Academic journal article TCA Journal

Learning the Ropes: Challenges for Change

Academic journal article TCA Journal

Learning the Ropes: Challenges for Change

Article excerpt

Challenge courses (often called Ropes courses) offer benefits to children and adolescents in an outdoor group setting. A description and historical background is given as well as typical settings in which this adventure-based counseling is currently occurring. Therapeutic dimensions are also explored.

Adventure-based counseling and challenge course experiences (formerly called "ropes" courses) are gaining popularity and increased acceptance in schools, treatment centers, and recreation facilities. While recreation specialists have long touted the benefits of such approaches, very few articles have appeared in counseling literature. Thus, this article describes a challenge course, presents a definition and historical background, and describes various counseling settings where the adventure or challenge course approach is currently used with children and adolescents. Selected therapeutic dimensions of challenge courses are then discussed.

Experientially based ropes courses were originally built to enhance physical capacities of agility, balance, and coordination, while the ropes courses of today primarily address individual and group dynamic skills. A ropes course consists of a series of intriguing obstacles or elements suspended by steel cable, rope, and specialized hardware, usually from large trees or utility poles. Courses often make use of naturally occurring terrain such as stumps and hills. High walls for climbing might also be constructed (Attaira, 1990). The high ropes course is designed primarily to enhance the self-concept and self-esteem of the individual, while the low ropes course elements usually require physical activity and group effort to solve the problem presented in order to build trust and group interaction (Kemp, 1998).

Adventure-based counseling or learning is an action-oriented model which provides physically, emotionally, and intellectually challenging opportunities to interact cooperatively and successfully with peers (Schoel, Prouty, & Radcliffe, 1988). Participants are placed together in a positive peer group setting and are asked to master a series of problem-solving tasks. For example, the Mohawk Walk (Rohnke, 1989, p. 101) offers a challenge, which encourages cohesiveness, connection, and working together to achieve a goal. The objective is to move a group of participants from start to finish, on top of, and along, a series of 5 to 7 tightly strung cables between supporting trees or poles no more than eighteen inches off the ground. The process focuses on balance and communication, as well as problem-solving and decision-making skills. Touching the ground may result in a consequence such as restricting verbal communicate with the other members in the process of mastering the task. Upon completion of the task (called an "initiative") a debriefing of the activity occurs. Processing or debriefing the activity is even more important that "doing" the activity in that group dynamics are explored and the emotional and mental processes of the individual members are discussed. For example, the facilitator invites the members) who touched the ground to share their feelings with the group, to describe who and what helped the situation, and to explore ways that the group might have been more supportive or helpful.

Historical Background

Adventure based learning for survival and self-improvement began centuries ago. Johnson (1992) stated that the idea of using manmade obstacle courses to develop physical and mental toughness dates back at least to the age of chivalry. According to Blanchard (1992), character building is the core of Outward Bound-a program based on the work of Kurt Hahn. In 1941, Hahn was concerned about the low survival rate of young seamen following attacks by German U-boats as compared to older, less physically fit but more skilled seaman whose prior experiences provided them with the tenacity to cope. Hahn developed skill building, which also provided younger seamen with insights into their own abilities, resources, potential, and will to live (Stick & Gaylor, 1983). …

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