Studying social work at university, I never had the pleasure of learning about 'adventure therapy'. We studied the social sciences, psychology, social research, social policy, group work skills and therapy techniques.
Whilst in my first student placement I stumbled across adventure therapy as an alternative way to connect with teenagers. Outside of university, working and student placements, I began a quest to learn about what exactly encompassed this type of practice. At first glance, I thought I understood that it simply utilised the outdoors as a therapeutic tool, as being in nature is deemed therapeutic in itself, and it is! However through further reading, conversations and interning with True North, now 2 years ago, I discovered there was a whole lot more to it than simply being in nature.
After attending the 7th International Adventure Therapy Conference this year in the States, I understood that many of our international friends and colleagues used this concept of adventure therapy predominately, that it is, as they say 'letting the mountains speak for themselves'; which is beautiful and metaphoric and can do wonders for our mental health.
But over the years I have also learned that a key element to adventure therapy is experiential learning, as well as having a therapeutic focus combined with a number of therapies all built upon from a foundation of knowledge from social work. Our teaching and outdoor education friends may be familiar with the concept of experiential learning as it used quite regularly in these fields. Experiential learning is learning through experience. By doing and reflecting.
Examples can be in metaphors along the path of an expedition; an eagle we see flying in the sky and looking down upon the land, what that signifies and how we can relate to it; or with our actions, what happened today that made it easy to climb the mountain; or natural consequences such as not taking the time to build a strong shelter, and then having to re do it in strong wind.
Other times, we sit around camp and natural discussion occurs relating experiences that day to life outside the bush, or we discover that we have learned something about ourselves, through that experience. We reflect.
So as well as 'letting the mountains speak for themselves' we also create our own meaning from what happens in the mountains, as we reflect and learn by doing we figure out ways to implement changes back at home. We find insight, and turn insight into action. And this is one of the most incredible things I see during on our expeditions with our participants.
Adventure therapy is more than the mountains, and I'm excited to be here in Adelaide to be practicing outside our expeditions, in our garden office space as a practitioner with True North. Thank you for the warm welcome!
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.