Outdoor interventions

The September Monitor articles on therapeutic wilderness experiences were a helpful introduction to this potentially powerful practice. I have spent more than 20 years planning, leading and evaluating therapeutic adventure experiences with youth struggling with a range of developmental and mental health issues. The articles beautifully capture the way this work can enhance personal insight, interpersonal skills, locus of control, trust, self-efficacy and teamwork.

There are ways to make programs like these accessible to young people from poor families. In the mid-'80s, a group of counselors, educators, outdoor skill instructors and university professors designed a program that became a community-based non-profit dedicated to supporting healthy social-emotional development through therapeutic adventure, one-to-one mentoring, service learning and family events. The program, called the Appalachian Mountain Teen Project, receives referrals from the Division for Children and Youth, school district and community mental health facilities. Teens participate for a minimum of one year, at no cost to their families.

Staff are professional counselors, outdoor educators and graduate interns. We tackled the issue of cost by developing strong partnerships with school districts and mental health clinics. Non-profit status allows the program to receive grant funds and private donations. The program is small and local (covering only 10 communities) but has worked with more than 1,000 youth. The connection to the university ensures rigorous evaluation, public funds ensure good oversight, local clinicians provide supervision and crisis services, pediatricians provide medical backup, and partnering with schools and families makes the transference of interpersonal skills and emotional changes into the daily lives of participants more likely.

Donna M. San Antonio, EdD
Lesley University, Cambridge, Mass.

In the article "A natural fit," Hays erroneously interprets Dietrich's Transient Hypofrontality Hypothesis (THH) in stating that "the brain focuses on what it needs to do for those activities (exercise) ... in the process, it decreases activity in the left hemisphere and opens the way for creative insights in the right." I have worked with Dietrich and tested his hypothesis using telemetry-based EEG, and consistent with his prediction, upon reaching an aerobic threshold (which is unlikely to be attained by merely walking briskly or by running slowly, especially while engaged in therapeutic talking, which stimulates the frontal lobes), a reallocation of cortical resources can be observed, away from the prefrontal region bilaterally to the motor cortex. The lateralization of affect and link to subsequent creative insights are not mentioned in the THH; instead Dietrich proposes that the frontal lobes go into "safe-mode" once the aforementioned threshold is reached. At that point, ruminations that may be generated by the frontal lobes are thought to diminish and give way to a "worry"–free state that has been associated with the so-called runner's high (previously attributed to neurotransmitter mechanisms). Hays's claim that exercise is associated with greater blood flow to the brain is also incorrect, with blood flow in the brain remaining constant regardless of level of mental or physical activity at a rate of circa 750 ml/min (Dietrich, 2004). 

Roland A. Carlstedt, PhD
McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Love of learning is fortified by schools

The September 2013 article "Tiger parenting doesn't create prodigies, finds new research" ended by noting that research should not be conducted in the ivory tower. While I did not do research on "child prodigies," I did do research on the lives of high academic achievers (all members of Phi Beta Kappa), outside the ivory tower, hoping to learn about their personal, social and professional lives and inquiring as to whether educational achievement and life satisfaction went hand in hand. I queried more than 900 Phi Beta Kappas, all over age 50, living across the United States. 

I learned that these high academic achievers not only did exceptionally well in school, but reported satisfaction with their careers, their married lives, their children and their social relationships. When asked about the role of their parents in their quest for knowledge and success in school, they responded that their parents created a home environment that valued a love of learning. They also observed their parents reading, and so they developed a desire to read. Their parents praised them when they brought home good grades and encouraged them to do well in school. What is also interesting is that they passed on this love of learning to their own children, employing the ways their parents inculcated this love in them. In my book "Top of the Class" (Ablex, 1996), I reported additional findings on the households of individuals who demonstrated outstanding academic success in school. 

Yes, indeed, the love of learning starts in the home, but it has to be strengthened and fortified by capable and caring teachers in the school system.

Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD
New York City

Internship shortage is a continuing problem

Several years ago, I was one of six delegates from Connecticut chosen to attend a conference sponsored by APA in Orlando. Many colleagues and APA staff assembled to discuss the limited number of psychology internships available to qualified students. Lo and behold, "The internship match gets an overhaul" (July/August Monitor) addressed the continuing problem in psychology, not just a "recent" one, but a seemingly perpetual crisis.

In Orlando, after several hours of plenary and breakout sessions, chaired by very skillful facilitators, at the conclusion, no proposed resolutions were adopted, much to the disappointment of the hard-working attendees, especially those five planners who had created such a potentially useful conference.

Despite what appears to be some movement toward a partial solution, after over 50 years in the field including participation in state, regional and national governance, I am particularly disheartened that there is really nothing new under the psychology sun regarding this matter (and others). It is also noteworthy that without some appreciation of history, organizations are less likely to thrive.

Jack K. Plummer, PhD
Glastonbury, Conn.

APA's response:

Despite the continuing shortage of internships, there have been a number of new efforts, as pointed out in the article, such as limiting the match to students from accredited graduate programs beginning in 2017 and educating those who apply to psychology graduate programs about how the programs stack up in such key areas as the number of students accepted, the attrition rate, internship match rates and more. APA and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students are continuing to work to solve this problem.

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