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
Dr. John B Arden is a psychotherapist providing psychological and mental health services in the northern California region of the United States. I recently came across his material on Brain-Based Therapy used in working with people that are depressed or anxious. Much of his work begins with focusing on what creates a happy and healthy brain. He uses an acronym called S.E.E.D.S. to help us all remember to keep our mind healthy and positive.
Recently, I've been using this tool with our students that are feeling stuck and depressed. In a session, we will sit together with our new S.E.E.D.S. Worksheet and plan out a few days at a time to make sure we are helping ourselves in the best way possible. I've outlined a bit of Arden's model below. If you're interested in using the worksheet that we have developed shoot me an email and I would be happy to send it along to you!
S - Social Connectivity - Recent research in neurobiology has emphasised the importance of human beings having many significant relationships. With our clients this relationship can start with us as therapists, teachers or parents but it also needs to be with those around them. Arden's work discusses the cellular changes that occur when people are lonely and those include early symptoms of dementia, a weakening of the immune system and even changes at our chromosome level. In keeping the importance of creating quality relationships, part of our practice needs to get our young people engaged socially with those around them.
E - Exercise - Exercise is the best anti-depressent and anti-anxiety tool we have. It does not mean that we go to the gym and lift heavy weights or play high intensity sports everyday. The idea is that we are finding time to get moving. Arden prescribes at least 30 minutes a day for a brisk walk. We know that this is hard for everyone in our busy lives but we also like the idea of getting time to play, run around or play a sport every so often.
E - Education - Our brain needs to be exercised and when we take time to learn new things or challenge ourselves, we create new pathways for our brain's connectivity. As we age, our brain is consistently looking into our 'reserves' of information we have learnt in the past. The more information we have stockpiled over the years will increase our productivity in our later years.
D - Diet - What we put into ourselves is what we get out. I've written a lot about True North's holistic model and the way we use sleep, food and exercise on our program to make our interventions more profound. Nutrition is vital our brain's health and productivity and the more balanced we can keep our diet the more we'll see benefit.
S - Sleep - Healthy sleep is all about the foundations of our sleep cycles. Often, the frameworks of our sleep gets so out of sorts that its difficult to find a reset button. A functional sleep, however, is a natural deterrent for depression and anxiety. We can use mindfulness and exercise to help our bodies get back to a healthy sleep cycle. Even medications for sleep can hinder the sleep cycle as our brain needs to be active during this time to consolidate memories and new information. Get some rest!
We've created a new planning tool for our clients struggling with depression and anxiety disorders using Arden's S.E.E.D.S. model for helping clients plan their day to day life. If you'd like to use our form feel free to email me and I'll send you a PDF of the sheet!
See you soon!
Click here for more information about Arden's Work
The Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (JTSP), compiled and edited by the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP), publishes articles relating to adolescent and child treatment throughout the world. I've had a close relationship with this association as my home in Washington DC is just a few hundred meters from their office. Just about every wilderness adventure therapy program in the states is a member of their association and their journal has been progressive in publishing our industry's latest research.
I came across a new article this year called "Poison Apples, Big Bad Wolves and other 'Happy Ending' Spoilers: Overcoming the barriers to enduring change following youth residential treatment." The most fantastic aspect of finding this article is that I read it the morning prior to attending a meeting with a school regarding re-entry for one of our previous clients. We were planning follow up support as the student had a positive experience on our most recent expedition.
In running Potomac Pathways, our followup and intensive outpatient (IOP) program for teens coming home from residential treatment back in Washington, we frequently ran into issues relating to the question, "What creates long term success?" Wilderness therapy works because young people participate it an incredibly engaging experience with staff that build a genuine therapeutic alliance. However, most research has shown that students show a slight relapse in progress within their first six months coming home prior to turning it around and continuing on a positive path for the next year and a half.
At Potomac Pathways, we successfully answered this aftercare plague by continuing to run adventure therapy outings and provide weekly group, individual and family therapy services with those that have already completed their wilderness therapy program. Young people demonstrating positive change were also able to work with us as mentors to support those students just returning home.
With True North Expeditions, we have applied the same model to families that wish to take part. We have seen that our participants value the support provided by our team and continue to sit side by side with their child on a positive path. I've said to many of you that I've met over this first year with True North Expeditions that wilderness therapy is the one of the best avenues for helping teens but that is not where the magic happens. Its the services and support networks we can apply when the teen is back home with family.
In the article referenced above, they have outlined what predicts success in a program (reported by students, staff and parents) and what were the "major external factors" that created real barriers to program success.
What Predicts Program Success
1) Staff Relationships
2) Accountability & Structure
4) Nutrition & Exercise
True North Expeditions' model has answered all of above through using evidence-based research in operating wilderness therapy expeditions for teenagers. Our staff are engaging, our Expedition Curriculum builds our students' self-esteem and our organic, whole foods diet paired with daily routines and physical exercise help in achieving a higher quality of life. However as mentioned above, the real test occurs when students return home.
Major Barriers of Long-Tern Success
1) Drugs / Alcohol (Poison Apples)
2) Negative Peer Groups (Big Bad Wolves)
3) Unchanged Family Environments
Teens who take part in our followup programs have demonstrated continued reduced drug use. When we meet as a group, our followup participants get the chance to build relationships with those who have completed our program. Our goal here is to continue to create a therapeutic community, outside of the expedition, for young people to find the difference between peers that push us to be better versus those that pull us backwards.
Unchanged family environments is the leading cause of a slip post treatment. When looking at program success, relationships and accountability/structure are the leading predictors for success and young people need this continued at home. I believe that everyone and anyone can benefit from having a therapist and counselor and believe that when we find our perfect therapist, we really begin to change the way that we positively relate to others.
For parents, this helps us to understand how our verbal tones and choice of words affect what our children "hear" and the way in which our child learns from his or her environment. Changing and controlling the way we think about our current situations can make all the difference. Its about doing something new and different to restore balance in our home.
If you're ever interested in talking about the latest findings in adolescent therapy or want to point me in the direction of some new research then I would be absolutely pleased to read anything! I am always hoping to improve True North Expeditions in order to help teens and families from all over Australia. We'll have a boy from Sydney on our upcoming expedition as well as some Victoria natives.
See you on the trail
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.