What recently published findings from an Enviros program teach us about how to build mindfulness skills in young adult males.  

‘An examination of Mindfulness Based Experiences Through Adventure in Substance Use Disorder Treatment for Young Adult Males: A Pilot Study’ written by H.L. Lee Gillis, Keith C. Russell & Whitney Heppner

Blog by: Aly Miller

As an employee at Enviros Base Camp for almost four years, I have had the ongoing challenge of attempting to teach teenagers how to meditate. It is an experience full of the proverbial uphill battles, including outright protests, alleged sick days, long bathroom breaks and many cases of shaking leg syndrome. Not to mention the characterization I get as being a ‘weirdo hippy’ for introducing such a strange concept. After reviewing the article recently published in the Journal of Mindfulness about the data being compiled from the research at Shunda Creek, I may not be as out to lunch as the clients continue to assure me I am.

IMG_1728The article mentioned above is a recently released publication about the findings from some ongoing evaluation at our Shunda Creek program. Shunda Creek is a residential treatment program funded by Alberta Health Services, which aims to support Young Adult Males age 18-24 with addiction and substance misuse issues. The initial intention of the research study pursued at Shunda was to ask the question, “what’s the added value of adventure in the therapeutic process?”

The data is beginning to show that, indeed, there is a lot of added value at Enviros programs. It is also beginning to show what aspects of programming help contribute to this increase in value. The results from Shunda Creek demonstrate that engagement in programming such as Mindfulness Based Experiences can lead to an impressive decrease in nonreactivity and non-judgement, two essential components of developing dispositional mindfulness.   

Mindfulness Based Experiences (MBE) are defined as “1-4 day or longer nature based adventure experiences that are intentionally designed to provide participants with an opportunity to practice and develop mindfulness skills related to their treatment goals”. The goals of MBEs are to practice mindfulness skills (nonreactivity, acting with awareness, non-judging, observing and acceptance of the experience), focus on the intentions set by the clients for their trip and to stay as fully present in the moment as possible.

Participating in an MBE offers an opportunity for clients to develop what is called dispositional mindfulness. This is a mindset characterized by non-reactive self-awareness and acceptance. Research shows that individuals who cultivate these qualities are capable of limiting emotional bias and assessing their ability to deal with the present challenges. Developing these skills supports our clients to gain awareness of the choices and situations that could have contributed to their drug use.

The data was collected through two questionnaires, both of which have been normed and validated in large clinical trials and are considered “gold standard”. One instrument is the FFMQ (Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), the other is the Outcome Questionnaire OQ 45.2 (used to report reliable and clinically significant change as a result of treatment).

These tools showed that an increase in mindfulness drove a significant positive change in OQ scores, indicating clients experienced less and less distress the more mindful they became throughout treatment.

The results are promising when considering the similarities between the Shunda Creek and Base Camp programs, as well as the broader use of Mindfulness Based Experiences within all of the Enviros programs.

Perhaps my future goals of getting teenagers to recognize the impact a mindfulness practice might have on their recovery aren’t so far off!