This week we were visited by Nadia from Radicool Reptiles to join us in one of our sessions with a client. The idea of huge slippery, slimy, and slithery reptiles hanging out in the office was a little bit nerve racking and anxiety provoking for us!
We discussed why such a fear may be and pondered on the strange social construction that such animals are viewed as fearful and how this is engrained into us. Nadia mentioned that in her experience she notices many younger children rarely showing any fear of the snakes. We also know that a trained, well handled python is not at all putting us at risk at all – it should be scarier getting into a car!
So we welcomed Nadia and her love, excitement and knowledge into the office and as our young person sat, calmly and fearlessly with a 3 metre python, Will and I stood back and watched, asking questions to allow us to feel more at ease.
During the session Will bravely managed a huge python around his neck, and explained his reaction as strangely calming, having a snake around you like a coat. Will mentioned that it was kind of like a weighted blanket that many children and adults are given as a calming and soothing tool.
We spoke about how we often we work with and see professionals in the mental health field working with therapy dogs, or horses in equine therapy and how working with snakes incorporates another element or layer to the experience of therapy with animals. As Nadia explained, snakes are so misunderstood that having an element of perceived fear, children and adults experience a kind of whirlpool of emotions as they learn about what makes snakes dangerous, how to embrace our fear and work through it, and eventually hold or touch a snake and feel such a different sense than fear.
The processes teaches empathy, as Nadia asks children to pretend they are a snake, how vibrations may upset or frighten them, how they have no arms and legs to defend themselves with.
We’re feeeling very grateful to have had this opportunity and we’re excited to collaborate further with Nadia to compliment some of our therapy that we already do in the bush and in the office.
Working with troubled young people and families involves a tight rope act of making sure children are progressing while their parents feel supported and hopeful during the therapeutic process. We all know that the power of intention can change our attitudes, feelings, and behaviours and this is no different when it comes to how we see therapeutic treatment. I use the word treatment here not to relate therapy to a medical endeavour but to acknowledge therapy as a process aimed at helping people get better over time.
If we look at a program like True North Expeditions we know that it was created to work with struggling teenagers and families. Whether its depression, substance abuse, anger management, anxiety, or academic issues, there is often a valid concern for seeking therapeutic support. Youth courts also recognise the benefits of such services and may refer a young person to see a therapist or engage in some developmental program.
Whether you are the parent or teacher of such a young person, an important question to ask yourself is: “What is my goal is seeking treatment for this child?” This questions helps guide our assumptions towards answering the question of whether it is Treatment or Control we are after.
It is no easy task to stay composed when our child’s behaviour takes a turn for the worse. There are times when they can cause serious stress in our homes affecting siblings, extended family, and even those in the surrounding community. There is no doubt that additional support may be needed to help during challenging times.
There are, however, two ways we can seek help. One is focused on ourselves (Control) and the other being attentive to our child struggling adapt to the world around them (Treatment). When we are in “Control” mode we are not concerned about why children are acting out or hurting themselves. We end up being concerned about making it stop because of the effect it has on us.
In “Treatment” mode, we want to help people get better. With a calm touch, caring attitude, empathy, and perseverance, we will do everything it takes to ensure that the child in front of us has every opportunity to enjoy the highest quality of life. Here are some thinking patterns that can help differentiate the two:
“The other person is in the way of my happiness.”
“This is unfair to me.”
“I just want this to stop – it is affecting me.”
“There is nothing I can do to help.”
“He just doesn’t get it.”
“I will do whatever it takes to help her be happy.”
“I can see that he is struggling right now.”
“I will keep trying something new until it works.”
“Despite set backs, I can see us moving in the right direction.”
Obviously there will be days that are better than others. Some days we may be in our “Control” mode while others we will be aware enough to see that treatment is a process. Small victories happen everyday and change is inevitable. If we choose to notice them, our hearts will be lighter and we will be capable of strengthening our relationship with our child not matter the circumstances.
See you in the trail…
Will Dobud MSW
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.