(Rev.) Romulus Campan, LTh.(Hons), FdScMH(Forensic),
CertEd-QTS,PgCert Special Psychopedagogy,
PgCert Religion, Spirituality & Mental Health
PgCert Autism & Asperger’s
Forensic Psychosocial Engagement Practitioner
Program Creator and Facilitator
STRENGTHS© – STRuctured ENGagement THerapeutic Sessions
The Program attempts embedding a refreshed perspective, alongside the complex transformational Program piloted on a Special Communication Needs, Autism and “Neurodevelopmental Spectrum”© Disorders unit, as a Structured Engagement Program of Psychologically Informed Activities, within the participative efforts of a Multi-Disciplinary Team of Nursing, Psychology, Allied Health Professionals and Associate Practitioner staff.
STRENGTHS© is the development of a program I initiated in 2016 and supervised by Psychology project mentor, as part of my (Forensic) Mental Health Assistant/Associate Practitioner degree’s Structured Engagement Program of Psychologically Informed Activities. After graduation in 2017, I have continued and developed the Program, and adapted it for the different needs of unit patients and those participating in extra-ward activities on weekends, in an outside-units communal, socialising area. The unit version of STRENGTHS©, as previously mentioned, is being further developed alongside a complex transformational program pilot.
STRENGTHS© is structured around the following two principles:
1. Lived Experience Practitioner engagement
2. Passive Invitation engagement (invitation to join, simply by being engaged in the activity, e.g., Lego in communal areas)
The three, mindfulness inspired, major participative engagement aspects, MindfulEGO©, Bonfulness© and Multi-Sensory Mindfulness © [a specially adapted and enriched engagement program, at its foundations similar to the “The five senses exercise” (Tavistock and Portman’s Living Well Service, accessed2021)], are built around a novel approach to mindfulness, which extends the reach of mindful engagement elements, beyond classical approaches. The novelty of this perspective is the functional use within these specialised mindfulness sessions, of the ever-present anatomic senses, which instead of a marginal, secondary, tertiary role, will become alternately involved as areas of primary engagement and focus, based on the specific sessions built around individual aspects of participants, their involved senses and auxiliary material:
a. MindfulEGO©is as suggested by its name, a mindfulness approach to the (re)discovery and development of one’s ‘self’ (hence ‘EGO’)through using Lego; the difference being that it involves the human senses.
a1. A rather neglected area of therapeutic approach regarding individuals on the Neurodevelopmental Spectrum, are their perceptive senses, often mentioned solely in relation to the problems around specific hypo- or hypersensitivities. However, these areas should be individually investigated because, often, these peculiarities genuinely experienced by many as deficiencies, could also be approached from different angles, e.g., an individual with hyperacusis could nevertheless have absolutely positive experiences in the area of musical critique, given their often highly accurate sense of rhythm and/or harmony.
NB: As much as this may -enticingly- sound/look similar to what is being believed to be “neurodiversity”, it is not. “Neurodiversity” in my opinion, regardless of its fashionable, and for many, lucrative appeal, is an entirely inaccurate attempt to equate the Neurodevelopmental Spectrum’s pathological experiences, with the diverse nature of palpable reality constructs. To rest my case, “neurodiversity“ is in reality, the never ending “sum” of all neurological entities, from invertebrates to humans, in no way associable with the neurodivergent nature of disorders/conditions from within the Neurodevelopmental Spectrum.
a2. For most, Lego are “just” 3D geometrical structures for creative assembly. However, personal experience has shown that e.g., when such a person acquires a new Lego set, the opening of the box/crate, the sound of the colour-sorted, unopened bags, the sensory bonanza of touching, opening these bags, palpating, examining, smelling these structures, each bearing the individual scent influenced by the different colourants, visually examining the smooth, untouched surfaces, while allowing their peculiarly tuned imagination to start assembling these structures into constructs often defying classical logic, confers an entirely new dimension to the classical Lego experience.
a3. It is a well-known fact, that video games such as Minecraft have become genuine new worlds of engagement for individuals on the Neurodevelopmental Spectrum, especially those with Autism/Asperger’s, this also being true in the case of Lego. The “secret” resides within what I experience as an intrinsic, or innate need of the autistic cognitive functionality to identify, aggregate and systemise similar patterns into new structures, in the case of both Minecraft and Lego, rectangular geometry. Simon Baron-Cohen (2020) seems to identify this as “pattern seeking”, and the cover of his The Pattern Seekers: A New Theory of Human Invention book, which uses a paperclip “transformation” image, exemplifies in my opinion that the seeking of similar and/or identical patterns is only a ‘way’, the goal being (re)organising and/or (re)creating these patterns into what could be called “meta patterns”, which could become iconoclast and/or ground-breaking constructs of style and form.
An image-documented lived-experience (LE) example was creating from Lego, a double helix structure, as an iconoclast experiment of“ taming” geometry into “meta patterns” of constructing rectangles into nonrectangular 3D models.
b. Bonfulness© as suggested by its name, is a mindfulness approach through the art of Bonsai;
the difference, however, resides in a mindful, complex experience of involving biological senses. According to Chan (1987), the “Purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation for the viewer, and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity for the grower.” Again, from a LE perspective, Bonsai could be ingenuously repurposed to become not only an exercise for the grower, but also their contemplative, mindfully rich experience of senses. If one imagines the complexity of environment, tool sets, a preferred beverage to be tasted and smelled, favourite music, while busy hands touch the tools, caress the bark, in a delicately choreographed ballet of horology tweezers amidst emerald green leaves and glowing moss, a different dimension of mindfulness, or rather “Bonfulness©” emerges.
c. Multi–Sensory Mindfulness – a specially adapted and enriched engagement program, at its foundations similar to the “The five senses exercise” (Tavistock and Portman’s Living Well Service, p. 8,accessed 2021), allowing individual sensory preferences to tap during specially designed sessions into positive memories, involving all existing and/or preferred functional senses of/by participants.
c1. Visual – session facilitator creates a relaxing atmosphere in a quiet, dedicated environment, using agreed musical background, scented candles, diffusers, etc. Participants (including facilitator)are offered for viewing, pictures representing agreed image categories such as sceneries (e.g., from geographical areas, home landscapes, preferred by participants), fauna, flora, abstracts. While viewing/contemplating for as long as desired, participants are offered the possibility to connect the viewed image, to a positive/pleasant memory, which then could be further contemplated in silence, or shared with the group.
c2. Auditory – session facilitator creates a relaxing atmosphere in a quiet, dedicated environment, using scented candles, diffusers, etc., and in turns, offers participants (pre-agreed) choices of background music. While listening for as long as desired, participants are offered the possibility to connect the musical piece, to a positive/pleasant memory. After listening, the person having chosen the musical background is invited to share the thought; this could be repeated for all participants, always including facilitator.
c3. Tactile – session facilitator creates a relaxing atmosphere in a quiet, dedicated environment, using agreed musical background, scented candles, diffusers, etc. Participants are offered then, any (preferably) groups of objects, for example tree leaves, for viewing, but especially for touching; emphasis is on one specific leaf chosen by each participant. While palpating for as long as desired, participants are offered the possibility to connect the leaf with a positive/pleasant memory, which then could be further contemplated in silence, or shared with the group.
Interesting to notice from personal experience, that often, the choice of a leaf emerges from memories of home/homeland sceneries, however, the tactile experience of roughness/smoothness, may infer with the primary memory, switching onto others, often less pleasant. Compassionate re-guiding of focus is expected from facilitator.
c4. Olfactive – session facilitator creates a relaxing atmosphere in a quiet, dedicated environment, using an agreed musical background. Participants are then offered choices of e.g., essential oils (ensure allergy incidents are avoided through prior enquiring from participants). While smelling the sampling absorbent paper strip for as long as desired, participants are offered the possibility to connect the fragrance to a positive/pleasant memory, which then could be further contemplated in silence, or shared with the group.
c5. Gustation – session facilitator creates a relaxing atmosphere in a quiet, dedicated environment, using an agreed musical background. Participants are then offered choices of e.g., differently flavoured crisps, pretzels, etc., (ensure allergy incidents are avoided through prior enquiring from participants). While masticating the chosen food item for as long as desired, participants are offered the possibility to connect the taste(s) to a positive/pleasant memory, which then could be further contemplated in silence, or shared with the group.
Sessions may be complemented with classic mindfulness breathing exercises, body scans, tai-chi, or anything discussed and pre-agreed with the group.
In conclusion, one cannot avoid the life-enforced fact, that humans, in this case individuals on the Neurodevelopmental Spectrum, will always perceive reality from the perspective of differently developed bio-psychologies, and as an inescapable consequence, will reshape their environments accordingly, regardless of how much or often, will their social cohabitants observe and/or acknowledge it. Yet sometimes, the newly planned or created “shapes”, will prove to be either ill-conceived or wrongly executed, it is then when STRENGTHS© therapeutic approaches could become an instrument of co-participative redesign and recreation of better outcomes, through entirely new (infra)structures, or through repurposing existing, ethically neutral ones.
(PDF) STR.ENG.TH.S.© – STRENGTHS©: STRuctured ENGagement THerapeutic Sessions, an Autonomous Project for Special Communication Needs, Autism and “Neurodevelopmental Spectrum”© Disorders/Conditions units, as Structured Engagement Program of Psychologically Informed Activities – V1 (researchgate.net)
Baron-Cohen, Simon (2020) The Pattern Seekers: A New Theory of Human Invention. Allen Lane. 2020.
Chan, Peter (1987). Bonsai Masterclass.
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Tavistock and Portman’s Living Well Service, https://tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/documents/1024/Mindfulness-self-help-guide.pdf, accessed 2021.