Intrinsic is the Goal
A powerful wilderness therapy experience can literally “imprint” certain principles into a participant’s life. We at WinGate believe that when students are confronted with external motivators in the form of either punishments (usually termed ‘consequencing’ in most wilderness programs) or rewards, they will learn (become imprinted) to be externally motivated. Intrinsic motivation is our goal, not solely a controlled change in behavior. Program features calculated to exact a change in behavior are, by design-default, encouraging transitory change. Program features calculated to invite a change of heart are by design encouraging a lifetime change. Teaching and showing these principles not only adds to the power of the experience itself, it adds to the student’s own understanding of what it means to do things “for the right reasons” from an internal locus of control.
Rewards & Punishments
A wilderness therapist can get an entire wilderness group to ‘behave’ with near mystical immediacy by announcing the offering of pizza if expectations are met, or the denying of brown sugar at the end of the week if behavior expectations are not met, but this doesn't mean the students are ‘behaving’ because they actually want to, and it is likely their negative behavior will return not long after the external motivators (or demotivators) go away. At WinGate we don't reward ‘good’ behavior by giving a pound of M&Ms for starting a bow drill fire, or a flashlight and camping chair for going up the level system. We never use food or other desired items as a positive ‘behavior negotiators.’ We don't punish ‘bad’ behavior by making students do pack drills for time limit infractions (dumping out one’s gear and packing back up in seven minutes or less, sometimes multiple times in a row), or the removal of food (usually brown sugar) as a negative ‘behavior negotiator.’ We do not subscribe to the common notion that a good wilderness instructor is defined by their ability to be a great ‘consequencer,’ instead we know that the best wilderness instructors are the best ‘relators’ and ‘engagers,’ and we know to help our instructors be just that.
Influencing with rewards and punishments is the lowest form of methodology a person can use to draw out acceptable behavior from another person, and it also annuls one’s abilities to properly diagnose the motives ‘under’ the other person’s behavior. At WinGate we believe in a more clinically sophisticated ‘higher road’ which by design has more permanent effect and more accurate clinical assessment value. We have practiced our non-punitive, non-consequencing model for decades, and find joy in sharing these ideas with parents and practitioners from across the globe.
If you would like to know more about these concepts, reading the following books is a good start: