Our introduction to SeaChange Hawaii, a new 28 day ocean based adventure therapy program for boys, ages 14-18, began with a sail around beautiful Käne`ohe Bay in Oahu, aboard the SSV Makani Olu, "The Gracious Wind" 96 foot sailing school vessel. My shipmates included three other Educational Consultants: Susan Trueblood, Jenny Heckman and Steve Bozak.
Preceding our voyage, a passionate presentation of SeaChange's mission, model, methods, program, family component and staff introductions took place at the Yacht Club. We learned that Peter Nichols book 'SeaChange' was the inspiration behind the founders of this successful, non-profit, Marimed Corporation that serves adjudicated Hawaiian youth, to start a private wing.
This transformational ocean voyage experience interrupts problematic patterns of behavior and propels these young men (known on board as Cadets) on their journey of healing, growth and change. Beginning October 13, 2010, the goal of SeaChange is to set sail on 6 trips per year with 12 boys per voyage, where they will "meet their true selves and hope to find an improved one" on the journey.
SeaChange Hawaii has selected the following criteria for admission: boys with family issues, anger and defiance; social problems of entitlement, isolation, addictions, ADHD, low self-esteem, depression, mood, anxiety and grief issues and academic underachievement. Excluded will be complex mental health issues : dissociation, suicidal attempts, violence and explosive rage, personality disorder, psychosis, sexual predation, chronic depression, severe eating or self-mutilation problems; major physical or medical limitations even though a nurse and psychiatrist are available. Assessment is required and may be arranged in Hawaii.
Matt Claybaugh, CEO of SeaChange Hawaii, in a power point presentation, shared the reasons for choosing Hawaii and a ship for their mission. With conviction, he talked about the blue water experience and the open ocean and four channel crossings, the teaching of maritime skills with a therapeutically designed experience in a close group. He also shared the program's core values:
Community: recognize we are interconnected and interdependent
Honesty: develop personal responsibility in rotating four hour watches
Aloha: practice the 'Hello' beginning, and 'Goodbye' the end, the 'glue' that binds everything together
Respect: reflect and tell stories of past, present and future actions and their impact
Teamwork: essential to be part of a healthy, safe community
On shipboard, we all took turns on watch: the helm, the bow, and navigation, and saw the metaphors evolve into reality. The motto, 'Real life experiences bring real change' was evident. Three boys were also crew with the captains Harry and Steve, both merchant mariners. We saw Kurt Hahn's Outward Bound's founder's thesis: 'students need to feel needed to feel empowered', in action. We felt the same way.
Erik Rehwaldt, SeaChange's' therapist, who is stationed on board for the entire trip, presented the therapeutic model used in this unique program: (CBT &REBT: thought informs feelings which inform actions) which is taught in five phases:
- Preparation: 3 days learning skills
- Commitment: learn how to be clipped in the harness and agreeing to it
- Windward leg/challenge: rougher waters
- Mastery/way-finding: plotting future course
- Reflection: constantly throughout phases
Erik shared that he meets with the 'Cadets' for individual therapy 3 times a week and conducts group therapy 7 times a week. He works with narrative therapy and has the young men journal during their 28 day adventure. The program includes celebration and ceremony as well, as an example; the color of t-shirts the young men wear indicates status with the 'graduates wearing a blue one with the ship's diagrams on the back.
For the few days on 'campus' , which could be pre-admission, the boys stay on the six acre farm in a new group home, with an equipment barn, a green house and gardens of taro. On sea and land there are service projects, hands-on experiences, and solos. There is a strong family systems approach, and families are involved from the beginning. They follow a program which mirrors their son's, communicating with Craig Norton, Admissions Director by webcam, weekly calls, portal, logs, and emails and consultants also receive the same contacts. The culmination of this ocean journey is a family workshop for 1 day with group exercises, and 'reunification' day on board with their sons performing their newly acquired skills.
We indeed found a 'voyage of self-discovery leading to the destination of home'. Our comments included affirmation to Shakespeare's Tempest: 'Full fathoms five thy father lies....And you return from the sea both 'rich and strange'. In the closing reflection with the staff, the emergence of a spiritual adventure was mentioned.
I must admit that I was 'richer and open', able to reconnect with peace and serenity in the stillness, and felt 'strange' able to go within. I could imagine the boys seeing "all they could be", beginning anew, assured that all was well, empowered and sad to leave. I certainly was. I recommend this experience.