In recent years, “adventure therapy” has emerged as an engaging and effective way to help and heal children who have experienced trauma. Last month, several Northwoodians volunteered at a 3-day, immersive camp dedicated to this cause. They had such an overwhelmingly positive experience that we felt compelled to share a little bit about adventure therapy and how these camps can impact kids.
In a presentation to the Public Children’s Services Associations of Ohio conference earlier this year, Dr. Bobbi Beale, a licensed, clinical psychologist and CEO of Life Adventures for All, explained why adventure therapy is becoming an effective way to work with children being served by the behavioral health and child welfare systems:
|In adventure therapy, the client actively participates in therapy, rather than being a spectator to change, which is particularly important considering the kinesthetic needs of children and youth. The use of cooperative games, problem solving initiatives and adventure activities guided by the treatment team provide clients with immediate and concrete consequences of their behaviors, which make the adventure activities an effective vehicle for clinical change.|
Since 2016, Dr. Beale has been working with Dave Wigent, director of Wood County Job and Family Services (JFS), to establish and expand the Ohio Adventure Therapy Coalition. The group of 14 counties, 10 mental health providers, and other partners across Ohio are working to expand access to adventure therapy programs and camps to victims of child abuse and mental illness across the state.
About Ohio Adventure Therapy Coalition (OATC)
Why does OATC exist? For starters, consider these stats on the prevalence of childhood trauma:
- More than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. (via Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/SAMHSA)
- One in 10 children nationally has experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In Ohio, that number escalates to as many as one in seven. (via ChildTrends)
The problem becomes even more dire when you zero in on children impacted by child abuse or mental illness. In fact, Dr. Beale and Wigent agree that nearly every child they’ve encountered has a significant trauma history, which is why they’re both so keen on providing access to these types of services and treatments.
Currently over 200 children are in treatment through the OATC’s efforts, including a variety of adventure therapy programs and workshops. In October, with support from Northwoods, OATC organized its first 3-day immersive therapeutic camp experience for 23 campers, 19 of whom were referred by JFS.
Northwoodians attended training with Dr. Beale at Wood County JFS prior to helping with the camp.
How Do Adventure Therapy Camps Help Kids Handle Trauma?
The idea, according to Wigent, is to tie innovative, non-traditional activities to the traditional treatment of trauma, such as intensive home-based services, as a comprehensive package to help kids.
“The vision is to take kids in therapy and get them away from the distractions of everyday life, let them meet other kids in similar situations to them, and do therapeutic work in a camp setting. We thought that would enhance some of the lessons we covered in the training,” he said.
Dr. Beale explained that children who face heavy trauma often become over-reactive and interpret certain things, like traditional therapy, as threatening, which makes it hard for them to make progress. Experiential therapy, on the other hand, is far less threatening.
In fact, kids build social skills like problem-solving, group participation, and self-regulation that ultimately help them cope with and work through their triggers.
“Doing the experiential stuff becomes somewhat of a ‘back door’ into treatment,” Beale added. “Before you know it, they're more comfortable, they have relationships with the people they're working with, and they're less triggered. So, in some ways, doing adventure therapy gets kids ready for more traditional, cognitive treatment.”
How Can My Organization Get Involved?
Now that the first camp has wrapped up, Wigent, Beale, and the rest of OATC’s leadership group are exploring ways to expand the coalition in 2019—adding additional counties, seeking funds for research and professional development, coordinating additional training and volunteer opportunities, and more.
Interested in learning more about ongoing efforts in Ohio? Contact Dave Wigent or Dr. Beale to discuss their upcoming expansion plans or to receive OATC’s newsletter for updates. If you want to launch a similar program in another state or region, both can also provide some insight about how to get started.
In the meantime, you can also read what some Northwoodians who participated in the inaugural camp had to say about why they signed up to help and what they learned through the experience.
“I spend as much time as I can getting to know what our workers are dealing with, and this was an opportunity to learn about the type of clients they get to help. I wasn’t hoping to change these kids’ lives just in a weekend, but I was hoping to connect in a way that they would let their guard down and have some fun, and they sure did.
I did not have an appreciation for the extent of trauma that these kids have been through. It was powerful to hear them talking to each other and sharing their stories. Despite everything they have been through in their lives, they were just kids having fun out at camp.”
- Richie Diers, Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer
“The hands-on approach of adventure therapy rang true to me as a meaningful interaction with a young person. The camp setting offers some opportunities for conversations and interactions that are not likely to occur in other therapy settings.
I wanted a few young people to have an experience they could look back on and remember that people out in the world care about them and their well-being. The camp definitely provided that opportunity. I got a couple of hugs that will stick with me for the rest of my days.”
- Don Abney, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
“Giving unconditionally to our vulnerable children is a long-lasting reward. I wanted to see if kindness can break down barriers. I needed them to see that adults can reach out to help without expectations.
We must meet these children with compassion, patience, tolerance, and respect, then extend that to adults who were once these children. To change the world, we must change the way we perceive the world and those in it.”
- Robyn Thomas, Business Documentation Specialist
“I remembered my first camp experience growing up and how much fun I had. I wanted to give the kids the same experience. Many kids came up and told me they had never left their hometown, and for them to be able to meet other children their age going through similar problems made them feel like they were not alone.
I was taken aback by some of the stories I heard. These children do not wake up wanting to be sent to the principal’s office or detention. They are just trying to make it through the day in a world many of us cannot even begin to relate to. I found that a little patience and empathy made all the difference in forming small connections with each of them.”
- Chris Shumaker, Customer Success Manager
“Giving back to the community is one of the Northwoods values. I saw this as an opportunity to pitch in. I was just hoping to help in whatever way I could.
I learned a lot about early childhood trauma and how it affects both individual development and relationship building. The camp gave me an amazing opportunity to assist the therapists and children with a weekend of therapy and fun.”
- Sam Glockner, QA Tester/Automation Developer