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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Tree Climbing Therapy
December 8, 2010 - 9:56pm

This weekend I took my daughter tree climbing as part of the new therapy she’s been receiving. Katie was given a rope, a helmet and a harness, and shown how to manipulate knots and footholds to inch her way to the top of 50-foot tall tree. The fun part was when the instructors persuaded Katie to return upside-down on the rope--‘spider-girl’-like--with her feet clinging to a knot, until her hands touched the ground.

Katie’s therapist, D. Maurie Lung, is finishing doctoral work on therapeutic methods that engage and challenge the body as well as the mind. She has co-written a book on the Power of One: Using Adventure and Experiential Activities within One-on-One Counseling Sessions. Katie and Maurie take “experiential adventures” together, walking to the park outside her office, or attempting to build pyramids out of golf balls and then moving the pyramid without dislodging the balls. (The key is learning to ask someone for assistance…). Most sessions include some form of bodily engagement.

I must admit that I’ve never aimed my limited cash savings towards psychological therapy. (Even though I’ve been obsessively watching HBO’s In Treatment series.) The first time I went to therapy was when my marriage was falling apart, and by the time I went, it was already too late. I have more often taken my children for family therapy, which seemed to help us, but which we never continued for very long. The few times I’ve been involved with therapy, I’ve always longed for more, recognizing the value of the empathetic listener who is paid to help you and your children problem-solve your complicated selves.

Katie had a sleepover party recently at my Florida house with two other girlfriends. All three girls are children of divorce. At some point during the evening it was revealed that all three are in therapy — a discovery that forced me to wonder whether I’m now officially a member of the ‘helicopter parent’ club: Overanxious. Overbearing. Overly concerned.

Are children of divorce all in pain and in need of therapy? Do divorced parents have difficulty relating to their kids? Are divorced parents full of guilt (in addition to being over-worked), so hiring an expert seems like the most efficient way to help a depressed child?

Before seeking her doctorate and starting her own practice, Maurie Lung was an active member of the Pathfinders — the tree climbing group in the Southeast that works with youth and adult groups on problem-solving, conflict resolution and self-confidence issues. I noticed on their brochure that they are accredited by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE). When I looked the group up, I found that they’ve been around — not surprisingly -- since the 1970’s, about when we started to recognize how humans adversely affect their natural environments. Maurie is chair of the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group for AEE, which lists a Chinese proverb on their web site:

Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.

Psychology is an area about which I know little, but which I am instinctively drawn towards; particularly where psychological insights connect with educational practices. Engaging the body experientially--through exercising, dancing, or deep breathing practices--has always been how I’ve tried to shift my mood or my loneliness. Forcing students to stand up periodically during three-hour courses helps to shift the classroom mood. Maybe I’ll try to get students to build golf ball pyramids together.

The Pathfinders have organized another tree-climbing event for Jan. 1, 2011. Only $10 a climb! I think I know how we’re spending our New Year’s day….


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