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!”

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Therapist Journal, Thoughts on Therapy

Talk Versus Walk: Therapy Everywhere You Go

In counseling and psychotherapy a lot of talking and conversation takes place. Did you know that therapy that helps your mental health can take place in more than just the form of talk therapy?

In case you have not heard of them there are therapies that include: music therapy, art therapy, adventure therapy, drama therapy, and more. As much as these different types of therapies have their differences the basic concepts and keys are a foundation that keeps all of these therapies effective and helpful for clients. A conceptual foundation in therapy is being genuine and authentic in our relationship and interactions with our clients instead of hiding behind a mask or trying to say what we think the clients want us or need us to say. This basic concept is to authentically and genuinely be yourself even when you are acting in a professional role like a counselor. A therapeutic relationship is still a connection with another human being that requires time, effort, and honesty. Secondly, judgment is out the window in a therapeutic relationship as a result of unconditional positive regard. If the therapist is unable to hold their client in a positive light then the therapeutic relationship will have barriers just like any other relationship will causing either no or limited change to occur. Lastly and most importantly is empathy. A therapist is empathetic in listening to the concerns, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of the individuals they are working with to create therapeutic change.

More likely than not if you were to see any therapist whether they specialize in music therapy, drama therapy, adventure therapy, or traditional talk therapy these three principles will be in motion. A challenge stems from this foundational way of interacting with each other in order to form therapeutic relationships; is therapy everywhere you go?

As a counselor that is working towards becoming more familiar and competent in the use of adventure based activities in my work as a counselor I believe that therapy occurs wherever you go as long as the three conditions above are able to be met in a relationship with someone (particularly a mental health professional). In heroic stories the hero often stumbles upon some form of guidance from a god, spirit, ancestor, or other life form. These interactions show the hero engaging in conversation expressing their concerns and needs in their lives to help them realize the changes they need to make intra-personally and inter-personally in order to succeed and live a happy life. For example, The Lion King.

In the Lion King our hero Simba has a conflict as to whether he should leave the luxury of being care free with his friends or go back to the Pride Lands taking his place as the rightful king. Rafiki is not exactly a case of being a “usual counselor” but he fulfills a counseling role by listening to and understanding Simba’s concerns. When Simba believes that Rafiki is not completely understanding that his father his dead Rafiki is able to challenge his beliefs by pushing Simba to look deeper into himself for the answer. Simba not only had to run through a bunch of branches and vines to catch up to Rafiki but he had his own adventure involving lessons he gained from previous experiences with his friends after running away from the Pride Lands. By taking time to talk with Simba and get him on board with looking at his problems from a different perspective and allowing for insight to occur Rafiki in my opinion not only served as his duty as adviser to the king but took on momentarily a role similar to a counselor; revealing that therapeutic change can be facilitated anywhere that is felt to be safe and unhindering.

As a result, I would suggest the following:

  • When has there been a time in which you took a trip and learned from the physical experience as well as the conversation?
  • What experiences have you had that not only included conversation but activity which made you reflect on your life?

Once you have answered these questions I think you will come to a similar conclusion as I have that therapy occurs everywhere you go. As a professional counselor I recognize the therapeutic effects of various activities and relationships. In a professional counseling relationship whether the conversations take place through expressive arts, on a ropes course, in an office, or on a walk the three key factors are always a part of the relationship for clients. While these key factors are present the client is able to grow and learn at their own pace and comfort level with change. The task is finding the best way that you learn as an individual and finding ways to implement that learning style as part of a therapeutic relationship with a therapist. In the professional counseling field it has been decided that “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals” (American Counseling Association, 2015). As long as that relationship exists the activities that lead to therapeutic change can only be limited to the applicability of the activity to the individual and therapeutic goals.

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