Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trauma Informed Care in Wilderness Programs

I have just finished a presentation at the New England Regional Conference of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). I think it went well, I received a lot of positive feedback. The members were very welcoming and kind.

I had an interesting discussion with a gentleman from Utah about the application of trauma informed care principles in Wilderness Programs. His program serves youth who have gotten in trouble, often with drugs but also many other things, and who are not adjudicated but would become so if no action was taken. These are self pay by parents. The kids and staff go on month long hiking and camping expeditions. Therapists come out to meet with the youth weekly.

Some of the principles I teach match very well with their philosophy. Certainly, the whole experience is about teaching skills. The concept of building self worth is also central. The experience of needing to depend on others and work as a team develops a new template for relationships, that they can be helpful and trustworthy. The staff have the skills that the kids need to survive, and so the kids have to depend on them, and may begin to learn that they can trust some adults.

Wilderness programs also demonstrate to the child that their actions affect individuals and the community, so the concept of responding to misbehavior with making amends to individuals and the community fits well. We discussed the possibility that a child who has delayed the group progress can do chores for the others or do extra work to make the trip move forward.

There is a sense in some programs that you can’t let the youth get away with anything, and that understanding the adaptive nature of their problems could be seen as an excuse.

I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who works in wilderness programs. Have you incorporated trauma informed care? In what ways do you think it fits with your thinking? What areas have been hard to incorporate? Let’s start a dialog.

I have two more NATSAP presentations upcoming, and look forward to deepening this discussion.

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