Department of Premier and Cabinet

The Wilderness Program

Mission

Facilitate personal, social and community development through wilderness-based risk-recreation activities.

Background

The Wilderness Program (WiP) assists people who are contemplating change to realise their potential and tap into the benefits flowing from making positive choices. The WiP provides courses opportunities to those most at risk through to the corporate sector, from urban and regional communities alike.

The bush counselling ethos

The Australian bush provides the participant with a stimulating medium cloaked in uncertainty, fear and an inherent sense of danger. Coincidentally these same ingredients also feature in the process of change.

The use of risk-recreation activities such as bushwalking, abseiling, caving and kayaking, provide an intervention that allows the individual the freedom to make choices. As a learning tool, future behaviours are influenced through the continued reinforcement of personal decisions which reap success and the extinguishing of behaviours that potentially cause distress or simply do not measure up.

The bush setting provides an opportunity to search for personal meaning unencumbered by modern day technological tools. This search for meaning is achieved through development of positive self-efficacy, non-verbal exercising through body movement, exploration of one’s emotional responses to the world and living in the here and now.

The social norms agreed to by participants include: giving and accepting constructive feedback; no put-downs of self or others; respecting physical and emotional safety; goal setting; confidentiality and abstinence.

Staff

A team of four full-time personnel manage the operations with the assistance of sixteen casual staff who serve the organisation as facilitators on our field programs.

Methodology

Person-centred therapy is a central tool for our relationship with the participants.  The creation of a caring and empathic tie is not only forged between the facilitator and the group but the tie also influences interaction between participants.  It allows facilitators to approach participants with sincerity and in a trusting environment in which they can talk openly.  

The person-centred approach relieves the facilitator of searching for solutions, freeing them to explore the emotional world of the participant, understand their issues and construct opportunities to assist them toward their goals.

Bush counselling programs utilise activities such as abseiling that promote task mastery.  Whilst peer modelling can play a major part in this process, task mastery can also be achieved with the aid of a supportive group environment. Individuals are encouraged to more readily attempt the task because the consequences of failing in front of their peers are significantly diminished. The use of incremental steps in the completion of various challenges is widely used.  

A non-interventionist approach by the facilitators allows participants the freedom to respond to challenges in any way they feel is appropriate and responsible.  It is clear that maintenance of positive future behaviour is more likely to occur through this approach than if advice subtle or otherwise is offered by the facilitator.

The selection of group members is a critical factor in creating a conducive environment in which effort can be rewarded. Peer dynamics play an important part in the extent of each participant's achievement, because the level of encouragement received by the individual can negate or promote their efforts.