reverse cycle air conditioning. The next two days were spent at base doing group activities, going on day hikes and continuing to build relationships within the group. Once we believed the worst of the cold had passed we returned to the bush and immediately relished being back in the wilderness. This was short lived however, with the group facing the elements and sleeping outside on the coldest August night in over 120 years...-6 degrees!! This could have proven disastrous for the mindset of the group but instead proved resolute with the tough conditions further unifying the resilience our group.
After this record breaking night the temperatures became increasingly warmer and the students were embracing their time in a foreign environment. Towards the end of the walking and camping part of the trip it was amazing to see the students offering each other help unconditionally and understanding the importance of community participation. The trip to date was building up to ‘SOLO’, a part of the trip that, before witnessing, I was sceptical as to its success.
Each student was allocated their own camp for approximately 30hrs. Although no camp was more than 30 metres from the worker’s camp, each student was left to prepare their own fire and shelter and reflect on their trip so far and how life might be on their return to home. This was a very powerful experience to witness and each student seemed to take out an insight they felt could help them in their future lives.
The remaining two days were spent in a beautiful cabin on the property enjoying warm showers, real beds, digital television and the satisfaction that each person had achieved something that they had never done before.
As I near the end of my Social Work degree and begin life as a professional, I could not help but feel the satisfaction of helping these students achieve such a demanding and satisfying endeavour. This experience reinforces my belief in Adventure Therapy and the work done with children in natural settings but also the facilitation of True North Expeditions and the power that ‘perceived risk’ engages children, fosters strong relationships and helps deliver positive outcomes for its participants.
Andrew Bach, Social Work Student
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.