A Conversation With Mark Rainsdon, LCSW
Before working at outBACK, Mark Rainsdon, LCSW worked in residential treatment settings as well as in wilderness. The difference in working in wilderness, he tells me, is it’s a great stepping stone through the therapy journey. His easy going personality is steeped in years of experience working with kids with anxiety and those who may be on the autism spectrum–a group he describes as special to him and his practice. Since this month’s theme at outBACK is centered around “Identity”, we get to learn about Mark’s experience working with his students with anxiety, as well as students who are on the autism spectrum, and get to know his approach as a therapist here at outBACK.
Who Mark Works With
When talking about what he loves the most about the demographic of students he works with he first acknowledges what challenges they may experience. “Some of my students have a lot of anxiety around how they fit into the world, about school, success, and making mistakes. Some of them are also on the autism spectrum. While they don’t really understand social queues or their friend’s processes around living life, I fell in love with working with them.” His tone is non-judgmental sprinkled with positivity about what he believes wilderness therapy can do for his students. He spoke of how students identify and dismantle limiting beliefs they can carry about themselves as he shared about the profile of students who are in his group. “It’s the type of kids who are playing card games, video games—they don’t have the trust in themselves and they can’t do ‘xyz’ for long. Then they get out in the wilderness and they bust coals and they tell themselves they can do stuff!”
You can see this same enthusiasm when Mark talks about what students can get from wilderness therapy as it relates to sustained growth over a long period of time–something that he is passionate about and invests in from the beginning of the treatment process. “Failure is just a stepping stone to success. Anything I can do to help [my students] build who they are and what they’re capable of doing, I’ll do. I meet them where they are at and help them where they want to go. I try not to do the carrot and stick with incentives and instead, figure out what they want and that becomes their motivation. If you provide the carrot and stick they’ll expect that outside of wilderness.” Mark avoids this type of strategy where immediate reward and/or threat of consequences is utilized in an attempt to shift patterns of behavior in students. Although it can seem like an effective tool, Mark spoke of the ineffectiveness as it relates to the desired goal of long-term, sustained success.
Searching For the Individual
There’s a term Mark uses for students who essentially live two different versions of themselves. It’s called the “chameleon attitude” or an underdeveloped identity. One version of students he described were the ones who may be getting into trouble because they are hanging out with a specific crowd whose approval and acceptance is something they are seeking. “Navigating waters with teenagers means trying to identify who they are and that they may pull away from family or the program. I try to help them realize they can be an individual and still be part of their family. There’s also the students that think they know who they are but only because they’ve lived a chameleon life- not what actually matters to them.” One of the activities he shared that he sometimes does with his students is mask drawing. A student can draw out several “masks” that identify what they believe to be their core identity—for example, kind, hard worker, someone who cares. Then students add in the nuances of their life like being a student, a part of an after-school club, or community/social group. He then helps students through their own creative process of discovering all the parts of them that make them who they are and better understand aspects of themselves they may have taken on to simply fit in.
A New Definition
When being asked about what Mark wanted to leave parents and prospective students with, he emphasized his hope for helping to redefine the commonly used term of “troubled teen”.
“Working with my students, I want people to know they aren’t troubled teens. They’re not wanting to cause havoc-it’s just a fear response. When they’re acting out at home, 9 times out of 10 when I talk to my students, they’re beating themselves up about something. On the other end, they keep [people] at arms distance so they don’t have to worry about rejection. I tell them they can push and prod but I’m going to stay here. They recognize I’m someone who cares and who wants to stick around, then this beautiful person comes out of their shell. These students are not acting out—they’re just in pain and managing that pain in the most comfortable way they can. My job is to help [them] recognize whether the way they’re engaging is effective or not and introduce them to new ways to manage–an effective approach. And when problems come up you’ll have a stronger relationship.”
Mark was recently featured in our staff spotlight on Instagram this past week. You can follow along there as well as read up on past spotlight features.