Therapist Journal, Thoughts on Therapy

Active Interventions: A Response to “Getting off the couch” in Counseling Today

The Original Article for this Discussion: Getting off the couch | Counseling Today

In this issue of counseling today it talks about getting off the couch and doing other types of interactions with our clients other than sitting and doing talk therapy. The major premise is that counseling is able to have an active component to it especially when a part of adventure based counseling (ABC). Throughout my career I have worked in various capacities as a Sunday School Teacher, Youth Ministry Worker, Summer Camp Counselor, Summer Camp Director, and have embarked on the journey of being a field therapist for Blackwater Outdoor Experiences (BOE).

In all of my experiences the greatest piece that has stuck out to me is just how much we are able to learn by moving, experiencing, or practicing our skills. In ABC and any active intervention the goal is for the clinician to assist the client in developing a better understanding by taking part in an activity, reflecting on the experience, and using the insights gained from the activity to inform how they act in the future.

In 1984, David Kolb shared what he understood to be the experiential learning cycle that reflects how we learn from activities and initiatives.

As a part of Kold’s learning cycle an individual experiences a new situation or experiences a reinterpretation of a familiar situation. After reflective observation the individual is able to develop a more abstract concept as to what worked, what did not work, what they could change for next time, and more. The individual then gets the chance to implement these changes when they encounter the situation again.

I utilize ABC and active interventions as part of individual, group, and family therapies along with psychoeducation lessons and workshops in order to help clients utilize personal strengths, practice coping skills, recognize areas of growth, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, and develop positive interpersonal skills. By helping clients focus on developing skills and utilizing their strengths therapists can help their clients gain a greater self-worth, recognize the importance of self-care, and develop a positive outlook on life.

As Shawn Achor shares in The Happiness Advantage by having a positive outlook and experiencing positive emotions an individual is able to perform better in their daily life and in the workplace. In his book Shawn highlights research that demonstrates the effects of positive emotions in the workplace and at home. In particular, an individual who is asked to list the objects noticed in a room who is primed to experience positive emotions will be able to see more objects versus someone primed with negative emotions.

Through the ABC and active interventions lessons such as these are able to be experienced and then put into practice through daily life. At BOE part of the 22 day therapeutic wilderness expedition program is being able to go out of the everyday environment to learn about yourself, your environment, develop new skills, and prepare a plan on how to practice and develop change when you re-enter that environment. For example, when you forget to use a skill in the wilderness you experience difficulties, challenges, and discomfort that initiates change. The initiated change is supported and encouraged by staff who are able to highlight each piece of the experiential learning cycle for you. Finally, through reflection by journaling and processing as a group you are able to take away new lessons, and skills as you develop a new mindset. While a part of such an intentional therapeutic community living environment positive change and growth is only limited by an individual’s motivation, readiness for change, and ability to gain insight.

Whether you are a counselor helping clients, a past participant, a family member, or just someone living life your growth and your happiness may only be one experience away. Go beyond your comfort zone and try something different, rework what you need to, and try again until you get it right. As Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus likes to say, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”


Project Adventure; Adventure Based Counseling Workshop May 2015 led by Nate Folan;

McLeod, S. A. (2013). Kolb – Learning Styles. Retrieved from


To learn more about how Jonathan can work with you or to connect with Jonathan click here. You can follow Blackwater Outdoor Experiences on twitter (@BOEtherapy) or LinkedIn.


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