Recently we have been talking about Dr Bruce Perry’s Three R’s: Regulate, Relate and Reason and how we use this framework in the bush when working with children and adolescents. Our post about the first R: Regulate, discussed how our higher level reasoning and ability to think rationally can be affected during times of emotional distress and anxiety. For us to find light at the end of the tunnel, we need to first help regulate difficult emotions. Only then can we complete Dr Perry’s other two R’s.
In a nutshell, therapy does not work without a relationship. Research regularly indicates that the relationship built between the practitioner and client is the best predictor of a positive outcome, not the therapist’s orientation or the program’s model.
This is why with True North Expeditions everything we do relates to Dr Gabor Mate’s quote saying that we need to “collect them before we direct them.” If there is no relationship there is no therapy.
Before worrying about survival skills, such as fire making or navigating with a map or compass, program leaders focus solely on earning the young person’s trust and building a strong alliance.
Spending time in nature itself is very regulating. In the bush we are exercising, eating well and getting healthy amounts of sleep. All of these factors help us to remain regulated and emotionally stable. This calmness, with the addition of caring and nurturing professionals, gives us the perfect ingredients for Dr Perry’s first two R’s.
Many parents ask us how we can build a strong relationship with adolescents that have seen multiple psychologists and counsellors before. Using a relationship rating scale each night of the program, we actually welcome the child’s feedback and allow them to let us know if we are helping and what we can do to be more effective.
By giving adolescents the chance to score us on our listening, our approach, what we talk about and overall connection, we take all the guessing out of how to build the best connection. Additionally, this creates a relationship that welcomes honest feedback and change.
Imagine seeing your therapist change for you…for your needs…for your strengths. This is empowering.
In our 2014 Program Evaluation Research parents wrote anonymously that their child had never had the connection with a practitioner until they came to the bush. Participants wrote that they felt comfortable enough, or regulated, to talk about whatever was on their mind. They felt trusted, cared for and as if the program leaders had their back.
I said in the beginning that therapy does not happen if we do not have a relationship and if the child is not regulated. The relationship is the best predictor of a positive outcome and is what practitioners should emphasise more often.
Next time, I will write about what we do once we have this strong relationship with participants that are able to regulate themselves during times of stress. What does “Reasoning” really mean and how do we do it?
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.