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Doug Moczynski.

Doug Moczynski is on a mission to use adventure therapy to improve the mental health and well-being of young people in Gippsland.

Feb 14, 2023


Words: Gippslandia
Images: Profile

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Maybe he becomes more camouflaged in the bush? Because around town, you can’t miss Doug Moczynski with his beaming grin, flowing dreads and well-equipped LandCruiser Troop Carrier with ‘Gippsland Adventure Therapy’ emblazoned on the sides.

It all gives you the sense that Doug is ready to scale a mountain, kayak a river or bomb a mountain bike trail at a moment’s notice, and that no matter how physically arduous the adventure was, you’d be sharing a similar smile to Doug’s the whole way too. It just looks fun.

Doug was born in Brisbane, spent some childhood years in Far North Queensland and moved to Drouin when he was 10. As Doug says, the region is now home, “I’ve now settled here and am raising a family. Warragul is an hour from everywhere and a great place to live.”

After studying outdoor recreation at La Trobe University's former Mount Buller campus, Doug began his outdoor career in 2003 by adventure guiding for schools, corporations and private groups, as well being a camp counsellor in the United States and skiing instructor.

“I always had a passion for working with complex young people and worked at a not-for-profit out of home care provider running an outdoor program for 12 years.”

Through his time there, Doug advanced his education around complex trauma and refined his craft in adventure therapy.

“I was coming to the natural end of my time there in 2021 when I left with a redundancy, and the idea of running my own service had already taken hold. The last 18 months have been a whirlwind and steep learning curve, but it’s definitely the best thing that I’ve done professionally.”

Doug says there are a swag of opinions on what adventure therapy is and what it should be, explaining that generally, “Adventure therapy is aimed at achieving positive outcomes for wellbeing and mental health through undertaking a form of movement in respect to your body. Doing something that’s engaging and relevant to you. An activity that helps you develop mentally through appropriate exposure to a challenge or new experience that requires you to stretch yourself without being overwhelming.

“It is crucial that participants remain within their window of tolerance or comfort zone, so that we don’t traumatise/re-traumatise them, and that we are always upholding their right to refuse and right to human dignity in how they participate.”

Adventure or outdoor therapy is facilitated by a professional with the appropriate competencies and training to keep participants emotionally and physically safe during their sessions. Doug’s a youth worker and adventure guide and has studied trauma and therapeutic approaches.

“For Gippsland Adventure Therapy, I explain that we call it ‘adventure’ because we’re never totally sure how each session will end up. We’ll pivot where needed to make sure it remains relevant for you. We call it therapy because I use an evidence-based approach called ‘feedback informed treatment’ to ensure that participants gain positive therapeutic outcomes and that I cause no harm.”

“Gippsland Adventure Therapy is a youth wellbeing service, so my clientele are youth under the age of 21 years old. Most of my current participants are young people with a neurodiverse diagnosis and funding from the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme); young people involved in out of home care agencies or the DFFH (Department of Families, Fairness and Housing) and are dealing with the challenges of developmental and complex trauma.

“I also work with private referrals for young people whom you might consider to be more mainstream, usually having disengaged from life as a direct result of the pandemic.”

While Doug’s approach to, and through, each session has to remain flexible to best support the client, he does have three rules that guide him. Sessions must be:

Fun – because if it's not fun, then kids aren’t going to want to do it. Evidence shows that people’s engagement directly affects their outcomes, so it must be as engaging as possible.

Safe – safety is a must, not just our physical safety, but our perceived safety over ourselves and our autonomy. We talk about emotional safety and how it's important that they understand they are in control of what happens, and I will respect their agency and celebrate if they decline participating in something. I role model asking for consent with anything that involves them. Safety and engagement are the first steps to positive development or healing.

Useful – it should help to make them feel good about themselves, help to improve their mental health, and/or work towards some therapeutic goals that they’ve set. This is where measuring my outcomes using feedback informed treatment comes in. We do this collaboratively, tracking our progress as a team. Their direct feedback through a short survey each session helps inform how we plan, proceed or pivot to make the sessions as relevant and useful for them as possible.

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Most of Doug’s sessions are one-to-one, however, there are family and group sessions. Adventures can run for half or full days or be a three-day weekend respite.

“I’m driven to provide an emotionally supportive and inclusive experience in the outdoors. If I can increase someone’s overall wellbeing, then in turn the other challenges in their life become easier to deal with. If they also reach some therapeutic goals and report that life is better than before, I’m ecstatic.”

Doug says the benefits he’s garnered since launching Gippsland Adventure Therapy just 12 months ago are that, “It has validated my skills and abilities, teaching me to step into myself and deal with the imposter syndrome that so many of us face.”

The business has also provided Doug with a deeper connection to his local community and also connected him more professionally. This confirmed to him that, “Relationships are the key to successfully running a business in a regional community.” Notably, it’s also given him more time flexibility with his young family.

Being already grounded in Gippsland was key to Doug embarking on Gippsland Adventure Therapy here, but he adds that, “Gippsland has so many spectacular and culturally special places, you don’t have to go far to find a beautiful part where you can engage with someone. We also have so much First Nations history that needs to be acknowledged and learnt.”

Given the gent is constantly roaming the region on the hunt for the most enthralling outdoor experiences, it’d be remiss to not learn Doug’s favourite locations.

“I love taking people to Walkerville South to experience such a beautiful beach with caves, microbats, fish, underwater caves, rock pools and such a sheltered ocean beach. I also love Mushroom Rocks at Mt Erica. It’s so special I get goosebumps every time I visit. I love going to any one of the amazing waterfalls that we have here.”

Doug reveals that he’d love to spend more time in the High Country, exploring around Licola, as well as getting down to Wilsons Promontory more. And, as we speak, the beloved troopy is getting further decked out to provide more comfortable camping opportunities.

Given we have such rich nature-based resources here, Doug says that when taking an outdoor therapy lens, “We need to provide more inclusive and supportive outdoor experiences where we adapt the activities to make access easier for people. More place-based tourism would also help this and assist more remote communities to prosper from helping people experience what’s on their backdoor in an environmentally and financially sustainable way.”

With that, the troopy roars back to life. Doug’s off to teach someone how to abseil a local cliff face, potentially stoking the genesis of a lifelong passion for Gippsland’s wild places.

If you’re keen to learn more, we recommend listening to the legend Kerryn Vaughan’s Get Off the Bench podcast with Doug and also check out the Gippsland Adventure Therapy website gippslandadventuretherapy.com.au.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 25

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