About Adventure Therapy
Lise told me about herself and her business. She started Momenta in 2006, but has always been an outdoorsy type of person. Growing up, her family would go on canoe and hiking trips. As an adult she thought about what the wilderness meant to her and decided she didn’t want to do anything that would keep her inside. She spoke about feeling like walls hold people back. She had to get creative with her education as Manitoba doesn’t have any adventure therapy programs, although they do exist in other parts of Canada and the states. So she did a bachelor degree in recreation studies, then she did a Master’s in Social Work, and finished off with a certificate in art therapy. Then she sewed all her training together and started an adventure therapy business.
Lise – When we started, people were like, “What are you doing?” It is not a common form of therapy in Manitoba.
When I do adventure therapy, I think of two things, I think of physical and emotional safety, and then, how can I do those things outside whenever possible?
And if I can’t do it outside, I think about how I can do things inside that can engage the whole body. I do talk therapy sometimes, but if I don’t have to do that I don’t. With every client it looks very different because I’m thinking about their physical and emotional safety and where I can push their boundaries. For example, can we paddle somewhere further than they thought they could get to? I set goals where they can use their whole bodies and then talk about what that was like and how to transfer that to their everyday lives. I asked if Lise, who works primarily with children and youth, ever gets kids who just hate being outside and would rather be playing video games.
Lise – We don’t have any programs that are mandatory. Every child or young person that is with us chooses to be with us. I mean there might be an adult kind of pushing them in that direction. We don’t allow phones, so usually the first 10 minutes of that is horrible for them. And I can see how hard it is for kids, and I feel for them, because I’m also attached to a phone, but the end result is always great, really positive.
Kids WANT to go Outside!
Kids will say, “I didn’t realize how often I was on my phone!” We don’t have resistance to go outside. I mean if it’s -40 there’s some resistance, but if outside is liveable, and we have good clothes on (which we provide) there isn’t really any resistance. I think kids want to go outside more than we think they do.
Joy – Because they give us two seconds of whining and we take that as a complete refusal.
Lise – Most of the kids show up knowing that we’re going outside all day so it’s not as if it’s a trick, it’s part of what we do. I think there’s probably less resistance to this kind of work then there is to going to a therapist and sitting there for an hour. “I don’t want to go to therapist, but I’ll go outside and hang out in the forest for six hours.” The therapeutic value of that is not as obvious, but when they start thinking about it,
…they notice how relaxed they feel, and how nature affects their mindset, then that value is there.
Joy – So what do you actually do outside?
Mindfulness in the Forest
Lise – In our forest school program we do “sit spots.” It’s not about physical strength or ability it’s like, “Can you just sit by yourself for 10 minutes?” A lot of teenagers can’t. It takes a lot of practice. A lot of adults can’t! Like, no phone, nothing. Just sit in the forest. But if they can get past the feeling of, “This is freaking me out!” They really see the value in that. So that would be one way I would push someone outside of their comfort zone.
I see a kid who started out being able to sit for two minutes, progress to10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour!
Joy – So, kind of a mindful type exercise?
Lise – Absolutely! I think a lot of what we do links back to mindfulness. We don’t always call it that. In Japan, they call it “forest bathing.”
Joy – Yes, I’ve heard of that, actually! I had to prepare myself for what kind of images would come up when I searched it, because I was like, ‘Are they going to be clothed!?”
Lise – Yes, their clothes are on.
Kids With Knives
We also use knives, and make things out of wood. Some of our kids may have traumatic histories with knives. But, if we create new, safe experiences and memories with knives, this can be very helpful. Then they see the knife in a different way, as a valuable tool that they need to respect and take care of – “This is a tool and I can make something really cool with it!”
Rope Climbing vs Risky Behaviour
We’ve used high ropes courses for kids who are experimenting with risky behavior.
Kids are making behaviour choices – sometimes stealing cars, not because they want to steal cars, but because they need that adrenaline rush.
We’re not giving them as much as they need, by making them sit in desks all day.
So we’ll teach them to climb and use the gear correctly, and then see how far they want to push themselves. Then we compare those two activities, asking questions like, “Which one feels better?” “How does your body feel?” They say, “My body feels the same, but it’s a good thing, not a bad thing!”
Joy- “And who’s mad at you?”
Lise- “No one!” At the end people give hugs and high fives and want to take your picture! It’s a very different experience but the body‘s reaction to that is similar.
Teaching Problem Solving Skills
We do problem solving skill building. So having kids ask themselves questions like, “If I was to do that zip line again, what would I do differently?” or, “Now I don’t feel scared of climbing a pole, so I’m gonna do that again and master it.” We make changes, doing it differently, or trying it again.
They can apply that into their real life. We ask, “How can you do this when you go home today? Can you change that negative cycle you’re in?”
Joy – Do the kids make the connection pretty well?
Lise – The one thing I know that works is the positive memory. If I run into a kid that I’ve worked with, there’s an instant relationship, even if I haven’t seen that kid in a long time. I think it is really important for us to teach the kids that don’t trust adults that they can trust adults. All the research says that what kids need is a positive adult role model. I think that piece is definitely working.
Joy- So who do you work with?
Lise – We work with youth serving agencies and communities in Winnipeg and Manitoba. Anyone can access our services, we are often asked to fill some gaps that are in our regular services. Sometimes, agencies just don’t know what to do with hard to engage youth, they may feel overwhelmed with social issues. This is where we want to provide services. When given engaging programming that considers emotional and physical safety, youth are honest, willing to try new things, and want to do things with their bodies. Things that make sense and allow them to feel something and do something productive and successful.
Lise – Then there’s our Foresthood program, which is for the public.
The model comes from Europe and includes being outside, and returning to the same natural place to learn from the environment.
I do things like mindfulness practice in the forest and make sure the kids feel really emotionally safe in that environment. We take kids ages 3-5, once a week for 8 weeks.
Lise – There’s more and more studies coming out right now about the benefits of going outside, what does it do for child’s development what it does for your physical body. Just this week on CBC it said that toddlers should be outside three hours a day. (See also Lack of Outdoors Play said to Hurt Children’s Development.)
Joy- Wow! Do parents also have to be outside for that long?
On Cabin Fever
Lise- Well, no you don’t. I mean, I can relate, I’m a single mom with one child, so I do play outside with my kid because that’s how he’ll get engaged. But then we both feel better.
If I stayed inside all day with my son, we would just be at each other‘s throats. I tell myself,
“Just go outside and everything will be better.” And it’s true! Everything calms down. There’s so much space to breathe.
On Getting Kids Dressed for Outside
Lise – I read a study that interviewed childcare workers about stress in the workplace. They were asked:
“What’s the number one stress in your day?”
Workers – “Putting on all the snowsuits.”
“What’s the least stressful part of your day?”
Workers – “Being outside.”
“If you’re fighting with your kids about mitts, put the mitts in the backpack. They’re going to take them out when they need them, as soon as their fingers feel cold. Just let them have that independence of choice.” We don’t trust kids to know what their bodies need. At Foresthood we say, “OK we’re going to be outside for three hours. Listen to your body. What does it need? Not only physically but emotionally? Do you need to sit by yourself for a few minutes, or do you want to engage in play with someone else?”
Risk Taking & Body Awareness
Lise- My job is often to navigate risks. We need to learn limits of our body. Sometimes we need to fall to be like, “Oh! That was my limit. I’m not gonna do that next time.”
If we always stop that,
…if we always remove the risk, our kids are not going to know how to use their bodies
It’s hard. Our staff struggle with that, because I want to teach our staff to let kids take risks which is the opposite of what child and youth care workers are taught. “Don’t let anyone get hurt.” We actually have to let them push the boundaries. When a child climbs higher then they thought they could, they’re beaming!
Joy-The risk of not allowing that is long-term. Like a fall versus, a lifetime of not knowing our bodies.
Lise – We’re such an instant society that it’s like, “Oh I want to save them this time,” like, what about next time, and next time, and next time?”
Here is a list of Lise’s Recommended Resources:
Manitoba Nature Summit Website for events for parents, families and child care workers.
Check out The Manitoba Nature Summit Resource Portal for links to articles and videos like the Ted Talk : 5 Dangerous Things you Should let Your Child Do.
Lise mentioned Kolb a famous experiencial learning theorist whose work has influenced many fields of practice including business, chemistry and education.
Also, Richard Louv an increasingly famous author who’s written lots of books trying to convince parents to get their kids outside, including “Last Child in the Woods*” and “The Nature Principle -Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder*”
Check out Moment’s Website for more on their programs.
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee.
For more posts on Kids and Mental Health see Are the Kids Okay? – Children & Mental Health
You may also be interested in Avoiding Exercise – An Expert’s Guide