Interpersonal Skills in Wilderness Therapy for Young AdultsJune 15, 2020
Wilderness therapy programs are relationship-based, which gives young adults the opportunity to not only talk about ways to improve their relationships with others but also to practice these skills in real-time. Clinical and academic programming at Trails Momentum is designed to help young adults build confidence in their interpersonal skills.
Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important for Success?
Many young adults take the idea of becoming independent very literally and believe that they have to do everything by themselves. Instead, it is more realistic to develop interdependence with others by learning how to set boundaries and when to ask for what they need. Often, young adults come to wilderness therapy struggling with social isolation and social anxiety, which makes it more difficult for them to reach out to others for support. In the face of conflict, they are more likely to shut others out or hide their feelings from others in order to diffuse the situation.
Conflict and challenges are inevitable, but many young adults don’t have the skills to navigate these situations without feeling overwhelmed. This is when it becomes critical to be able to recognize and express one’s emotions, consider multiple people’s perspectives, and ask others for feedback about ways to respond better.
Introduction to Communication and Leadership
One of the academic seminars that we offer for college credit at Trails Momentum is the elective, Introduction to Communication and Leadership. This course includes an exploration of various concepts and types of conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, expressing emotions, practice of communication within small groups, as well as problem-solving and decision making through leadership skills.
Our academic programming is designed to mirror the skills that young adults are learning through other elements of our adventure therapy program. Everything they learn in a classroom setting is discussed while in the field, participating in other activities.
Following a parallel academic process helps young adults become re-familiarized with an academic setting, as many of the students that we work with have dropped out of college or postponed academic goals due to lack of confidence. While high school may have been focused on core classes and memorizing some concepts that they may not use in their everyday lives, college courses are designed to focus on special interests and current events that feel more relevant in the real world.
Practicing Conflict Resolution Skills with Peers
At Trails Momentum, one of students’ favorite interpersonal skills is the acronym VOMP, which is often used as a verb when addressing conflict within the group. This acronym is part of our daily wilderness vocabulary and breaks down mediation techniques into 4 easy to remember steps.
Whenever two individuals are becoming frustrated with each other and the group notices tension, a staff member or neutral peer might suggest “let’s VOMP it out” and will offer to facilitate a conversation between the individuals. Sometimes, VOMPing happens in the moment while participating in adventure activities, but depending on the situation, students are often encouraged to take space from each other and jot down notes to prepare them to express themselves when they are more regulated.
- Voice/Vent. Each person describes how they believe the other’s actions have impacted them, other individuals, and the group dynamics by focusing on the underlying feelings that were brought up in response to their actions.
- Own/Ownership. Each person accepts responsibility for their actions, using “I statements,” instead of pointing fingers at the other. This gives them an opportunity to hear both sides of the story and offers space to reflect on how they may have unconsciously fed into the conflict cycle.
- Moccasin. Each person tries to express empathy for the other person by “standing in their moccasins.” This helps students practice taking another person’s perspective. Each person is encouraged to validate the other person’s emotional experience by saying things like, “I understand why you might have felt that way” or “I might have done the same thing if I had experienced things from your side.” Often, this sparks conversations about mentorship, as students who may have been in the program longer may reflect on similar choices they had made either at home or towards the beginning of their treatment process.
- Plan. Both individuals try to come up with a plan for how to avoid this problem in the future or how to address it more promptly before either of them become escalated. This is an opportunity for students to reflect on what needs they may have been trying to meet and give each other feedback on alternative responses. Some common alternatives may include taking space from each other, communicating needs to the group, or reaching out to a 3rd party individual to help de-escalate conflict.
Tools like VOMPing can be applied both in wilderness therapy and in conversations with others once they leave. While naming these multi-step skills makes it easier for young adults when they are first learning these communication strategies, these conversations happen more naturally over time, as this language becomes integrated into their everyday lives.
Trails Momentum Can Help
Trails Momentum is a wilderness therapy program for young adults ages 18-25 to transition to independence and improved self-awareness. The program uses adventure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a strength-based approach. It is a small and nurturing community that focuses on goals of improved self-regulation and overall functioning for the young adults. Trails Momentum gives students the skills they need to lead healthier, happier lives. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 877-296-8711 for more information.