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What Therapy Looks Like

Experiential therapy is a key part of treatment at Oxbow Academy. This approach doesn’t look or feel like traditional therapy. It’s hands-on and in the moment. Recently, Residential Director Bill Pollock and Equine Director Tony North took the boys on a trail ride. Here is how Bill and some of the boys described the event. It’s a little long but we think you’ll enjoy seeing what therapy looks like at Oxbow:

From Bill:

“Thinking about the different advantages of working in the residential setting with our boys. I was reminded of the opportunity we have as mentors to influence and encourage change within each young man that comes to Oxbow. We spent a weekend with some of our students, participating in a service project that involved miles of fencing and a full day of work.  At the end of the day myself and Tony (another mentor) had each spent time with all the boys individually teaching, talking, and listening as the boys talked in an environment that was free from the every day Oxbow. Each boy was gaining perspectives that surrounded hard work and pushing through fatigue as they got tired. It was interesting to listen to perspectives and analogies from the boys. Each of them telling their own story and relating the experience to things that were pertinant to them in their current situation. Many of the boys talked about fatigue and not wanting to push through, followed up by a sense of accomplishment when the fence was complete. The bigger reward to this trip became the horse ride the following day.  During this ride we went through, across, and under things that created situations that were uncomfortable for the boys. This created opporutinities for us to talk about being vulnerable, feeling a sense of helplessness, trust, relationships, and overall learing to support each other as they worked through the obsticles of life. Overall in a program that is therapeutically intensive, there becomes a power in experiential activities with these students that supersedes almost anything we do. The gains that have been made by students learning from these experiences continue to amaze all that have participated in them or heard about them after the fact.  The break downs, the successes, the “AH HA” moments, the memories of overcoming uncomfortable, creating a sense of accomplishment outside of an assignment will be something that cannot be replaced. It becomes a bitter sweet experience, participating in and influencing change.”

From a student:

The ride

On Friday I had a pretty long, hard day. We woke up around 6 in the morning and began making our way down south. I was with the five of my closest friends, Cameron, Astley, Joe C, Joe T, and Jesse. Once we got down south we began clipping barbwire to fence posts. It was a service project. I learned how to attach barbwire, and how to put in the posts. It was a tiring day. At night we went to a motel. Tony began cooking dinner, and the six of us kids began to run focus group. We individually discussed what ego states we functioned in throughout the day, and how we helped each other during the day. I helped Astley get out of the rebellious child ego state by giving him positive support and a better outlook on what he was struggling with. I learned how to strengthen relationships, and I realized how grateful I am for the close relationships I have with these people. On Saturday we woke up and ate breakfast burritos. They were really good. Then we went to the pasture and caught the horses. I realized how good the relationship is that I have with Chip when he came over to me and I was able to put his halter on with ease. We then fed the horses and gave them a chance to drink water. We then tied them to the trailer and saddled the horses up. We then loaded them into the trailer and drove down to canyons right near Bryce canyon. When we unloaded and finally got there, we started right near water. We rode through the water, to a very steep hill which I thought we could not make up. Chip worked really hard on going up it and made it successfully. Brandon’s horse struggled making it up the hill. I realized how much support I have when I saw Bill go down and grab Brandon’s horses lead rope and guided him up the hill. It made me realize how a lot of things are possible, especially with support. The ride went really well for the next three hours. We rode on slick rock and it was amazing. All of the beautiful colors on the rocks, and everything was awesome. I have never been anywhere so beautiful in my entire life. A really hard part of the ride was when we were on the slick rock. We had to follow every instruction precisely, and if we did not we could have gotten hurt. Thankfully everyone respected the decisions the leaders made and followed their directions and instructions. There were times when we went down very steep hills, and times we went up very steep hills. I had to show Chip I trusted him by loosening up on the reins, knowing he would make his way up. We decided to stop at a spot in the shade for lunch. During lunch I played with the dogs, and had a really fun time. We talked about how the ride went, and what we were feeling at the time. We then began riding again about 45 minutes later. I felt like something was different. When I was riding I kept seeing Chief (Tony’s dog) but I realized I had not seen Waldo (one of Tony’s other dogs) in a few minutes. I asked Tony where he was and he said he did not know. Tony and Brandon turned around and rode back looking for him. They had no luck. We began riding again, without Waldo. I felt really sad, feeling like there was something I could have done. When now Tony is without one of his dogs. I felt terrible. I felt very vulnerable. Everyone got really sad. At another time we had to get off the horses and walk them down a very steep slope, it was really scary. I realized how much I trust chip. We left Tony and Brandon that night when we started driving home. They went and looked for Waldo the next morning. They found him eventually. Tony and Britta came to school on Monday night and they brought Waldo. I was so happy to see him. I learned that how I felt when Waldo was lost is how my mom feels when I am away. I learned this through Tony and Britta. I had an amazing weekend which I felt I gave back to the community during the service project, and at the same time I feel I bettered myself in a new and positive outlook. I would go on the ride again anytime.

From Joe T:

The service project that we did and the ride that we went on was great. On Friday when we left, I slept the whole way down there. When we got there I saw some of the same cool guys I saw there last time, Coot, Brad and Mark. I think these guys (including Brandon who came later) made the ride and time there a lot of fun and added humor on to what we already had. I learned how to finish my job of fencing down there with tying the ties. I got a good tan and unsuccessfully jumped a dry creek. When the day of work was over and we went to the hotel, we chilled and watched a bit of ESPN. When it was dinnertime, we all destroyed Britta’s chowder because it was so good. Me personally I had 2 full bowls. The following morning I woke up, had about a 3 minute shower because that’s all I had time for, had Tony’s Jesus like breakfast burritos and left. When we got to catching horses, it only took me 2 tries this time. I pulled Henry out and brushed him until Mark took him to shoe him or something. Everyone saddled their horses and then I briefly freaked out because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to saddle in time, which wasn’t the case. Henry came. The whole ride back I slept because I didn’t know what else to do. The whole next day I bugged Ruthanne to text Tony to see if they found him b/c I heard rumors that they did. I got my answer on Monday night at school, Britta came in and called us out and he was there. They talked about, that those feelings we had towards Waldo, were the way our parents felt when they dropped us off. I understand completely what they were saying. We didn’t want to leave Waldo, but we had to for the better of others. Our parents didn’t want to leave us, but they had to for the better of the family and the community. And just like it was hard for us to leave Waldo, it was hard for them to leave us. That was my experience.

From Joe C:

As far as this desert ride went, the only difference between it and the last was I. Friday morning we went to go finish the fence we started last time, which was not as hard working since we were wiring instead of pounding, but it was still some quality work. Afterwards we went back to the hotel to shower, eat dinner, and go to bed. While cooking dinner I engaged Bill in a conversation that may have been uncomfortable for him, but overall helped me cope with my struggle to mask and try to fit in. Then as night crept in and I found myself wishing, that Brita could have come along because she would have had fun. When it came time to cook up breakfast and load up, I was quick to give tony a hand with all the miscellaneous items. We hopped in the truck and headed over to pick up the horses. Dolly picked the back corner of the field to stand and wait for me, which was better than the other horses, which fought to escape capture. The couple of days before the ride I was expecting Dolly to be freaking out and I was surprised at how calm she was, and past that, how calm I was. The ride itself was next to flawless because of how in tune Dolly and I were. The only issue I had with the ride itself was when my favorite dog Waldo went missing. I was not sure when if ever I would see him again and actually cried out of grief. I kept picturing the silly look he always wore on his face and it made my sorrow worse. I thought he was a gonner until Tony and Brita showed up at school with Waldo and told me something that hit home. “The way you felt when Waldo was lost, is the way your parents feel about you.”