It’s an ego trip – sort of. Ego “treks” are opportunities for Discovery Academy students to identify the feelings that are behind some of their own actions – as well as those of their peers. It’s a common language students and staff speak. And to learn that language, well, that took a little creativity.
Shift Supervisors Matthew Kiefer and Nick Ostler were always looking for ways to add new experiential activities into the Discovery Academy schedule. They were also interested in ego states – a definition of attitudes that underlie most of our behaviors.
Residential Director Laura Elliker learned about Ego States from clinicians at Discovery’s sister program, RedCliff Ascent. She wanted a way to incorporate this behavioral language into residential life at the Academy.
Matt, Nick and Laura created ego treks – experiential activities specifically devoted to teaching students about the ego states model and helping them see the similarities in their lives.
Three major categories comprise the ego states philosophy: child, parent, and adult. Within each of these areas are additional categories.
“The child category has four ego states,” Matt explains. “The natural child tends to be fun-loving and creative. Their goal is just to have fun. The little professor is manipulative and can be deceitful to get their way. The rebellious child defies authority. And the adaptive child accepts authority. That child is compliant and willing to work but he also ants to avoid confrontation and personal growth. He’d rather ignore the problem than address it.”
Matt says the parent ego has two main types: the critical parent who is very demanding and acts out of a need for power and the nurturing parent who is very enabling.
“The adult ego is the goal,” Matt explains. “It’s a mixture of all the positive qualities from each of the other ego states. In this state, you’re thinking clearly, without emotion, and making wise choices. You’re operating in the here and now,” he continues.
Laura, Matt and Nick realized that if Discovery students could use this language as a framework for assessing their own behaviors, and those of their peers, they would be better able to understand the motivations behind those actions.
In order to use the language, students first had to learn it. And that’s where Matt and Nick came in.
“Utah is the greatest place on earth,” Matt says. “Nick and I wanted to get the students off campus and experience Utah as it really is with hiking, rock climbing, and ice fishing,” he says. And that’s just the list of winter activities.
Twice a week the pair takes level appropriate students out for an adventure. “After we do the activity, we come back to a park or picnic area and start talking,” Matt says. Using the ego states language, students and mentors talk about behaviors they may have witnessed on the trip. “They start seeing the connection between the language and their actions,” Matt says.
It’s a slow process, but Matt says students are starting to use ego states language to discuss feelings and behaviors. He’s also noticed a change in how they treat one another.
“They’ve actually been able to work with each other more positively. They confront each other on their behaviors according to the emotion that’s behind the ego state, instead of just the surface behavior.”
Previously, students may have felt their peers were only trying to get them in trouble. Now, Matt says, they realize there may be something to the feedback.
“Students learn to stop and think about their actions before they make them. They learn to control their emotions a little better. They learn to recognize how to help one another for that underlying emotion instead of just getting upset or angry at that person,” he says.
Matt says students aren’t the only one benefitting from the ego states language. He and Nick have learned to look beyond surface actions for underlying emotion as they deal with Discovery students.
“I’m going to treat a scared child a lot different than one just acting out to get attention,” he explains. “It totally changes your perspective about the student.”
Word is getting out and Matt says other students are asking about participating.
Matt says, “The other day we hiked Maple Canyon. That was so awesome! The students went back and bragged to the rest of their peers and it gets the other kids amped up to go.”
That’s just what Nick and Matt hoped would happen. “We think of fun activities we can do to help build rapport with the kids. Then we put fun and learning together.”