Crucial to psychological wellbeing is social wellbeing. Of course, these two mutually affect each other: the focus is simultaneously on inner strengths, and on social resilience, involvement and solidarity.
This kind of ‘learning’– if the youth are ready for it – is a learning from each other, and with each other. The relationship adolescent-group, or, on a smaller scale, adolescent-trainer, contains an enormous growth potential: young people imitate each other, observe each other, rebel against each other, and at the same time, the mirror neurons run on full blast.
Sometimes there is some resistance during the exercises. For example, during the exercise about trust where you have to lead someone with eyes closed through the room. If someone would tell me to close my eyes and let someone – often unfamiliar – lead me, I don’t know if I would do it. But everyone finally experiences this in this exercise. That is really an added value of the group, I think. They can learn from each other. They give tips to each other. We even make that part of the sessions, ask them to observe each other. And it just works better if someone of your own age gives comments. (Rock and Water trainer)
We work with a mix of assertive and not assertive guys together. The high-tempered fuse with the shy guys, but that is good, because they learn from each other. (Rock and Water trainer)
And in the meantime they continue to grow inside, and to gain insight into how they themselves, how others, and how the world works. They also experience connectedness, they learn to take responsibility for their behavior, they learn to be free agents in their social relations, all things that contribute to their social wellbeing.
We use the group to let them grow individually. The group is really a powerful medium. It is the group – and not the trainer – that shows what could happen in the real world, what we should work on. You see us working in group, but actually it is about the growth of the individual. (Experiential learning-youth worker)
This said, it is also the group dynamics that can be counterproductive, for instance when peers pull each other in a negative spiral, or when because of something that happens in the group the atmosphere changes so that it becomes impossible to work constructively. Then, the trainer can choose to first work individually with one or more persons, or combine both.
The group of peers is a rewarding learning environment for young people; it shows them in a very clear and direct way how they respond to the outside world. Understanding of their own contribution in social relations by – often impulsive – verbal and non-verbal communication is essential.
What young people learn here? They start to understand their own behavior, but also others’, and also how the world works. They learn to reflect on their own behavior and thoughts. They wonder why they do certain things in a certain way. I think it’s one of the things we achieve with young people. Why I respond that way and what are the effects of this behavior? What I experience here, is that they often behave in a certain way without understanding why the other gets angry. This is what we zoom in on. (Rock and Water trainer)
If I present them a stressful situation, ask how they are going to react, and someone jumps up and replies: “I’m going to knock him down”. And another guy reacts to this, “Yes, I know that, but you know, I have been in an institution for a long time and I don’t want that anymore. You go ahead, you have the choice, but I don’t want that anymore. ” Then you can feel the group workin, that is the strength of the group. (Rock and Water trainer)
Many psychophysical practices are learnt not only by physically getting in contact with yourself, but also by physical contact with each other, by feeling how the other sometimes feels, how you react to others, where your limits are in the relationship with others, and how you are influenced by others. By physically getting in touch with each, in a safe environment, and in a playful way, there is room to test ideas about themselves and others, and to experience feeling of belonging and solidarity.
If you are moving, there is always the relationship with the other. I think in dance, the look of others, others that see you, you who are seen, you who look at others, takes a central place. The look of others, the other who sees me, what does he think about me. .. I see that person, I copy him, how he fixed tat conflict, how he does it. Being looked at, as a very sensory thing, is very prominent in dance. But then you look at how you experience things. That look is so crucial, much more than speaking. […] Of course, in a conversation you also look at the other, but if you are moving with your whole body moving, and in this phase are observed by others, then you get integration of body and mind in that field of identity development. And the motoric, the physical is going along in developing the self image. (dance therapist)
With the body as starting point, young people learn where their personal boundaries lie. Often, those boundaries are other than what they assumed. This includes the boundaries of the physical body: How does my body physically react to stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, uncertainty. …
In circus, it is very important for young people to learn by persevering, and that they don’t give up just because they think they cannot do it, even if it is about something physical. It’s a thin line between physically not being able to perform something, and the thought of not being able to do it. And they have two overcome that, they have to experience that their mind is limiting them in their performance. The training should be mind-broadening, in the sense that they have to learn where their boundaries really are, not how they are constructed in their minds. Only then can they continue to learn, continue to grow. (trainer circus techniques)
But it also includes psychological boundaries: what I experience inside when someone physically comes too close, how exactly does it feel when someone makes me angry. …
The important thing is that they can make that self-reflection, and that they are aware of what limits their body, and where they can feel it. “Ah okay, well, that’s for you an alarm, I’m going over my limit”. Or: “Others are crossing my boundary”. And then you can take a step further. But you have to experience this first, before you can continue to work and grow. For instance , I can tell you how you should feel or what happens with me when someone comes physically very close. What does that do to you? This I can ask. But if you’re not really literally nose to nose with someone, it is hard to pinpoint, isn’t it ? It is so much easier when you literally put someone in front of a person, and ask then , what do you feel now, and where in the body ? It is virtually impossible not to feel anything in such a situation. (Rock and Water trainer)
Responsibility and choice >
Content responsibility and choice
By increasing body awareness, body-based exercises inherently stimulate a greater connectedness and so unity with the body. This in turn helps tremendously when fueling connectedness with the outside world.
The aspect of connectedness, that is so important. That is also in our mission and vision. That you actually only feel connected with your environment when you are in connection with yourself. And from this, with the different circles around you, connection with your neighbour, the person next to you, your environment, with nature, and even with materials. But that really starts with you! This is what makes the training so valuable, that you first get in touch with yourself. (Rock and Water trainer).
Working in group has a great potential for creating feelings of connection and solidarity. This in turn, increases resilience!
Generally, young people take good care of each other . For instance in an exercise of giving compliments, or when someone cannot catch up with an exercise, and even in exercises where you have to provoke the other, physically or emotionally, I often observe how engaged they are with their peers, how they pay attention not to be too harsh. (psychomotor therapist)
Obviously – in the best case scenario – there is also a strong connectedness with the trainer or therapist.
When you can get in touch and feel connected with the use as a trainer , something magical happens ! I mean, really getting in touch, without being judgemental , always with a positive state of mind, that is really a challenge, but it’s also a way of making it through the most difficult moments, without participants losing interest, and stay focused on the exercises. In this way, there are no fifth wheel, everyone is respecting each other. And the use feel really listened to. (Rock and Water trainer)
Via body-based exercises, young people learn that different ways of verbal and non-verbal communication directly affect the relationship with others. Understanding the own body language, the dynamics of action-reaction, and other aspects of communication helps them on the way to for them more desirable communication with others.
The respectful, equivalent, authentic language of the trainer should give them the good example in this respect.