Adventure counseling enhances the effectiveness of individual therapy

December 2, 2008

ANN ARBOR—Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or playing “rock, paper, scissors” seem like ordinary activities. For patients in counseling, these actions can lead to better communication with their therapists.

“The shared experience between therapist and client has the potential to deepen the therapeutic relationship and to help establish engagement with treatment goals,” said Gary Stauffer, an adjunct lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Stauffer collaborated with lead author D. Maurie Lung and Tony Alvarez in writing a book about adventure-based, individual counseling that allows clients to take action during the session. The process utilizes the material that arises in the moment from action that is shared between the therapist and client?building trust, communication and connection.

Therapists often use games or activities as icebreakers or fillers to start their session or engage clients. These games include checkers, dominoes, coloring, drawing or even playing basketball.

But the authors offer a different approach. The activities serve as one of the main processes of counseling whether it’s in the clinical office, school office or a wilderness therapy setting. During the activity, the therapist discusses the issues that arise from the action with the intent of connecting this material to treatment goals and leading the desired change.

They suggest about 40 activities that can be incorporated into the session, including:

? PB&J sandwich: The client writes step-by-step directions for making the sandwich. The instructions must be followed exactly as they were written. The outcome could mean the client using his hands to spread the peanut butter if using a knife wasn’t included in the directions. The purpose is to help the client learn about communication and following directions.

? Giant “rock, paper, scissors:” The client and therapist put their backs to each other and turn around in an exaggerated position of rock, paper or scissors. The goal, which teaches relationship, is to match the other person.

? Jousting: The client and therapist use 3-foot foam noodles to knock a piece of one-inch foam off the back of the other person’s hand. This activity focuses on making decisions and building relationship.

This innovative approach to individual counseling sessions appears in the book “Power of one: Adventure and experiential activities within one on one counseling sessions.”

For more on Stauffer, visit:

School of Social Work:

Gary StaufferSchool of Social Work