5Nature-Based Therapies: Life-Changing Alternatives / Linda Nebbe
10 Reversing the Cycle of Despair / Mark Kennedy
16 The Spiritual Dimension of Nature Therapy / Nathania Gartman
19Working With Animals in a Healing Context / Susan Brooks
23 Where the Wild Things Teach: Zoos and Aquariums as Educational and Emotional Aids / Nancy A. Hotchkiss
27 Outlaw Riders: Equine-Facilitated Therapy With Juvenile Capital Offenders / Leslie Moreau
Encouraging Creative Alternatives
31Therapeutic Sharing: Using Positive Music With Children Who Are Angry / Gordon R. Hodas
36 Experience Beyond Words: Giving Children a Voice Through Poetry Writing / Karenlee Clarke Alexander and Linda Shaw-Benson
39 The Tiger Quilt: Fostering Collaboration Among Youth With Special Needs / Janetta Fleming Shireen Pavri, Deborah Fell, and Johnell Bentz
43 City Gardens: Growing Success for Troubled Teens / Isabel S. Abrams
46 Meeting the Needs of Children and Youth With Challenging Behaviors / Lyndal M Bullock and Anthony L. Menendez
53 Play Therapy for Traumatized Children: The Enfants Refugies du Monde Program / Nicole Dagnino and Sophie Naudeau
from the editors
Michael E. Kaufmann
Though I was a bright and willing child, by elementary school I already showed difficulty keeping up with other children. I had to repeat the second grade and then the fourth grade. My mathematical skills were far below those of my classmates, and, despite countless tutors, I could not master even simple arithmetic. Socially, I was a shy loner and did not get along well with my peers. The stress of my poor academic performance increased over the years, impacting my daily life and placing pressure on my parents.
The school psychologist offered a vague diagnosis of "immaturity" and "laziness," and no official intervention was suggested other than more discipline. So the trouble continued. In hindsight, I suspect that a learning disability, or perhaps even attention deficit disorder, might have played a part in my struggles. It is no exaggeration to say that I was at risk academically, socially, and personally. I was in need of help. My life could easily have deteriorated, as too many such lives do, into self-destructive behavior and unfulfilled promise.
Finding My Alternative
Contact with animals was my alternative. From the age of 6, I was able to go to the local zoo after school and on weekends and work with the zookeepers, shadowing their every move, helping them with their rounds, and caring for the animals. I thrived in this work, and my interest in animals was insatiable. Helping adults take care of ponies, tropical birds, and elephants motivated me and gave me a purpose I was unable to find in school or at home. By the time I was 10, it was easy for me to recite the taxonomy of hundreds of species, memorize complex ethological terminology, identify facts about the exotic homes of polar bears and anteaters, and to measure quantities of feed accurately. I excelled and soon became a fixture at the zoo, accepted by the zookeepers and respected for my competence. At the same time, my teachers were ordering psychological evaluations, I was moved from one school to another because of my inability to learn, and my parents were becoming increasingly concerned about my future. I had two lives, the underachieving one at school and the vibrant one at the zoo. It was the life at the zoo that sustained me and most shaped my future.
We All Need Alternatives
How many children today grow up with stressors far worse than mine? How many never have the chance to find alternative environments and activities to motivate them and help them through their individual challenges? How many children have talents and interests that go unrecognized and un-nurtured because the traditional academic setting, the mental health treatment protocol, or the realities of today’s society do not recognize alternatives?
In his book Innovative Interventions in Child and Adolescent Therapy (1988), Charles E. Schaefer gathered the work of several child psychologists who were exploring alternative paths to reaching young people. In this volume, Jerrold Brandell explained the role of storytelling in child psychology, Helen Payne wrote of the use of dance movement therapy with troubled youth, and Judi Weiser told of her work with photography and adolescent clients. These professionals used adjunct activities to spark interest and to build bridges to children who were often unreachable in traditional ways.
My reading of Schaefer and others, along with the informal intervention I benefited from at the zoo as a child and the discovery of an emerging discipline called Animal Assisted Therapy/Activities (AAT/AAA), cemented my belief that animals, plants, and the outdoor environment, if facilitated correctly, can have a major impact on people in multiple academic and clinical settings (Kaufmann, 1997). Advocating for this concept has become my profession and passion.
A Growing Field
There is a growing group of educators, psychologists, mental health professionals, and parents who understand the role of alternatives in reaching children. In this issue of Reaching Today ‘s Youth, we hear from creative men and women who use art, music, games, nature, plants, and animals to create settings that help young people thrive. Increasingly, literature is available to help those seeking methodology and how-to advice, especially regarding work with animals. Katcher and Wilkinson (1994) published on animal-assisted therapy for children with attention deficit/hyperactivity and conduct disorder. Recently, Aubrey Fine published his excellent Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice (Fine, 2000), compiling the work of more than 30 highly credentialed contributing authors.
Shadows of Doubt?
So why are alternatives in education and therapy still often relegated to the realm of crystals, herbal remedies, and other suspect phenomena — or looked down upon as something nice but rather impractical? Perhaps making room for alternatives in any field requires a mental shift and necessitates taking steps away from a collective comfort zone.
Many of us who work with children are trapped in inflexible systems that are limited by a lack of funding, an overwhelming workload, facility constraints, low salaries, and the ever-present mantra of our age: There just isn’t enough time. These realities can stifle enthusiasm, discourage creativity, and can result in burnout of good teachers, therapists, and childcare workers. And herein lies yet another argument for alternative approaches: Ultimately, those of us who work with young people need alternative approaches as much as do the children we serve.
Expanding the Field
In a garden, each plant requires a particular type of soil, varying amounts of water, different intensities of light, and a specific mix of nutrients if it is to thrive. A successful gardener must be flexible, knowledgeable about these needs, and willing to offer each plant the right conditions. An English rose, a Baobab tree, and a cactus cannot grow in the same soil; each requires alternative conditions in order to thrive.
Each child, like each plant, is different. All are looking to set roots and grow; we are their stewards. Some carry serious diagnoses, are medicated, and get passed through schools and residential treatment programs. Some are loved, while others are rejected by overwhelmed parents. Abuse, neglect, and exploitation too often are part of their lives. How will playing with such children change their future? How can involving them with animals help address their very real medical and psychological needs? Can quilting with a child reduce anger, foster resilience, strengthen self-esteem, and instill hope in the future?
We hope you will find some answers and inspiration in this issue of Reaching Today’s Youth, which offers the insights and experiences of those who pursue alternative paths. They advocate for their work, are encouraged by its impact, and are willing to help others follow their leads. Their enthusiasm and energy is contagious.
In the first section of this issue, New Ways of Thinking, author Linda Nebbe introduces us to nature therapy, its history, and its many forms. Mark Kennedy discusses using alternative therapies to break the cycle of despair. Nathania Gartman concludes this section with her examination of the spiritual dimension of nature therapy.
Author Susan Brooks begins the second section, Help From the Animal Kingdom, with insights and strategies for healing youths with exposure to animals. Nancy Hotchkiss explains the many benefits of community zoos and aquariums. Leslie Moreau’s discussion of equine-facilitated therapy for violent juvenile offenders rounds out this section.
The issue’s final section, Encouraging Creative Alternatives, begins with Gordon Hodas’s analysis of the use of music with angry youth. Therapeutic poetry writing is the next alternative, offered by authors Karenlee Clarke Alexander and Linda Shaw-Benson; Janetta Fleming and her co-authors explore the educational and therapeutic uses of quilt making; and Isabel Abrams presents the many benefits horticultural programs can bring to youth. The issue’s last article describes an alternative therapy that is reaching youth worldwide. Nicole Dagnino and Sophie Naudeau report on the organization Enfants Refugies du Monde (Refugee Children of the World) and how it uses play therapy to reach thousands of refugee children who have been forced to grow up too fast.
Fine, A. (Ed.). (2000). Handbook on animal assisted
therapy: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice. San
Diego: Academic Press.
Schaefer, C. E. (1988). Innovative interventions in child and adolescent therapy. New York: Wiley.
Expanding the Circle of Caring
Lyndal M Bullock
This issue of the journal is the last issue to be edited by Alan Meredith Blankstein, the founder and senior editor of Reaching Today’s Youth: The Community Circle of Caring Journal. Alan’s desire to advocate for environments in which all children can succeed led him to create the National Educational Service in 1987 and to launch Reaching Today’s Youth in 1996. From the beginning of the NES, Alan has been cornmitted to helping those who work with youth as they develop supportive relationships with one another and with the youth they serve. This commitment has been evident in a number of high-profile PBS teleconferences and C-SPAN programs such as Breaking the Cycle of Violence and Creating Learning Organizations, and in the publication of groundbreaking and award-winning resources, including Reclaiming Youth at Risk, the Discipline with Dignity resources, Reconnecting Youth, From Rage to Hope, and Professional Learning Communities at Work.
Alan launched Reaching Today’s Youth as a forum for developing community circles of caring among those working with and for youth. The journal has included all voices in the discussion of timely issues — children and youth, those working directly with them, and leading researchers —with an emphasis on practical, strengths-based approaches to creating supportive and successful environments. Authors have included such leading advocates and thinkers as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jonathan Kozol, William Glasser, Alfie Kohn, Linda Lantieri, James Garbarino, Barbara Huff, Martin Seligman, and countless others. Reaching Today’s Youth has also been proud to publish articles from others on the front lines — practitioners, children, and their families.
I wish Alan the best as he continues his efforts on behalf of children and youth through the HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to supporting educational leaders across disciplines as they strive to create environments that ensure the social, emotional, and academic success of all young people. Created in 1989 as the NES Foundation and renamed in 1998, the HOPE Foundation (Harnessing Optimism and Potential through Education) can be reached at email@example.com, 3925 Hagan Street, Suite 105, P0. Box 906, Bloomington, IN 47402-0906, phone 812-355-6000, fax 812-323-8140.