Report on Third Year Wilderness Challenge

Trainees take on the ‘wilderness’ and raise £1,548 for The Laura Centre

 Our earlier blog – see https://psychologycultures.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/taking-on-a-wild-wild-test-for-the-laura-centre/ discussed the motivation behind the Wild Wild Test and why we decided to fundraise for the Laura Centre. Now that we have completed it, we felt we’d like to share our experiences with you.

The ‘Wild’ as an experience

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It all began on Friday 30th September 2016. We were keen to enjoy some time-out together as a group and quite excited about the challenge. Admittedly, the first day went fairly smoothly. Carl, our expert “fire-starter” had really done his research and oversaw the construction of what became a glorious fire working with Sonia, Vicky and Therese. At the same time the shelter was erected by Lauren, Becki, Mark, Ryan and Jack. We gathered around the fire and set about making tea and heating our small tins of beans as the night drew in (we were rationed to 420 calories per day, to be supplemented only by wild berries). In some ways, we admitted that things were looking too easy, as we used the area around us for silly variations on hide and seek and warmed ourselves by the fireside. That night however, things were to get a bit more challenging. It was almost impossible to get any sleep, lying on the hard, cold ground in October!

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We got up early the following morning to make our way to our second site where we were to repeat the whole process all over again. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. It rained heavily pretty much continuously from when we set out to when we reached our second site with a tough walk of six hours carrying all our kit. At least it was starting to really feel like a challenge now! After a long day, walking in the rain, we all worked together against the clock to sort out a new shelter and fire. We had learned a few things from the previous day which we put into practice. Fortuitously, the rain finally stopped long enough for us to enjoy our tins of beans around the fire. We became quite sleepy very fast, probably in part because of the lack of artificial light from the screens we are typically glued to, so we headed off to sleep early. That night, the rain really pelted against the tarp, at one point it got in through a leak which had to be remedied. On Sunday 2nd October, feeling tired hungry and achy from our track, we made our way back home.

The ‘Wild’ as a metaphor

 

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As we outlined in our previous blog-post, we were keen for the challenge we undertook this year to reflect the wild as a metaphor. We hoped that sleeping out in the wilderness and ‘surviving’ was, in a way, an appropriate analogy for the impact of ongoing cuts to public spending and a climate of austerity and uncertainty. We certainly felt the impact of two sleepless nights, limited food, the cold and wet and the uncertainty involved in navigating without technology. We had wondered at times – ‘Will we get there?’, ‘What if the weather gets even worse?’ and ‘What if we are unable to start a fire because of the rain?’ Our basic needs for warmth, food and shelter became our focus.

Our time in the wilderness was of course, short lived. We got to retreat back to our comfortable homes where baths, beds and warm, nourishing suppers awaited us. This contrasts starkly with those for whom there is no let-up, who are relentlessly exposed to harsh conditions and who experience stigma and marginalisation. Around the fire the second night we talked about how we were only getting a very brief glimpse into what it would actually be like to be homeless or to live without proper heating, proper food or companionship. We could choose to do this challenge and were in it together. Others have fewer choices, particularly those impacted by damaging political decisions, which increasingly cut public sector funding. In some ways it is ironic how it has become fashionable to undertake wilderness and survival challenges which have become the basis for popular TV programmes with a wide viewership. On the one hand they promote resourcefulness and self-actualisation, yet they almost glamorise a type of existence that is very real for so many people on the margins of our society. It almost seems that, once people get to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they feel like they want to go right back down to the bottom to escape or amuse themselves. As inequality continues to grow in our societies, “survival by choice” and “survival without choice” perhaps become more and more apparent. Very often there is “no choice” about the impact of austere political decisions.

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Moving forward                                     

Two major things kept us going amidst the hunger, adverse weather conditions, pains and aches and sleepless nights. The first was our supportive peer relationships. This reminded us of the value and importance of working with clients to help them build social supports. The difficulties in life appear greater without supportive relationships which allow hope to survive challenges in life. The second thing was our goal of sending a wider message about why we were doing the challenge. As our cohort approaches qualification, we are conscious of the part we will play in holding hope for positive change in society, to offset the crisis within the environment in which public and charitable sectors operate.

We are part of a profession which we believe can advocate for greater equality and healthier communities in an effective way. We believe we have the ability to work with clients, families, communities and society to make a real difference. As our training has progressed, we have become increasingly conscious of our public and professional obligations to promote positive social change and to proactively engage with local and national politics. We are inspired by those who are involved in the DClin Psych course, who already take action and we are grateful that the course features a community psychology module and is so systemically and politically minded. With billions more cuts on the horizon over the next few years, we hope that the Wild Wild Test, in part, conveys our concern about the prospect of continuing hardships, which seem to be experienced by the most vulnerable in our communities.

Here is some feedback we received about our wilderness challenge:

“Fantastic that you are engaging in such thoughtful and elegant ways to protest austerity’s destruction of English public services.”

Dr Jennifer Clegg, Honorary Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.

“I have great respect for the way in which you are drawing attention to the real world consequences of austerity and feel proud to be able to support you in this.  I hope this is an inspiration for other trainee year groups both in Leicester and elsewhere.  Personally I draw much needed energy for my own social inequality work from knowing that the second years (amongst others) are, in a way, alongside me.”

Dr Suzanne Elliott, LPT Adult Mental Health Psychology (and Homeless Mental Health Service).

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to our cause and for their positive feedback and support. We hope more of us can take social action in whatever shape or form to promote positive social change and the enhancement of wellbeing.

Written by Therese O’ Donoghue and Sonia Kaur Dhinse on behalf of the 2014-2017 cohort.

Check out: https://psychagainstausterity.wordpress.com/

Follow the 2014-2017 cohort on twitter: https://twitter.com/DClinPsy2014

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