Adventure Therapy program takes horseback riders into winter wonderland

As the Saskatchewan winter season blows in and the COVID numbers continue to be of concern, many Kamsack residents may be wondering how to preserve, or perhaps revisit, some sense of health and wellness amid the closures, the challenges, and the cancellations.

 

article continues below

Local mental health outreach worker, Jamie Desjarlais may have the answer.

Behind the wheel of a large white van covered with Cote First Nation logos, Desjarlais seems to be always on the move – putting the word out, making calls and driving around town to extend an invitation for local youth and adults to join in an ongoing program called “Adventure Therapy”.

At its core, adventure therapy consists of two elements; (1) Engagement in adventurous physical activities, and (2) therapeutic intent.

While the concept of adventure therapy exists around the globe, each culture develops a set of unique local practices in consideration of social, cultural, environmental, political, and fiscal contexts, according to the International Adventure Therapy (IAT) website. Although identified as an international community of practice, the field has no global governing body or specific standards, which is considered an advantage for the administrators to be dynamic, agile, creative and diverse in their design.

In Kamsack, Desjarlais has sparked a sense of adventure in a number of local youth and adults who have suffered from depression, isolation, mental health ailments and addiction. In addition to his role as an outreach worker for the Cote First Nation, Desjarlais serves as pastor at Kamsack’s New Life Church. Although there is no religious affiliation, the benefits of adventure therapy are observed on mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical levels. The Cote First Nation welcomes participants from all beliefs and cultural backgrounds to participate in the program, which is focused on stepping into holistic health and wellness initiatives for all.

The local vigour has taken groups into some of Saskatchewan’s most stunning natural environments. Skiing, hiking, sledding and horseback riding are just a handful of adventures helmed by Desjarlais. A collection of video footage capturing the participants in action has spurred Desjarlais to create a number of short films – including interviews and musical montages – that are shared on social media platforms. Many of the videos display heartfelt testimonials on the power of the experience. As a budding filmmaker, Desjarlais hopes to build on his filming and editing skills and create a library of films under his production company, Shamay Productions.

Darlene Bryant, Health Director of the Mental Health and Addictions Centre in downtown Kamsack says the work that Desjarlais is doing to get people out in nature, exercising, and connecting with the land is invaluable.

“The first adventure therapy outing we supported was to the [white water] rapids,” recalled Bryant. “It was north of La Ronge. Riding the rapids feels like you are fighting for your life. We wanted to show that life is worth fighting for.”

According to Bryant, the program is showing results far superior to the old method of just sitting around talking about problems. The Cote First Nation has endured compounded grief with a disproportionate amount of suicide and addiction struggles that stem from intergenerational trauma. Bryant describes the adventure therapy program as a tool to combat those issues. Bryant leads a small team of professionals who are certified in suicide prevention training – and she hopes more will get accredited.

“People want to abstain,” assured Bryant. “They are looking for different things to do. They want to have fun. They want to get together. Along the way, they might talk about their problems. There are always opportunities for teachings.”

 

Desjarlais has witnessed the program contribute to some amazing personal transformations. However, he maintains the program doesn’t just serve those who are suffering. Prevention is also a key concept in the adventure therapy culture.

“If you keep connecting with the land, keep moving, keep getting fresh air and exercise,” said Desjarlais, “you create a fighting chance to help stop the negative feelings before they can build up and feel overwhelming.”

Anyone interested in more information on local adventure therapy in the Kamsack area can message Jamie Desjarlais on Facebook or call (306) 594-4037.