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Get at-risk children into the bush

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One in seven Australians aged 4–17 experience mental health disorders and one strategy that looks to be helpful is combining therapy with adventure in the great outdoors.

A program based on interactive and outdoor activities has been developed combining adventure therapy with acceptance and commitment therapy. It includes themed nature walks and the use of metaphors to help children identify anger, games working with knots to develop problem solving skills, and the minefield game in which students verbally guide their blindfolded teachers though an imaginary minefield to build trust and respect.

“Post program evaluation saw child participants express the use of self-calming through mindfulness. They also referenced taking time out, calming down and meditation. We also saw an expressed commitment to action through identifying positive behaviours they needed to follow to achieve their valued life,” said researcher Dr Danielle Tracey.

Dr Tracey and her colleagues doctors Gray, Truong and Ward of Western Sydney University created the novel interdisciplinary approach.

“The heart of adventure therapy is using the outdoors and experiential learning to deal with psychosocial difficulties,” Tracey said.

“Learning through experience, interaction with nature, dealing with risk, group therapy, and a focus on positive change are all part of adventure therapy.”

“Adventure therapy is useful both in its ability to engage children as well as the outcomes it provides.

“Children often prefer the outdoors. It offers an alternative to traditional interventions which require children to spend periods of time sitting still, writing or talking.”

Acceptance and commitment therapy seeks to align people’s thinking and behaviour, so they can achieve a valued and meaningful life. This is done through building psychological flexibility (exemplified in the ability to be present in the moment), pursuit of important values and acceptance of the presence of unpleasant experiences.

Tracey pointed out that acceptance and commitment therapy is well suited to children as it uses metaphors rather than literal instructions and children look to be better at mindfulness and acceptance than adults.

She said the program showed positive improvements in wellbeing and skills development for children with challenging behavioural and or emotional needs.

The results, while founded on a small-scale inquiry of nine children aged 11–12, nevertheless provide encouraging insights into the possible positive impacts of this approach.

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