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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1998 Issue #50

(and its value as a counseling tool in emotional growth schools)
by: Linda Shaffer, Ed. Consultant
Sandpoint, Idaho 

All emotional growth schools are not alike! In their counseling tools, nineteen among the more well-known schools use a tool the others do not, the Interactive or Marathon-Like Workshop. 

In most emotional growth schools it is standard practice to utilize the group session process 2 to 3 times a week with feedback among peers as a major counseling tool — all guided by the staff facilitators. Individual counseling also is implemented on a regular basis with an assigned therapist. The more informal version of this style of counseling is the ride in the pick-up truck or the walk down to the pond or the farm. 

Not every school, however, utilizes the Interactive or Marathon-Like Workshop. I find in assisting families that some are open to this counseling style for their children and for themselves (in the parent workshops). And, some prefer to participate only in the more private one on one family counseling sessions a school may offer. 

Those schools who Do Use these workshops are: Cascade School, Whitmore, CA; Mount Bachelor Academy, Prineville, OR; Swift River Academy, Cummington, MA; Hidden Lake Academy, Dahlonega, GA; Crater Lake School, Sprague River, OR; CEDU Schools, CA and ID; Spring Ridge Academy, Spring Valley, AZ Cross Creek Manor, LaVerkin, UT; Paradise Cove, Apia, W. Samoa; Tranquility Bay, Mandeville, Jamaica; Spring Creek Lodge, Thompson Falls, MT; Copper Canyon Academy, Camp Verde, AZ And for the over 18 year old students — Northstar, Bend, OR and Benchmark, Redding, CA 

Two other schools considering implementing the Interactive Workshop are Aspen Ranch in Loa, Utah and Montana Academy in Marion, Montana. 

Why do these schools choose to use the workshop tool? In my visits to schools, talking with students and speaking with parents, I hear very frequently “and those workshops were pretty Incredible. I really learned a lot about myself. They were so very creative....not always easy, but I hadn’t felt some of those feelings for SO long!”

In my experience with the schools that offer this additional counseling component, I see this process as a most creative way to reach adolescents who are frightened, well guarded, and especially clever with their deflecting and avoidance skills. This type of workshop with its various exercises seems to step into the emotional life of a young person at a level that, for some, is difficult to reach in any other way. The key, I believe, is delivering the workshop with Care and Skill. 

Various Components of these interactive workshops include psychodrama, role playing, dads, bioenergetics, creative visualization exercises, supportive music, and various types of “stretch” exercises to take one outside one’s comfort zone. 

Students in the interactive workshop often are excited about them because they indicate Points Of Passage within their school and their goal of getting “to the top of the mountain” and completing all the workshops. The workshops generally follow child growth and development all over again as espoused by Erik Erikson. Students recall their perceptions of events from childhood that may affect their present day thinking and feelings. They get to see some of their “truths” instead of the masks and confusion they wear. They get an opportunity to look at “who are their real friends”. They review goals, images, Talents and passions, and in finding dreams again learn how to construct a healthy base under those dreams. 

The workshops are diverse. They are filled with playfulness. There is laughter, sadness, anger, remembering, Not Wanting To Remember, learning to Trust through initiatives, and fearing to trust in the workshops (and in life). The workshops can build a closeness among participants. Individuals can choose to be vulnerable, outrageous, tender, and connect with one’s loving self. There are moments of wanting the workshop to be over, and moments of not wanting the feelings of the workshop to ever end. 

Students Want to be in these workshops and at the same time, They Don’t. The energy, excitement, anxiety, And Completion of the workshop become markers along the way toward graduation from “the program,” as well as in growing up. Students see their peers ahead of them finish a workshop and tell the rest of the school in a rewelcoming back to the school gathering that they learned “I am a good friend,” “I have a lot to offer the world,” “I am a caring person,” “I Love My Family Deeply,” and so on. All this from children who may have acted in direct opposition to this in the past. Moments of insight are gained through play, introspection, and trust on a safe “Island” called a workshop or seminar, where one can feel and practice a few miles away from real life. 

Parents who attend the workshops designed specifically for parents often make statements such as “there is no place in my daily life where I am so honest about how I feel as I am when I’m here.” I’ve heard others say during a break time, “you know parts of this are Not Easy, But it feels so good to feel and to let myself go into areas I usually shut away. I’m feeling more alive.” And sometimes with a smile, and maybe a little run mascara from a previous exercise, some will say “what are you going to do to us after lunch?”

Some parents acknowledge something they say they Never Thought they would — “I am glad my child’s behavior came to a head finally because it was enough for us to make this kind of a decision; our whole family has grown from the experience. If my child’s acting out behavior had been somewhat less we probably would not have enrolled him/her and would have gone on bumping along dragging around Baggage for who knows how long.” When I see the Sparkle in the Eyes of students who have experienced these workshops, I know they have learned something about their true selves in a way that was very challenging — and they feel proud to have taken on the challenge and “done it!” One program I visited had two workshop staff moving on to other schools and the students were So Worried they might not get to continue the process. Another young man, finishing two workshops of this sort at a school asked me where he could go later in an over 18 year old program and continue this process. He so wanted to continue the workshop insights, care, intimacy, and friendship that had lovingly pushed him through doorways he had, at first, been incredibly fearful of going through. 

Where did these workshops come from? From creative minds. They came from often controversial influences and beginnings — Synanon, Lifespring, est, — out of the ‘60’s — and from many of the earliest creative innovators in the mental health field. Through years of evolution, and years of individual creativity in adapting these workshops to adolescents, came “workshops” and “seminars”. I see them, if designed with care and sensitivity to the individual, as benefiting anyone — but, especially the frightened and refusing child, the counseling savvy/issue dodging child who knows what to say, and the intellectual child who tries at all costs to not touch upon feelings. 

Training for the originators of today’s workshops often involved participation themselves in some earlier workshops in Their Own Growth Process and, thus, redesigning these workshops for their own schools. Some have established companies that offer various versions of these workshops today for Corporate America and also design special programs for emotional growth schools. 

I would suggest the spread of these workshops in the emotional growth school setting says something about the insights and results for participants. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about - Results Education, both academic and emotional. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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