Content #2: Group Management Strategies for Outdoor Staff as Prevention

Beyond addressing how to respond to a crisis, the Clinical First Responder and Behavior First Responder trainings take into consideration the importance of group management, and moreover, the creation and maintenance of a physical and emotional safety and an inclusive community. Research from residential treatment has shown that group management and facilitation skills, such as those mentioned in Chapter 2, can reduce the incidence of behavioral incidents (Izzo et al., 2016). Therefore, we believe that outdoor staff would benefit from training in the following components to build and maintain a healthy group culture as a way of preventing mental health crises from happening in the first place:

  • • Creating group norms
  • • Appropriately using natural and logical consequences and behavioral contracts
  • • Understanding stages of group development
  • • Facilitating experiential community-building activities that foster social and emotional learning
  • • Facilitating therapeutic individual and group conversations
  • • Prioritizing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In addition to teaching group management skills, outdoor program staff could learn other mental health crisis prevention strategies, such as addressing the basic need of their participants (Noltemeyer, Bush, Patton, & Bergen, 2012), the effects of adverse childhood experiences (Oral et al., 2016), utilizing choice theory to better understand human behavior and motivation (Bradley, 2014), developing participants’ social and emotional skills (Ashdown & Bernard, 2012), and teaching brain-based mindfulness strategies to enhance safety and judgment in the field (Ren et al., 2011). These relational tools can help create a sense of safety and belonging, which Lester and Cross (2015) have found to be strong protective factors in the face of mental health challenges.

Content #3: Crisis Intervention—Mental Health Response Strategies for Outdoor Staff

Even when intentional strategies are implemented to prevent the occurrence of mental health crises in the field, there is always the possibility that an individual’s coping capacity can be overwhelmed by a precipitating event. In this case, staff must also be equipped to respond compassionately and professionally in the face of a mental health crisis. Based on the various approaches to psychological first aid, we deem the following knowledge, skills, and abilities essential for staff to be able to effectively cope with and respond to psychological and behavioral incidents in the field:

  • • Assessment of possible harm to self or others
  • • Self-injury
  • • Suicide ideation
  • • Physical aggression and violence
  • • Professional requirements to report harm
  • • De-escalation and grounding techniques
  • • Anger management
  • • Crisis intervention
  • • Co- and self-regulation
  • • Mindfulness
  • • Communication skills
  • • Listen, affirm, validate (Clinical First Responder, 2019)
  • • Assess, listen, give reassurance, encourage, help, and support (National Council for Behavioral Health, 2019)
  • • Trauma-informed practice behaviors
  • • Participant-centered
  • • Physical and emotional safety
  • • Psychological first aid when necessary

These are a few key areas in which staff in outdoor program settings can be trained to assist with psychological risk in the field and respond effectively to a crisis. Along with training content, it is important to consider the process by which this vital information will be delivered. All of the approaches mentioned in this chapter incorporate experiential and interactive activities in teaching mental health prevention and response skills. Providing experiential learning and hands-on opportunities can help outdoor program staff to process information and reflect upon real-life applications. This, we feel, is key to learning the skills needed to navigate these experiences (Sand, Elison-Bowers, Wing, & Kendrick, 2014). It should be noted that online virtual learning activities are becoming more engaging as technology improves, and there are ways for people to practice their skills in this setting as well. What follows is a case example of an outdoor program staff member responding effectively to a mental health crisis which illustrates the three areas of content shared above.

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