by Nate Luongo, LCSW-C
First Step IOP Therapist
Outdoor experiences allow us to unplug from the hectic world that we live in and learn to reconnect with nature. At Potomac Pathways, we recognize that it is within our nature to seek out the natural world and once we are able to get away and reconnect with nature, it allows for us to take a step back and examine our lives in a different way. Taking our groups into nature allows our young people the opportunity to re-enter their homes with a different perspective on what has been bothering them.
Prepping for the Trip
Last month, the First Step group participated in a camping and outdoor adventure, co-hosted by Jason Drevenak, president of the North American Bushcraft School. Jason has been a long-time friend of Potomac Pathways, hosting our groups a couple of times a year over the past decade.
What is Bushcraft? There are so many terms in use for what we mean by “bushcraft”. Re-wilding is one of our favorites, but also survival, homesteading, and sustainable living. We think of it as a journey towards a life of generalism. We should know how to make and find food; we should be able to find water and shelter anywhere we go; we should be able to make the things we need even if we don’t always do it. These skills help us to understand the impact of our lives on others.
- Jason Drevenak, President of North American Bushcraft School
The week leading up to the camping trip the group discussed the importance of preparation in everyday life. Anxiety and stress are areas that some young people struggle with and the group discussed how stress decreases for most once they’re prepared for what’s about to come. Our camping trip out to Jason’s proved to be a great example of this. The group learned the importance of staying warm by packing the right gear and layering since the temperature dropped very low in the evening. Everyone packed accordingly and was prepared so that they could continue to grow. Having opportunities like these to take groups out of the office and on excursions allows for our group members to open up more to one another, address their treatment goals in different ways, and allows us (i.e. therapists) the opportunity to intervene in real-time with our young people.
What We Did
This trip helped our young people build off of their success in treatment by immersing ourselves in nature for two days. When we do these excursions, we are typically taking the group into a completely new environment that they have never experienced. This can sometimes be difficult for young people.
With every outdoor adventure that we go on, we have a starting group session where everyone checks in on how they’re doing, address any issues that are going on for them, and then each group member - including staff - set intentions for the experience. By setting intentions, we are helping our clients become more mindful of how they are doing and learn the skill that they have the power to affect outcomes.
On the morning of our first full day, the group packed up our gear and carried it on a long day hike to the Devil’s Nose. We packed and brought most of our gear on the day hike as a way for our clients to practice preparedness. As a group, we recognized that we needed to be prepared in case something happened where we would need to be able to survive a night away from our campsite. Most hiking accidents happen to day hikers since they typically do not take the necessary precautions, such as letting others know where they’re going and when they expect to come back, packing enough water, and having extra food. At the top of Devil’s Nose, we held a group session focused on intentions.
Taking the Lessons Home
Jason taught our young people how to make fire by using both bow and hand drills. These activities may not seem applicable to everyday life, but have you ever seen the face of a young man when he’s able to make a fire with a stick? It’s pretty incredible. Having that sense of accomplishment opens up more opportunities for our clients.
We learned how to make shelters in case of an emergency with heavy duty trash bags -- again, a skill that one does not really need living in the DC Metro area, but knowing how to survive and build your own shelter opens up a different world. Some of the group built and slept in a group shelter for the second evening. This experience helped participants work together to plan, problem solve, and execute the plan with minimal guidance by staff.