Through my years of facilitating adventure-based counseling activities, I have seen the benefits of slowing down so as to get the maximal therapeutic gain out of a particular activity rather than focusing on building successes by moving quickly from one activity onto the next. A recent experience with a group captured this shift in my approach.

Being Mindful in Recovery

I was working with a group of people in early recovery from addiction. I had set up a “stick puzzle” using foam noodles as the primary material. I had preset a large triangle made up of nine foam noodles – three on each side of the triangle.

The triangle has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous to represent the three points of maintaining sobriety through AA: recovery, service and unity. We discussed each of these and also the extent to which group members were getting connected with a recovery program outside of the treatment center.

The challenge was for the group to move five of the “sticks” to create a total of five triangles out of the large single triangle. The group fumbled its way to success through a series of partial attempts to solve the puzzle. If only the end result were taken into consideration, the group had been successful as they completed the task as directed. However, their process had been haphazard and unfocused. I reset the original large triangle and asked the group to repeat forming the solution, only this time I asked them to talk through their plan before putting it into action. They discussed the geometry behind the solution and appointed a group member to move the sticks.

Application of Adventure Therapy to Recovery

Having worked through two distinct attempts, the group was in a good position to reflect on other situations in which advance planning would be likely to serve them well. For example, one group member said she had plans to attend a friend’s wedding where she knew there would be drinking and drug use going on. She was able to plan to stay connected to other people in recovery. Other group members identified other potentially dangerous settings in which coming up with a sober plan could be of value.

By slowing down and repeating one activity with a specific intention rather than moving quickly onto to the next, I was able to facilitate a productive therapeutic process that I believe was more valuable to the patients than achieving quick success would have been. In this way, the novelty of the stick puzzle allowed the patients to work with serious and important issues.

Barney Straus is an adventure-based therapist in private practice. He leads groups at Foundations Chicago and well as through Adventure-Forward Therapy, a practice dedicated to using adventure to assist people in recovery with their therapeutic goals. Barney’s new book, Healing in Action: Adventure-Based Counseling with Therapy Groups, is now available. He is available to train other therapists in adventure-based methods.

Barney Straus, LCSW, CGP


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