Study Abroad Trip to New Zealand Puts Adventure Therapy Into Action

Jul 26, 2018 | Health, Human Performance and Recreation, Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders

You might say most study abroad trips are adventure therapy, but the University of Arkansas took 14 people to New Zealand this summer on a trip that focused, in particular, on learning about adventure therapy.

The degree programs in counselor education and recreation and sport management in the College of Education and Health Professions teamed up for the study abroad trip. David Christian, assistant professor of counselor education who teaches adventure therapy curriculum, and Merry Moiseichik, professor of recreation and sport management who teaches adventure leadership, led the group.

Chris Mizelle of Bentonville completed a bachelor’s degree in recreation and sport management shortly before going on the trip. He and Diarra Smith of Memphis, a third-year master’s student in counselor education, both described it as life-changing.

It was Mizelle’s first experience with adventure therapy, which is an approach to group counseling that uses action and experiences to facilitate client growth. Activities range from hiking in the wilderness to games traditionally played in physical activity classes.

Mizelle moved to Colorado shortly after returning from New Zealand. The trip gave him a direction for job-hunting, he said.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “The trip was eye-opening about the counseling realm.”

The group stayed with host families in Dunedin for the first leg of the trip, giving them a chance to see how New Zealanders live and to experience and compare their leisure with what is common in the United States. They also visited a local college and learned about counseling organizations and clinics in the area. They compared counseling approaches between New Zealand and the United States.

Next, they went on a six-day trip in a rugged, mountainous area with a company called Adventure Development.

“It was cool to see both ends of the spectrum,” Mizelle said. “We were the clients. We did activities that included both group and individual discussion. It was an incredible experience.”

The students and faculty members went mountain biking, hiking, camping, caving, rock climbing, and zip-lining. That was followed by a visit to Queenstown, where students could choose other adventures, including bungy-jumping and para-gliding.  They also practiced their leadership skills by learning new outdoor activities, leading activities at an elementary school, and identifying and practicing risk management skills.

As for Smith, she was not a fan of the outdoors before going on the trip.

“I don’t like going outside, the sun, the grass, even the Old Main lawn,” she said. “But the premise of counseling is that we ask our clients to allow themselves to be uncomfortable. I have to do the same if I want to produce good work in clients. So, I had to step out of my comfort zone.”

The students recorded each activity-packed day in a journal, reflecting on what they learned about themselves as they tried new things and interacted as a group.

“The relationships were more impactful than you would think,” Smith said. “Everyone was so cool; there were no conflicts. It’s about being in uncomfortable situations and relying on other people. It helps you deal with life issues. When I went back and read my journal, I saw a progression of my emotions and experiences.”

Group discussion sessions focused on those life issues as well as concepts such as managing risks and taking the initiative.

One thing the students learned was they could live without their phones for several days.

“When we had the chance to get them back, I took mine but just so I could listen to music and take pictures,” Mizelle said. “Not having my phone became one of my favorite parts of the trip.”

Smith became interested in adventure therapy after coming to graduate school at Arkansas. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and gender studies from the University of Tennessee.

“I want to do more adventure therapy after I graduate,” she said. “I like the outdoors more. I don’t have an aversion to it.”

In fact, Smith went so far as to say her dream job would be to work with a team-building, adventure-based company in Memphis.

“I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion without this trip,” she said.