This past summer I was granted the opportunity to field instruct, with two other co-instructors, a twenty day wilderness expedition for The Wilderness
School, under the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). The Wilderness School serves children affiliated with the CT DCF. The program falls into a bracket of adventure activities known as Therapeutic Adventure, not to be confused with Adventure Therapy.
To quickly distinguish the two, Adventure Therapy must contain, programmatically, a mental health treatment plan and staff licensed clincial counselor. Therapeutic Adventure is much less defined - it could be as simple as a program like Outward Bound for Veterans, which, as far as I understand, provides a wilderness experience for a specific population with specific risks and experiences. This is closer to the “Let the Mountain Speak for Itself” method of processing. On the other hand, lies The Wilderness School which teaches de-escalation and intervention methods for students in the field, utilizes Reality Therapy techniques, and often deals with a population with diagnosed mental health concerns.
The course flow is as follows: The “Crew”, or, total group of participants and instructors, begins a training-expedition of backpacking along the Appalachian Trail(AT), moves to rock climbing, then to canoeing, followed by a service project, a solo experience, and then a final-expedition back along the AT where students largely manage themselves unless necessary for safety or further instruction. You may be familiar with this line-up, as it follows the Outward Bound expedition model.
Now, as far as the trip went, I didn’t learn much in the way of technical skills. I became better at top-rope anchor building, I learned a new hitch, and I got frustrated with a crappier type of stove. However, I grew exponentially by dealing with students and understanding the structure of the program. Utilizing intervention techniques, chasing down participants who’ve decided to run away, responding to all sorts of medical incidents, and most of all, earning the trust of my students and facilitating their growth.
The Wilderness School, established in 1974, is a front-running progressive program with more of a taste for social work than for clinical counseling. There are virtually no other programs like it, and being a part of that family is a second home. If you live in Connecticut, please advocate for this program.
The photo attached is rocks day, staff training in early June.