Adolescents and young adults often enroll at True North because they are feeling stuck. They may be stuck in their room, stuck on their devices, or stuck in unhealthy habits. This often leads to cycles of shame and guilt. Developmentally, adolescence and young adults are at a pivotal point in their identity-development journey. The multitude of adventure opportunities at True North offers novel experiences and tools to engage with therapeutic goals, which leads to a healthier sense of self. Adventure programming layered with therapeutic intention is a catalyst through which True North students are empowered to connect to the core of their being again.
Play is especially important for well-being, and serves a critical role in identity development. Dr. Stuart Brown has deeply engaged in research around the concept of play, how it shapes the brain, and invites invigoration of the soul. Dr. Brown explains that play is essential to identity development and differentiation. He boldly states “the truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself.” We see young people lean into their authentic self through play, which Dr. Brown defines as: “stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity, enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life.”
Through creating controlled risk, the adventure and clinical teams at True North are able to attune to student’s emotional, cognitive, and physical state and guide their exploration on whether their current way of being is meeting their needs.Through the facilitation of experiential and adventure based activities True North students are given the opportunity to try something thrilling and new. They are able to explore mind-body-connections and notice how they can apply their therapeutic skills in a different environment. This is experiential learning at it’s finest, as the student’s get to feel the success in the moment.
Within that risk, students are able to push against the boundaries of their current comfort zone and enter into the ‘growth zone’. The ‘growth zone’ is where we can begin to dream big about what is and what can be possible for us- This is where the magic happens! Adventure therapy taps into healthy risk through a mindset of “challenge by choice”. This is a vital tool to help students learn autonomy, self-efficacy, and how to cultivate risk management. When adolescents learn that they have a new sense of control over how they are feeling or how they can respond to their emotions, feelings of hopelessness begin to shift. It is this “creation of a new narrative [that] may increase the depressed adolescent’s ability to envision themselves in a new place emotionally, creating a deeper sense of future” (Norton, 2010, p. 230).
When young people choose to expand their comfort zone, they find inspiration and a healthy dose of challenge. Students emerge from True North with exciting memories of cultivating play within their groups and some new hobbies to try at home. Not only are students experiencing the beauty and zen of paddle boarding on local ponds, or the thrill of cross country skiing through the snow dusted forest; True North students are coming face to face with who they are, what they value, and how to cultivate play and exploration into their lives.
“In the long run, [the] work does not work without play.” – Dr. Stuart Brown