Participant – “Aaron”
When Aaron was first referred to us, his mother described him as socially isolated and highly anxious. His psychological report painted a complex picture. Aaron had a diagnoses of ADHD and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’, as well as previous suicide attempts and self-harm behaviours.
When the program first started, Aaron was helpful and agreeable, but very distant from the group and rarely smiled. As the program went on and became more challenging, Aaron began to feel highly anxious. He said he felt hopeless and overwhelmed, saying “I can’t do this, I need to go home” over and over again.
The support of his peers and the staff helped Aaron go on. He was encouraged and reminded of his decision to do his best in moving through adversity.
In the final two nights of the program, Aaron was laughing and smiling, initiating group tasks and enjoying his time with other participants.
In follow-up meetings, Aaron and his mother commented that he has been less anxious since returning from the program. Aaron’s mother commented that she had never seen him so helpful and polite around the house. She reflected that she believes it was due to what he learned on the program, such as learning how it feels to accomplish tasks like cooking dinner and cleaning up afterwards.
Aaron stated that he feels better able to help around the house and he smiled as he explained that the life skills he has been learning since the Program will help him to move into independent living in the coming year. Aaron is now enthusiastically completing Year 12 at High School.
Participant – “Charlie”
Charlie, aged 14 years, had problematic behaviours at school. He often skipped school, used cannabis and hung out with a heavily-substance using friend group.
He was quietly spoken, energetic, strong and a willing participant throughout the program.
During the first few days of the program he spoke mainly to a few of the participants who he knew already and felt comfortable with.
But after the ‘River of Life’ therapeutic process and hearing everyone’s stories, Charlie felt much closer and less judgemental towards them. He felt guilty for judging them before and now realised that everyone always has a story and everyone has reasons for behaving the way they do.
In the second half of the program, specifically, after ‘The River of Life’ sharing exercise, Charlie’s behaviours started to noticeably change. He began mixing with the whole group and taking on more leadership opportunities. He was more interested in being around those who demonstrated leadership qualities and engaged more with the staff members.
In the ‘Honouring Circle’ exercise, several staff members commented that they viewed him like ‘a younger brother’ who they cared for, also that they believe he can achieve great things in his life, if he takes action and makes good decisions for himself.
In follow-up conversations with his mother, she said Charlie had been taking positive steps to move away from the behaviours of his friends group and had significantly reduced his substance use. School support staff reported that Charlie’s school attendance and participation had increased significantly, and he seemed much more enthusiastic about life. Charlie reported feeling more motivated since the program and was determined to maintain positive changes for himself, saying that he “wants to become a good man”.
Participant – John
John, an Aboriginal boy of Bundjalung country, aged 14 years and in foster care was the youngest member of the group. He was softly spoken when in front of the group and tended to hide from the group on regular occasions.
John had a history of defiant behaviour at school at home, stealing, inappropriate sexualised behaviours and a high level of self-blame.
When John shared his experiences of trauma to the group, he had tears streaming down his face. As the group listened, others also shed tears. In the ‘Honouring Circle’ on the final night of the program, participants acknowledged John’s courage and bravery in sharing his painful story with the group.
For John, feeling heard was one of the most important things that happened on the program. It was also a major turning point in his healing process.
In outreach follow up meetings, his foster mother reported massive changes to his attitude and behaviour since the program. She spoke of him taking personal responsibility ‘for the first time’. She said that he had started taking accountability and having a mature conversation about mistakes, rather than his previous pattern of running away.