This program was initiated by Mr. Dean Sassella, who, in 1993, won the Tattersall's Award for Enterprise and Achievement as a result of his efforts. Since 1992, over 150 residents from the Windana Therapeutic Community, and other T.C.'s throughout Australia & New Zealand, have participated in excess of 40 wilderness treks. Each of these has been of at least four days duration, experienced within remote environments. I am one of many who envisage the program's potential contribution to the field of drug rehabilitation. It is my intention to expand and develop the area of adventure therapy within the Windana structure. This program is designed to educate ex-drug users in fields of wilderness survival, navigation, first-aid, and conservation, and the logistics behind these activities. The object is to develop not only practical skills, but to prepare people emotionally for their integration back into society. This, we believe, is achieved through the accomplishment of the tasks we have set for them within the program, coupled with counselling surrounding their personal issues. The natural wilderness environment provides a powerful, yet gentle, catalyst to achieve these goals. Each project is primarily funded through contribution from the participants themselves.
The question is often asked, "Why do wilderness programs have such a marked impact on participants?"
Extended outdoor programs offer a unique combination of elements, including:
The trips are in a natural and remote wilderness environment, which is not only inherently valuable but also represents time away from entrenched behaviour patterns and a negative peer culture.
Our trips are designed so that participants are drawn into a commitment, and at times have few other options but to continue.
- The physical nature of the trips results in improved physical fitness and a sense of well being.
- The group processes involved in outdoor activities engender co-operation and trust.
There is a degree of challenge and risk, which for many of our participants is an important part of their way of life, others seem to have missed out on a sense of adventure in their lives, in both cases this is a drawcard.
Completion of many of the tasks on the trip, as well as the trip itself, generate a sense of achievement especially when it is clearly evident that the outcome is due to the individual’s own effort.
Extensive investigations have been carried out into the value of challenging outdoor experiences. Most of this research suggests a substantial increase in self esteem, (Ewert, 1982) and a reduction in re-offending rates. Self esteem is in turn linked to drug taking behaviour. Involvement in a program such as we are proposing is likely to reduce the re-offending rates by as much as half, (Abbott, 1991); this alone provides substantial cost benefits to society.
The participants benefit through the following outcomes:
- A decrease in offending, ‘acting-out’ behaviours, and drug use.
- An increase in their level of physical fitness and self-confidence.
- Improved "authority figure" and peer relationships.
- Improve low self esteem and enhance their life and leisure skills.
- Empower the participants with better coping skills under stress.
- Assist them in learning the consequences of their actions.
- Enhancement of the participants’ personal spirituality.
One of the challenging aspects of this program is taking 10 people over a 6 - 8 week period, and engaging them in the team building processes necessary to create a supportive group - a group in which each individual is able to trust and rely on the other members to place the group’s safety as their first priority. These are activities which can only be achieved as a group, they are beyond one person, alone. It is the sense of achievement which remains with the participant:
"The more intensive desert trek was awesome in its scope. Testing physical and mental endurance, stretching old limiting patterns and the internal boundaries of the team. The memory of this trek remains as spiritual and personal sustenance amidst an often difficult recovery." (from drug addiction)