A story and reflection from the Adventure Therapy Aotearoa Conference

The Adventure Therapy Aotearoa (ATA) conference was a time of connections, inspiration, learning, growth and reflection for many. The conference opened with a Mihi Whakatau followed by we had a large group Whakawhanaunatanga, where we were able to see and talk about the relationships, connections and shared experience that existed within our ATA whanau. It was fantastic to see so many who were attending their first ATA conference. We were also able to see the range of people from different professions such as counselling, occupational therapy, social work, teachers, outdoor educators and more. There were so many different connections from ancestors to having a similar shaped thumb.

When the conference got underway there was often so many interesting sessions that it was hard to choose. I went to a workshop that combined Adventure Therapy (AT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I was pleasantly surprised to see an old favourite initiative activity, mine field, presented in a totally different way. Malcolm presented the activity using the scenario of young people returning home after program, and the challenges they faced were the mines. He also added a few human obstacles along the way. It was fantastic to get a fresh idea on an old favourite. Richard Wilkins shared some adventures and misadventure of working with disadvantaged youth. Then there was a break out space for cultural conversations.

Saturday afternoons have become as chance for people to have their own adventure. Activities on offer ranged from sea kayaking to high ropes. I choose to go on a nature walk and learn about nature as co-therapist. It was during this session that things changed for me and I entered a different head space. As soon as I took off my shoes and felt my feet on the grass, the earth, I was reminded of the power of nature. This helped me to reconnect with the reason why I do this kind of work, being in nature is good for our mind, body, spirit and health. During the session we talked out how being in nature can reduce heart rates, lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and encourages deeper breathing. If you want to know more about this check out the book that was launched at the conference - Nature Heals!

Saturday evening was engaging and motivating. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wanted to sail a waka after hearing the charismatic Hoturoa Barclay-Kerris talk about his, and his whanau's, oceangoing adventures on their 16 berth wakas. He talked about how he had found a name for what people have been doing with their friends and family for a long time, Adventure Therapy. As people all around the world know that being in the outdoors is good for our health and wellbeing.

Sunday saw more presenters such as Graham Pringle who talked about working with people who have experienced complex trauma. He gave lots of tips and guidance helpful for program facilitation such a treating people with respect and dignity while providing choice and remaining patient. Finally, we all came together to listen to our special guest all the way from Canada, Nevin Harper. He reminded us, with a quote, that there is no Wi-Fi in nature but you will find a better connection.

We closed with a Mihi Whakamutanga and people had that change to reflect on the weekend. There were lots of thank yous as so many people had put in so much work and effort to make the weekend happen. I went home refreshed and motivated about getting people, and myself, into green space and looking forward to the ATA conference in Dunedin in 2020.

By Kelly O'Hagan

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