Pushing back the limits on the road to recovery

19 October 2016

For most people, the idea of making plans for a couple of days of camping is not a particularly stressful challenge and will only require minimal preparation and organisation. For people suffering from a psychotic disorder, it is another story. The idea of spending three nights in a location where you have never been before with 12 other people, in the middle of the wilderness, can represent huge challenges in terms of adaptation both on a personal and social level and this can raise people’s anxiety.

From September 6 to 9 of this year, thanks to the support of our Foundation, eight inpatients from the Psychotic Disorder Program at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal had the chance to take part in an unforgettable adventure by spending time in the Bras-du-Nord Valley located in Saint-Raymond de Portneuf in the Quebec City region.

For a third consecutive year, participants could count on the support and expertise of Jean-Philippe Leblanc, a guide and founding president of Face aux vents, an organisation dedicated to accompanying people with mental health disorders during outdoor activities.

Preparations

Before plunging head first into the expedition, the participants who were aged from 18 to 55 prepared themselves over a six-week period. The group of outdoor adventurers were in good hands as they were taken care of by a devoted, interdisciplinary team made up of Marjorie Girard-Chénier, Jean-Philippe Mercier and Geneviève Desjardins, three social workers, Carmela Schiraldi and Chantal Cloutier, two occupation therapists as well as Gabriel Henri, a kinesiologist.

The group met four times to get to know each other better and to prepare for their stay in the great outdoors. The encounters enabled the group to plan for the various tasks that everyone had to carry out (cooking meals, looking after the camp fires, etc.) but also to determine what equipment had to be brought along to have a successful stay in the woods.

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Getting out of the Comfort Zone

During the trip, the ultimate test was a cannoning activity whereby the participants had to hike and rappel over cliffs and the most beautiful cascades found in the Valley. Even though some in the group were anxious about taking up the challenge, with words of encouragement from the guides, everyone was able to get over their fears and really enjoyed the activity.

The participants were unanimous when taking stock of the event. Getting out of your comfort zone can be unnerving at the beginning but in the end, the feeling of having taken up the challenge is immensely satisfying because of benefits for everyone’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Everyone grew with the experience. The participants all feel that they are better equipped to cope with their illness and have started talking about their next challenge!

Adventure Therapy

Jean-Philippe Leblanc describes the concept of adventure therapy as the deliberate use of adventure activities as a psychotherapeutic means to bring about changes in a particular individual.

Having been a guide during the trip, Jean-Philippe prepared a series of challenges that were thrown in path of participants. He was sure to create new, exciting or even riskier situations where participants had new experiences that reinforced the confidence they have in their own abilities and that allowed them to push their person limits.

What is a psychosis?

The word psychosis refers to an illness caused by a brain malfunction that disrupts contact with reality. For the person with the illness, the disorder changes how the person thinks or behaves, in addition to changing their beliefs and perceptions. When taking all causes into consideration, roughly 3% of the population will suffer from some form of psychotic episode, that is, a period during which they will have psychotic symptoms.

 

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