Just following up to share a few more ideas about how we see the fit between narrative approaches and bush adventure therapy to be a good one!
The following are some ideas that we at Evolve have found useful in designing programs and using narrative ideas in our work. I think the ways in which narrative approaches can be used in experiential process and bush work are limitless - so the ideas below represent some of these ways, and certainly not the only way to think about this work.
The following principles are outlined with specific reference to working with those who have experienced trauma, but are more broadly applicable to working with other in the bush.
- It is highly important that the work is initiated and is ongoing in people’s local communities, where relationships are built and people can voluntarily choose to be involved.
- Following this initial stage, therapists and participants have the opportunity to venture out into new places, particularly the unfamiliar environment of the bush. Working with people in a physical environment other than that in which they routinely live and understand life creates the possibility of thinking, feeling and understanding themself in a different way.
- Within this environment, away from (a) social constructions, roles and relationships that support known and familiar identity conclusions and (b) places associated with traumatic experience (e.g. in the instance of natural disaster), people participate in an achievement-focused program. The adventures and challenges of the program are carefully scaffolded to give participants the best chance of experiencing themselves in a way that feels good, and also to minimize the risk of people (re)experiencing themselves as ‘a failure’ or ‘hopeless’.
- The events of the program (such as bushwalks, canoe trips, building skills in wood and metal workshops) are constructed in a way that participants routinely have experiences of ‘success’, achievement, capability and competence. These are often experiences that sit outside of dominant stories and negative identity conclusions. As such, the bush context is a landscape in which many unique outcomes can emerge and the therapist works gradually to scaffold participants in their meaning making, from the immediacy of their environment and task to broader understandings about life and possible ideas about their identity.
- The experiential aspects of the program offer numerous opportunities for inquiry and meaning making, which are possible entry points for alternative, preferred story development. Many narrative practices are useful in this story development, including unique outcome conversations, re-authoring conversations, re-membering conversations and use of metaphor. Importantly, as work is generally done in the bush in groups, there is significant opportunity for outsider witnessing of the events of the day and emerging stories.
- Trips away from home and local community to bush environments are extended, up to two weeks in length. This extended and cumulative context for activity, meaning-making and performance can consolidate and reinforce preferred identities, in ways that might not otherwise be possible due to the often ephemeral nature of therapeutic conversations.
- Both (a) the reinvigoration of a preferred sense of self and (b) a different physical environment contribute significantly to repositioning people in a way that offers a safer ground (both metaphorical and literal) from which to give expression to experiences of trauma and other hardships.
- For the experiences and meanings made in the bush context to be transferred to people’s everyday lives in a meaningful and sustainable way, people must have
a) the opportunity to enact and perform these meanings in their day-to-day lives
b) audiences of significant others in their everyday lives that can acknowledge preferred storyline developments and support future actions that are in harmony with these preferred identities
c) their experiences in the bush context documented in a ways that are personally and collectively resonant and renders meanings accessible and available for sharing with others
d) a therapeutic relationship that is stable and continuous from the local community to bush context then ongoing upon return to local community.
Narrative practices such as definitional ceremonies, therapeutic documents, generating of collective documents and song writing, amongst others, are significant in the task of supporting the consolidation and sharing of preferred stories that have been uncovered in the bush context.
- The therapist is involved as a co-participant and co-author. He/she participates in the outdoor and adventure activities and does everything parallel to other participants on the program. Thus, the therapist and participant are audience to each other’s experiences on the program. The therapist position is de-centered and does not attribute meaning to the experiences of the program, but rather is influential in providing space for people to attribute their own meanings to events in the program and, then, to broader understandings of life and identity.
- In the bush context, in challenging outdoor activity, there are numerous opportunities for participants to not only support themself, but also to support others (including the therapist!) to get through challenging times. This is highly significant as an opportunity for people to experience themselves as expert, knowledgeable, useful and contributing to the lives of others and is often a key aspect of building preferred identity.
- The challenge of the bush experience reflects the idea of ‘symbolic stress’, as evoked by Victor Turner (1967) in his writing on the liminal period of a rites of passage journey. In working with people who have experienced trauma, generating a rich description of the steps taken to overcome the often significant challenges of an extended bush trip is an entry point to broader conversations about skills and knowledge in getting through hard times in life. These skills and knowledge can be linked to social, cultural and relational history, as well as other physical environments that are significant in people’s lives.
If you have gotten this far, thanks for persisting! I'd be really interested in any thoughts or responses to these ideas.
All the very best,