EMMA PROE, Asst. Features Editor — This year Denison has unveiled a new program called the Therapeutic Adventure Group, or T.A.G. Launched by Jack Wheeler, a mental health therapist at Denison, the program aims to help students cope with anxiety through outdoor therapy.
Throughout the course of the program, students will engage in activities such as creeking, low ropes, backpacking and orienteering. Through these experiences, students will have the opportunity to connect with nature and peers under the facilitation of licensed therapists.
Wheeler has an expansive background in adventure therapy. He has both facilitated and observed adventure therapy groups since 2007, after he was introduced to it through an undergraduate internship program. After his internship, he focused his graduate, postgraduate and doctoral experience on adventure therapy.
On what inspired him to start the group, Wheeler revealed, “Personally, my most therapeutic moments in life have been walking in the forest with people who will listen. This experience has motivated me to become a clinician who uses adventure to augment the therapeutic process.”
The program is small, limited to only eight Denison students who experience anxiety. Wheeler explains that the group is limited so as to “encourage stronger relationship building and to increase trust and vulnerability.” However, he remains open to the possibility of expanding the program in future years if needed. He also clarifies that no diagnosis is needed to participate in TAG.
The program is also completely free of charge to students. Wheeler notes that while the most expensive parts of adventure therapy are trained adventure therapists, access to outdoor spaces, gear and transportation, Denison already has these things available. Any remaining costs, such as for snacks and notebooks, are covered by Wheeler himself.
Much care has gone into customizing the program to specifically fit the needs of Denison students. Over the summer, Wheeler met with national consultants to plan the program, considering a wide variety of customizations. Among these include environmental sustainability, student confidentiality, clinical intentionality and cross cultural implications.
To meet COVID concerns, the program has had to be flexible. Some activities have been moved to Denison’s BioReserve, and the group mandates masks, social distancing and only outdoor meetings.
Wheeler is most excited about the unique memories that will be created through the program. He explains, “If you’ve ever gone camping, you will know that no two experiences are the same. Group dynamics, weather and other unexpected challenges always occur, but lasting memories are always created.”
He hopes that through this exciting new venture, students will be able to feel more resilient at Denison.