Among the many goals of experiential therapy are to offer young people a chance to overcome perceived limitations, experience success, explore activities and find new reasons to be, in order to reach certain areas of the brain that may not be affected optimally with talk therapy.
For Abbi Myers, who just took over this position in SaintA’s Residential Treatment program, it’s more than that.
“This is so important because this is their childhood!” she said. “We should be giving them as many opportunities as possible to have a positive childhood.”
In addition to her three years as a youth counselor in Residential and her prior teaching experience, Abbi brings an abundance of enthusiasm and commitment to this position.
“She has really creative ideas on how to get the boys more engaged,” said her supervisor, Jeff Stephani, director of Residential Clinical Services.
Before formally assuming this position, as a youth counselor Abbi engaged the Residential boys in storytelling through yoga, guided meditation, animal assisted therapy and gardening. Now she also will help train the Residential staff on how to run groups and do some of the activities. Her work includes researching community opportunities and partnerships and coordinating activities, which also can include outdoor and recreational outings and art therapy, Jeff said.
“She will bring resources to us or our boys out to them,” Jeff said.
This kind of work really helps expand the boys’ experiences, he said, but it also increases skills along the way and exposes them to things in which they may find a lifelong interest.
For instance, Abbi is taking over SaintA’s smoothie business, in which Residential boys create and sell smoothies to staff and visitors on Fridays. Through this activity, they increase their math abilities, learn better interpersonal skills, and get a small touch of running a business.
Another goal of Abbi’s work is to help boys find a reason to be – one of SaintA’s Seven Essential Ingredients of Trauma Informed Care.
“If they find a strong one, it will help with their treatment,” Jeff said.
Activities that take the boys out into nature also really help with regulation, he said.
“When kids are connected to nature, they often are able to just sit calmly for a couple of minutes, and many of our boys can’t sit quietly for five minutes.”
Abbi already has had a lot of success helping out in SaintA’s animal assisted therapy groups, Jeff said. He recounted a recent story, in which a boy had been reluctant to share the things that were bothering him, but he just hugged the huge therapy dog, a Leonberger named Moose, and told the dog all about his anxieties.
“At just the right moment the dog gave the boy a kiss and he gave the dog a big hug,” Jeff said.
When the boys are out in nature, they become different children, Abbi said.
“Their guards drop and they can just be kids.”
Just driving to activities proves beneficial, she said, recounting a recent strawberry picking outing.
“As they get closer, they’re just squealing with delight!” she said.
And after the picking session, one boy said, “My gosh, you could live like this! You could really grow, and pick and eat your own food!”
These positive experiences outdoors can translate into success on the Residential units, as the boys remember the things they learned and any challenges they faced and overcame.
For Abbi personally, the benefits are much more than that.
“This is my dream job! This is it!”