Soberspace participants were given a unique and exciting challenge in May of 2002. They were asked to teach a horse to kick a ball!
So, what's this got to do with staying sober?!
The Soberspace adolescent recovery group is learning sobriety-strengthening skills
in a barnyard, of all places! The group of recovering adolescents who participate in the weekly program have all been through an intensive
outpatient program and have adequate skills in terms of understanding their disease. In order to use the skills taught in treatment,
they face a new challenge involving horses each week. The task one week in May, teaching a 1,000 lb animal to kick a ball, was designed
to teach the teens how to problem solve, think creatively, take risks, break a task down into small steps and to work as a team.
participants had learned that, in order to teach a horse, each task needs to be broken down into small steps, much like when problem
solving for themselves. The assignment read as follows: "You will be teaching the horses to kick a ball. Breaking the task down into
several SMALL steps - how precisely are you going to do that?" The adolescents were given a week to think about it and were to come
back with written steps, ready to demonstrate to the rest of the group. What followed was a process in which participants learned
to break an unfamiliar task down. . .step- by-step. They had a chance to discover and experience what WORKED, what DIDN'T and WHY.
A technique that worked with one horse, didn't necessarily work with the other. Some of the skills honed during this exercise included:
2. creative thinking
5. team work/cooperation
6. discovering the difference between intrinsic and
extrinsic rewards and how
that relates to their
7. communication skills
8. the components of a healthy relationship
9. delegation (& acceptance)
10. the importance of repetition and consistency when learning something
and much, much more!
Did they have fun? Yep, lots
of it. Could we have learned the same lessons in a more traditional group therapy setting? I doubt it. And, even if we did, the application
of the lessons learned in the traditional group session would still be abstract, not concrete as they are now.
Does the horse kick
a ball? Stoney (pictured to the side) can be let loose in the arena and when given the cue to 'kick ball' will approach the ball and
send it up to ten feet or more. Okie (not pictured) has had some challenges overcoming a fear of the ball, understanding the cue and
then completing the task as directed - not at all unlike their first attempts at recovery. The group didn't give up on him though
and today he 'kicks ball' too.
Research is supportive of experiential forms of therapy. In Dr. Nancy Tobler's 194 meta-analysis of
143 school based curriculum, she has published the following statistics in terms of changes made as a result of these differential
teaching styles: ** Non Interactive* Interactive
Edgar Dale's Cone of Learning (below) stresses that 90% of what you experience is
retained as opposed to 5 - 15% of verbal or written material received. Dr. William Glasser's research on learning supports the same.
A new report was undertaken by the Educational Testing Service with funding from the Milken Family Foundation (this testing organization
is the same one that does the PSAT, SAT and GRE testing). The report is titled: How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back
Into Discussions of Teacher Quality. The report is available at: www.ets.org but basically states that: *Students whose teachers emphasize
higher-order thinking skills and hands-on activities outperform their peers significantly. *Students who engage in hands-on learning
on a weekly basis outperform those who engage in this manner of instruction on a monthly basis. *Students whose teachers conduct hands-on
learning activities outperform their peers by 72% of a grade level in math and 40% of a grade level in science. In support of equine
assisted psychotherapy, a new study published by Doug Mann of Journey Home in Colorado indicates that equine therapy is more effective
that traditional, office-based therapy and is more cost efficient. That study and others can be found at: http://groups.msn.com/EAGALA/files.msnw
As new research regarding EAP is received, it's posted on the page.
So, in terms of teaching clients to stay sober -- teaching a horse
to kick a ball has applications that go far beyond the arena. The ability to break a task down into small attainable steps, to work
as a team, to be able to evaluate progress (or lack of it) and then to develop the strategies to correct ineffective methods, to be
able to interpret the body language of not only yourself but of your team members and the horse, to be able to anticipate consequences,
and celebrate the small victories as they occur all have far-reaching potential.
In fact, the clients developed "Kick Ball" as a cue
for the horse and yet "Kick Ball" has become a word to symbolize the ability to overcome obstacles and develop new skills. Here in
Soberspace we "Kick Ball" on a weekly basis! Why don't you join us? Linda Myers, MA, LICDC, LPC, Specialized Assessment & Counseling
"To double your success rate, double your failure rate." (Tom Watson Sr., founder of IBM