Adventure Activities: Initiative Activities

In the context of treatment, initiative activities aim to engage participants in the initiation of emotional or behavioral action towards achieving a therapeutic goal. They require participants to take initiative at solving problems, making decisions, or communicating with one another. Often, they are related to solving problems, and typically encourage a group of people to work together toward a specified outcome. Many initiatives are structured to require physical and mental coordination among participants in order to be completed. Although successful completion is often the focus of clients, it is the process that participants engage in that is the primary focus of the treatment. Initiatives are commonly used with clients in a group context, but it is important to state that these activities are used in a variety of social contexts, including individuals and families.

Initiatives have been divided into two categories here: no and low prop initiatives and low constructed initiatives. There are many terms in the field used to describe or categorize these activities, and many activities are even commonly referred to by different names. There is some overlap within these categories as well. For example, Wild Woozy is an activity in which participants balance with one another to move across two cables that get farther apart. It is typically thought of as a low constructed initiative. However, practitioners have developed a portable Wild Woozy using two boards joined by a hinge that works in a similar fashion as the constructed wire activity.

Each activity can be structured in different ways to meet intended treatment outcomes or to be effective for varying populations. The categories used here are intended to assist the description of adventure activities and are not intended to be comprehensive or limiting. Creativity and flexibility are helpful skills when facilitating these activities because they allow a practitioner to address client needs in a more specific and targeted manner.

No and Low Prop Initiatives
No and low prop initiatives refer to activities that either have no extra items in order to participate or that have portable elements, such as cones, carpet squares, or hula hoops. An example of a low prop initiative is marble pass, in which clients are tasked with passing a marble from one point to another through tubes without touching the marble or allowing the marble to touch the ground. There are numerous examples of no and low prop initiatives, and each activity can be structured in different ways to better match the treatment needs of clients. These activities have great versatility not only in their adaptability, but also in the ability to facilitate them in almost any environment.

Low Constructed Initiatives
Low constructed initiatives refer to activities that have constructed components, often platforms or cables, that physically elevate clients during the experience. These activities typically involve an element of physical risk and require spotting to maintain a high level of safety. An example of a low constructed initiative is islands, in which participants are asked to get across three platforms using two boards. Components of problem solving, trust and cooperation are necessary to completing the activity.

Reasons for Using Initiatives
There are a variety of reasons a practitioner may decide to use initiatives as a therapeutic intervention. Initiatives, of any category of activity, have a great degree of flexibility regarding how the activity is structured and introduced for the client. Practitioners make several choices about what intent will be the focus of the activity. Additionally, clients are encouraged to seek their own meaning and outcomes from their experience. This is addressed in more detail in the facilitation section and is a good reminder that the intervention includes both the activity and the appropriate facilitation of that activity with the client.

Cooperation and Relationship Building
Initiatives typically require cooperative interactions in order to be completed. This structure supports clients in developing the ability to work together effectively and engage in positive interactions. There is an opportunity with initiatives to assist clients in developing effective social skills through feedback and support. Allowing the group to work through issues together in the context of the treatment environment supports clients in acquiring the skills needed to develop healthy relationships. This includes the development of empathy, conflict resolution skills, and an understanding of effective functioning (Rohnke & Butler, 1995).

Trust and Cohesion
Trust and cohesion are commonly sought outcomes of initiative activities. Initiative activities create situations of clients providing support, maintaining safety, and taking care of others. In addition to developing aspects of trust, clients are asked to manage healthy risk by choosing to participate and allowing themselves to trust others. Some activities lend themselves more to these outcomes than others. When the goal is to build trust among group members, activities can be structured to require peers to be responsible for the safety of their group members. Each group member typically has the opportunity to build trust by managing this responsibility successfully. Alternately, the goal may be to build a trusting relationship between the client and practitioner, among family members, or with authority figures. When clients and practitioners successfully manage the safety and well being of others, it supports the development of trust and cohesion. Another potential treatment outcome is supporting clients in managing issues of boundaries, personal space, and appropriate or inappropriate touch. It is critical that a practitioner assesses the client accurately in terms of readiness to manage this type of activity safely (Rohnke & Butler, 1995).

Problem Solving, Communication and Coping
Engaging in initiatives typically requires some level of problem solving by clients. Clients are asked to manage the steps of problem solving, including generating ideas, developing plans, implementation, making errors, evaluating and revising. This process can be new to clients or frustrating, which can encourage clients to identify, develop, and use coping skills. Clients in a group setting have the opportunity to observe and learn skills from one another as they work through activities. Clients develop emotional management strategies that they can implement and evaluate. Communication is central to this process, and the effectiveness of the client's communication impacts the positive or negative results of the client's efforts. Initiatives allow clients to not only identify and address issues in these areas, but also allow clients to develop and practice new skills within the context of the treatment environment. Quality facilitation is important to this process in order to maintain a level of growth without setting up the client to experience levels of stress that are debilitating or unmanageable.

Responsibility and Self-Awareness
Initiatives create situations of clients being responsible for themselves and others. Clients are able to increase their self-awareness regarding their level of functioning through practitioner and peer feedback. Activities are often structured with consequences that provide feedback to the client about behaviors and appropriate facilitation will assist the client in connecting this feedback to treatment objectives. Initiatives may challenge client's pre-conceived notions about themselves, others and practitioners in a way that allows clients to change prior negative cognitions or to be more aware of their current functioning. Additionally, with this awareness and feedback, clients are asked to be accountable and responsible for their behavior and its resulting impacts on the client and others. Clients are asked to be present, engaged and focused on the process.

Practitioner Guidelines for Using Initiative Activities
Initiatives provide wonderful opportunities for clients to reach their identified treatment outcomes when used appropriately. The range of initiatives activities is tremendously diverse in relation to cognitive difficulty, physical engagement, risk, and investment on the part of the client. It is critical that use of these activities in a treatment context is paired with quality facilitation and aligned with the following practitioner guidelines:

  • Attend to activity selection carefully to ensure treatment environment, client functioning, safety, level of risk and therapeutic intent are all taken into consideration (Rohnke, 1984, 1989; Rohnke & Butler, 1995; Priest & Gass, 1997). 
  • Sequence initiatives to support client in movement toward treatment goals by progressively building skills and attending to assessment information. The facilitation section addresses sequencing (Priest & Gass, 1997). 
  • Activities should not be intentionally structured to be traumatizing, debilitating or unmanageable for clients. Attend to the perceived physical and emotional risks experienced by clients, including the cognitive and emotional investments (Priest & Gass, 1997). 
  • Monitor for safety, both physical and emotional, and support adherence to any established expectations of clients (Priest & Gass, 1997). 
  • Be aware of client cultural beliefs and values about working with others, physical boundaries, and play. Be able to cope with client reactions in a culturally competent manner. 
  • Initiatives that require spotting and safety training should be facilitated by appropriately trained practitioners. Practitioners should adequately prepare and train clients who will be responsible for aspects of safety during an activity, such as spotting. 
  • Initiatives instructions may be ambiguous to allow the client to cope with the associated problem solving (Rohnke & Butler, 1995). 
  • Allow clients to make their own choices and deal with the consequences. Allow clients to fail or create novel solutions. 
  • Focus on the therapeutic intent of the activity but continue to assess in order to identify emerging outcomes or issues that present during the course of activities. 
  • Practitioners should attend to issues of counter-transference. In particular, focus on the process inherent within the activity rather than focusing on successful completion of the activity.