Adventure therapy at Capstone happens in two venues. First, utilizing our state-of-the-art ropes course on campus, one day per week, clients are involved in activities that produce real-life internal challenges, causing frustration, fear, and conflict. If not in Capstone, these activities would most likely lead to relapse and/or misbehavior. But in the safe and supportive environment of Capstone, we help guide the residents through these challenges in ways that lead to a successful ending, thus reinforcing a better way to handle distress in real life.
Adventure therapy on our ropes course is based on the theory of experiential metaphor. Everything we do on the course follows this sequence: 1) frame the metaphor; 2) do the activity; 3) process the experience and reinforce the metaphor, resulting in a real life connection.
Here is one example. The Wall is a 12-foot wall made of treated 2×10 boards that run vertically. There are no handholds, only a slick wall. On the back of the wall is a platform for the staff to stand on as they keep a loose belay on the climbers. The therapist frames the metaphor:
“Hey, guys, you know when something happens between you and another person that really hurts you, and it doesn’t get resolved…and so you experience that person as someone who hurts you, so you build an invisible wall between you and them?” All the boys usually nod in agreement.
“And you know when the hurt happens from another person, and it doesn’t get resolved, you build another wall to protect yourself?” The group nods again.
“As this kind of hurt continues to happen, you know how sometimes people will conclude that all people hurt—so they build a wall all the way around themselves for protection?” Again, most are nodding.
“Today, your group’s challenge is going to be to safely work with each other to get every person up and over this wall. Now here are the guidelines to the element and the safety rules….”
These group therapy activities for teens and our young adults, creates experiences that help with “teenage anger issues,” which are a struggle not only for our 14- to 17-year-olds but also for our young adults. The group overcomes the challenge by getting each person safely up and over the Wall. Some groups have done it in an hour; others take three hours or more. Then the group forms a circle and begins the first phase of processing: they discuss the experience of physically climbing over the wall. Then it shifts to what they could learn from it about their real-life walls. The final phase is a conversation about “Now, what can you do about those walls in your life?” The transition statement from the Wall to life situations is rarely done by staff. Usually one of the residents will say something like, “That’s kinda like the wall between me and my dad,” and shift the conversation to real-life walls.
One piece of this processing is always about the fact that not all walls need to be torn down. As a matter of fact, sometimes a wall needs to be built for safety. Some people simply are not healthy enough to be in a relationship without hurting others. We work to learn how to either build or tear down walls in a healthy way.
All high elements and low elements in the ropes course are done using the “framing the metaphor” process. The 12 high elements require a belay system: climbing harness, rope, belay pulley on the cable, belayer on the ground with two backup people. Low elements and initiatives do not require belaying. Technically the Wall is a low element, but we use a loose belay system for extra safety without lowering the intensity of the challenge.
The second venue is off-campus Friday Adventure Day. We call it Replacement Therapy because we are taking the clients off campus for exciting outdoor adventures in our beautiful state. Arkansas really is a sporting paradise. Capstone’s campus lies in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks to the northwest. Many wonderful outdoor adventures are readily available. Clients may go in small groups to fish for trout in the Little Red River, where the world record German brown trout (40-plus lb.) was caught a few years ago. Sometimes they fish in Greer’s Ferry Lake, home of the Arkansas state record walleye (22 lb. 11 oz.), or the White River, home of the state record rainbow trout (19 lb. 1 oz.). Other activities include rock climbing, caving, kayaking and canoeing (Spring River, Little Red River), trail biking, and hiking.
Our goal is to help the clients learn how to do some of these activities and have the ability to continue them after graduation, displacing old behaviors that were not healthy.