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Opinion & Essays - April, 1994 Issue #27 

in the Three Springs Environment
by: Jim Chrietzberg
Experiential Education Coordinator
Huntsville, Alabama

(The following is reprinted from the newsletter Three Springs CURRENTLY, September 1993) 

Many professionals in the therapeutic arena, upon hearing the words "experiential education", conjure up an image of residents teetering through a ropes course or climbing up a windswept ridge. If you are one of these, you are likely in the majority, for most of us who are familiar with the therapeutic applications of experiential education think immediately of adventure therapy. It is, however; important to remember that the therapeutic application of outdoor sports is just one small aspect of a much greater practice. At Three Springs, for example, we have been utilizing in house high and low ropes courses for the past nine months, yet we have relied upon experiential learning as the basis of our therapeutic environment since our inception, eight years ago. 

It is widely recognized that experience is the basis for effecting change, but the precepts of the experiential education movement require that learners be in close, preferably in direct, contact with this base. We have long held Campbell Loughmiller's premise that simply by taking a child with some level of dysfunction out of their traditional environment and allowing them to live in the woods with positive role models they will show some level of improvement with no further intervention. The basis of this widely observed phenomenon is increased experiential learning. Our recent additions of various adventure based counseling components are, therefore, extensions of our traditional experience based programs. 

Included in our adventure based curriculum are the before mentioned ropes courses, provisions for various experience based wilderness trips, (backpacking, canoeing, rockclimbing, rappelling, caving), as well as group games and initiative problems. These activities supplement our traditional therapeutic approach by adding experience/interaction intensive elements that allow our residents to make decisions and solve problems in an environment of perceived risk under carefully controlled conditions. The key to safety and effectively facilitating such a program lies in long term staff training and development and the slow sequencing of activities with each group, increasing the perception of risk gradually. This allows the gradual accumulation of successes, leading to increased confidence and ego strength. Much of the value of adventure programming is in the versatility that it affords a traditional program. Its simplistic approach allows the targeting of group and individual problems with specific interventions that combine physical and mental activity, and a forum in which every member of the group must be valued in order for the group to succeed. 

While this is hardly a new approach in the therapeutic environment, it is an exciting new dimension for Three Springs. Resident response to this new programming has thus far been overwhelmingly positive. Once the adventure program systems have become well established on each campus we will begin the collection of data to determine long term impact on residents and programs. Look for results in future issues of Currently. 

Copyright 1994, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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