Participant – AH
AH, aged 17 years, was described by his mother as socially isolated and highly anxious. His psychological report painted a very concerning picture and included a diagnoses of ADHD and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’, as well as previous suicide attempts and self-harm behaviours.
Early in the program AH was quite distant from the group and rarely smiled, though compliant and helpful. At several particularly challenging parts of the program, AH came to a highly anxious state of feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, as though he could not go on, stating “I can’t do this, I need to go home” over and over.
Through the support of fellow participants and staff, AH was encouraged and reminded of his decision to do his best in moving through adversity.
In the final two nights of the program, AH was laughing and smiling, self-initiating group tasks and interacting in a friendly manner with other participants.
In outreach follow-up meetings, both AH and his mother commented that AH has been less anxious since returning from the program. AH 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.
AH’s mum 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, i.e. in terms of learning what it takes to accomplish tasks like cooking a dinner for others and cleaning up afterwards. AH is now enthusiastically completing Year 12 at High School
Participant – CM
CM, aged 14 years was identified as having problematic behaviours at school, associating with substance-using social groups and developing problematic cannabis use behaviours and very high truanting rates.
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.
After the “River of Life” therapeutic process, CM made the comment that after hearing everyone’s stories he felt much closer and less judgmental towards them. He expressed that 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, CM’s behaviours started to noticeably change. He began mixing with the whole group and taking on more leadership opportunities and initiative. He appeared to be more interested in being around those who demonstrated leadership qualities and engaged more with the staff members.
In the ‘Honouring Circle’, 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 CM had been taking positive steps to move away from his current group of ‘using’ and had significantly reduced his substance use. School support staff reported that CM’s school attendance and participation had increased significantly, and he seemed much more enthusiastic about life. CM 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 – JW
JW, 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.
Previous issues included defiant behaviour at school and home, stealing, inappropriate sexualised behaviours, and a high level of self-blame due to his childhood experiences.
Having experienced horrendous trauma in his past, JW told his story, with tears streaming down his face. As the group listened, others also shed tears in hearing his story. JW later reported that feeling heard by the group at this time was one of the most important things that happened on the Program, and was a major turning point in his healing.
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’; for example, in owning up to his mistakes and having a mature conversation about it, rather than his previous pattern of running away. She reports ‘It’s as though he’s really turned into a man since the Program’.
In the ‘Honouring Circle’ on the final night of the Program, the other participants acknowledged his courage and bravery in sharing his painful story with the group.