Rock Climbing Adventure

Posted by J. Huffine, Ph.D., Clinical Director & Therapist at Cascades on May 10, 2017

1j resizedGroup One, our adolescent boy’s group in Evoke's Wilderness program, recently completed another successful trip to Smith Rock State Park for a day of rock climbing.

We have Group One periodically participate in outdoor adventures outside our field area to augment the impact of the boys’ therapeutic wilderness experience. You can read a lengthy description of the rationales for using a rock climbing experience as a therapeutic tool in a previous blog. It is a very real and concrete activity that lends itself well as a means of facing and managing anxiety. We help the boys use these insights and apply them to other parts of their lives.

Our adventure trips utilize the “challenge by choice” philosophy, that is, all are encouraged to participate and do their best. It is not about necessarily making it to the top of a route, but just doing one’s best and trying to go at least one step further than you think you can. And it is also about supporting each other, not just your own success.

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Ever trip is a bit different. This time no one in the group had ever climbed outside before. There was some understandable anxiety, but each person in the group chose to climb. We had expert instruction from professional guides.

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The calm and reassuring nature of the guides helped provide a sense of safety that helped each person to try. We did “top rope” climbing, that is, ropes are strung from anchors at the top of each route. The rope is securely attached to the climbing harness. As a climber goes up the wall, slack is taken up in the rope, such that no matter what point a climber “falls”, they will only drop a foot or two.

Participants were also taught how to “belay” each other. This gave them a strong sense of responsibility and helped develop trust with each other.

This turned out to be an important aspect of the day, actually. Part of the value of wilderness therapy lies in the built-in emotional support system. When there is mutual trust among group members, it helps contribute to an emotionally safe environment for each person to express thoughts and feelings and be vulnerable. Even though the students were not solely responsible for controlling the fall of the climber, the perception of this was there. To fall off the rock, or simply let go if one is feeling tired and have a peer safely supporting you is very comforting. There is a practice of thanking your belayer after each climb.

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These events are referred to later once we are back in the field. In processing these events, the guys always see the metaphor, that without trusting each other, they would never leave the ground. They would never take (perceived) risks that are necessary for getting higher on the rock wall. Applied to emotional growth, the same is true. Without the trust and emotional safety in your group, there would be no sharing, no willingness to openly discuss problems, no vulnerability, and no growth.

Each person really enjoyed the experience. The location is incredibly beautiful. Climbers from around the world come to Central Oregon to climb here.

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Everyone “checked in” at the end of the day with feelings of gratitude, pride, and accomplishment.

Dr. J Huffine, Licensed Psychologist, is the Clinical Director, and a therapist of an adolescent boys group at Evoke at Cascades, a therapeutic wilderness program based in Bend, Oregon.

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