Experiential Therapy – A Mom’s Perspective

written by a New Haven Residential Treatment Center Mother 

Until our daughter attended New Haven, our family had not been exposed to Experiential Therapy.  For those parents who are in the same boat and would like insight into what it is like, I’ll describe a recent experience that I had with my husband and daughter during a Family Weekend at New Haven.

When I first read our Family Weekend schedule and saw that we would be doing a ropes course for our family Experiential Therapy, I thought, “FUN! We are an adventurous family.”  Little did I know that we’d be walking along a cable 30 feet in the air looking over the Spanish Fork Campus!   Rest assured, New Haven had us wear harnesses connected to safety lines and helmets, but still it was scary!

Imagine three telephone poles with two cables in a V-shape connecting them.  What would we possibly be accomplishing on this?  As instructed, my daughter and I climbed up the telephone pole one by one and then stepped out onto the apex of the V-shaped cables facing each other.  We were asked to clasp hands above our heads with straight arms, balance and step sideways along the cables.  We were to lean into each other to balance.
When we started, my eyes were focused on my feet, trying not to look at the ground but getting a feel for the cable.  The rope was trembling because of my shaking legs.  I raised my eyes from my feet to my daughter while saying something like “Shuffle across the cable? Are you kidding?!”   I then saw my beautiful daughter’s face, concentrating and looking back at me.  I saw in her eyes determination and bravery.  She squeezed my hands and said, “Mom, we can do this!”   Seeing the Spanish Fork Campus buildings behind her and the mountains in the distance reminded me how high up we were but I took a deep breath, said “OK” and started to shuffle to the right.  The cables were taking our feet further and further apart while our hands were still clasped, so we ended up in a triangle shape.  My daughter’s arms were getting tired and she wasn’t able to keep them straight to lean into me and we started to falter.  The Recreational Therapist yelled to our daughter to straighten her arms and to push against me.  She was able to straighten them for a while, onhealthy xanax which enabled us to traverse more of the course.  Eventually, it felt as if we were so far apart that we were almost laying flat!  Our shaky arms gave out and we fell, only to drop a few feet and be caught by the safety lines.

Once we were lowered to the ground and the adrenaline rush wore off, we took a few moments to talk about the experience.  I shared that I was truly scared until I saw the bravery in my daughter’s eyes and her determination in her words, which helped me move through the experience.  It was a part of our daughter that I had not realized was there and I admired her for it.  I felt that her determination and bravery was present in our journey to heal and it gave me strength to continue our difficult therapeutic work.

The Recreational Therapist then asked for our daughter’s thoughts about the experience.  She described how she realized that when she leaned in as much as I did, we were more successful.  We were reminded that our bodies were making a triangle of trust, which can be very stable when all sides are working evenly.  When our daughter’s arms were tired and she was not leaning in as much, we started to falter.  This was a powerful analogy for our relationship.  Our daughter shared that she knew that prior to New Haven, when she was at home and in DBT classes, she was not really trying.  She said that she recognizes that her Mom and Dad had been putting in a lot of work in their own DBT classes and practicing the skills at home but that she was doing work on the surface.  With the uneven effort, we had not been successful.   It was remarkable to hear her make the connection between our triangle of trust on the ropes course and that of our relationship.  This realization has impacted her work with our family immensely.  Experiencing the triangle of trust really drove home the point for us all and has left a lasting impression on us.  We each were given a rope bracelet to wear to remind us of the experience and what we learned.  My husband, my daughter and I put it on frequently to reconnect with that moment.  Whenever I wear it, I get a warm feeling in my heart and smile.

By, A New Haven Mom