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Girls Daring Greatly: Elements of vulnerability and strength in a therapeutic wilderness setting.

Posted by Sabrina Marie Hadeed, MA, LPC, NCC on February 26, 2014

When discussing the idea of girls in the wilderness, the topic of vulnerability comes up a lot. Often it is in the context of how girls are vulnerable in fragile ways that we often want to protect or tuck away. However, having been a teenage girl myself and having worked as a therapist now for 8 years – I can confidently say that vulnerability among girls in the wilderness has more to do with courage and resilience than anything else.

Brené Brown is one of the leading researchers on the study of vulnerability and shame. In her most recent book (Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead) she highlights relevant themes such as: learning to embrace imperfections, letting the people we love struggle, and other elements of healing our shame. The book’s title was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s Citizen’s Republic (1910) speech where he says:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I have witnessed countless examples of girls daring greatly in the arena of my therapeutic wilderness group at 2N Cascades. One such example is introduced below.

As I took my final step over the gnarled volcanic rock to where I could just barely see my group of girls, I was struck instantly not by what I saw but by what I heard. My ears and my heart were all of the sudden being serenaded by 6 harmonizing girls. They were standing in a circle, all eyes focused on the group appointed 15-year-old choir director. Their bodies stood at ease with grace and poise as they gently sang out. What’s more, is that they were not singing a song by any artist that is often attached to their generation like Lady Gaga or Miley Cirus. Instead, the song they harmonized so beautifully was a ballad from the Elizabethan era entitled “Rose Red”. There was a disorienting two-second lapse of time where I had to remind myself where I was standing. For one lovely moment that day, we were no longer in the Oregon desert in a therapeutic wilderness program defined by mental health struggles and adolescent angst. Instead, we were transported to a magical place where teenage girls put their pain aside to learn a song together and let their voices sing out and dance along the Juniper tree spotted hills of the Cascades.

It was beyond any brilliant therapy technique I could have applied. The moment was made possible through a positive group culture, the ongoing collaborative support of the entire treatment team, and of course the courage of 6 girls. The girls had been able to develop emotional safety within the group and an increase in self-confidence, which lent to the courage to “dare greatly”. Brene Brown tells us, “because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Among the circle of singing girls there were no perfect vocalists; no dominating egos; no bullies; no gestures of self-harm; no competing debutants; there was only honest harmonized courage and the presence of emerging self-acceptance.

Moments like that remind me of why I have the best job in the world and why the power of vulnerability is born from the courage to dare greatly.



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