Adapted from: Exploring Islands of Healing: New Perspectives on Adventure Based Counseling, Jim Schoel & Richard S. Maizell, Project Adventure, Inc. 2002 (pgs. 11-13).
The Full Value Contract
In 1976 Project Adventure began to explore a theory and methodology for developing behavior norms with its Adventure Based Counseling group participants. We recognized at the time how in group counseling, agreed upon behavioral norms fostered an environment in which openness to change and growth could be best supported. Such norms may include being on time, preserving confidentiality, maintaining nonviolence, showing respect, and listening to one another. Responding to this need for norm-setting, Paul Radcliffe, with Rick Medrick as author, introduced the "No-discount Contract". The essentials were oriented around two basic agreements:
- To practice mutual respect, represented by the agreement to not "discount" or "devalue" self or others; and
- To set goals, and use the group for support in working on those goals.
Originally, the No-discount Contract was developed for its ability to address essential growth issues within a group. After all, discounting meant shortsightedness, paralysis, antagonism, "put-downs" and any number of devaluing activities common to the human condition yet inhibiting a growth mindset.
'Goal setting' meant breaking down growth issues and opportunities into specifics while 'contracting' meant agreement and mutuality around a process of encouraging and supporting one another.
The first time PA presented the idea of a value system to a high-school alternative education class, it was expressed in the form of the no-discount contract. We were sitting in a conference room on the Gloucester, Massachusetts waterfront. The two concepts of no-discounting and goal setting were discussed, and the group responded with understanding. The students struggled with goal setting, but they connected easily to the no-discount part. Itwas fun making parallels with shoddy sneakers bought at low prices. "You don't want to be treated that way, do you, like a pair of sneakers that falls apart in two weeks?" Discounting became a bad thing in our group, and we would work to flag it whenever it came up. We didn't know then that we were getting involved in a process-oriented system, one that would take us many places in the years to come. An example of an early application of the contract is this experience:
Tonya was a young girl in our school, full of anger, very bright, with a sharp tongue. While rock climbing, she wanted to give up. We urged her not to "discount herself." We tape-recorded the interaction (or better, diatribe), as she struggled with a particular climb, and played it back to her during the debrief. The experience of hearing herself was dramatic. She couldn't believe how she sounded! She had set a goal and had agreed not to discount herself or others. When presented with the evidence, she had a context to refer to. We were not simply telling her to "be good, be nice, make the climb." We had made an agreement, and we were following through on our part of it. Because of her commitment, and the evidence of the recording, Tanya was forced to confront her behavior.
One of the advantages of the contract was its inclusion of personal or self-discounting. Many behavioral guidelines only address actions toward others. When we examine most institutional rules, they appear to be focused on the need for order and control, not on growth and change. Behavioral rules that only relate to how one acts in connection to others are heavy on interpersonal responsibility, but they often miss the mark regarding intrapersonal responsibility. The rules may be effective, but they don't connect with internal decisions.
With this thinking, addressing how one takes care of one's self became significant. Putdowns, another way of talking about discounting, can extend inward as well as outward thus ending the merely "other-directed" moral cycle. Therefore, Project Adventure addresses both inter- and intrapersonal landscapes. That combination reflects a basic dynamic for the whole group that focuses on responsibility for self and others.
Checking in with the no-discount contract became part of our regular activity: ''Are we honoring the contract?" "Was there any discounting behavior going on?" "What can we do to operate in a no-discount way when we go rock climbing?" As Adventure-Based Counseling training sessions and adoptions multiplied, PA continued to put more emphasis on the contract. We addressed goal setting by using personal action plans and spending time working on self-assessment. The more we applied this thinking to our own work, the more another essential comprehensive goal came to the forefront. That goal was safety, and it soon encompassed the no-discounting work. If there is anything obvious in Adventure work, it is the need to be safe. With the apparent risk that is part of Adventure activities, everyone clearly needs to practice safety. That safety must be defined first in terms of the physical; we simply cannot hurt anyone physically. Physical discounting soon shows up in the activities through out-of-control behavior, lack of attention, fooling around and so on.
Participants understand that the activities involve risk and that they need to observe rules because of it. It has been easy to promote safe behavior when introducing and leading Adventure activities. The value of safety is obvious; we connect to it in a variety of ways while we do the activities. In terms of sequencing the contract, it is easiest to begin with the most obvious, and with the area about which participants have the most concern. Physical safety then becomes an obvious connector for emotional safety.
One of our trainers, Beau Bassett, challenged the idea of no-discount, saying that it was a double negative and so lost meaning. He wanted us to find a more positive expression, offering in its place the notion of "full value." In what must be a record for group consensus, PA agreed on and voted in the change.
Around this time, the concept of confrontation was also introduced. There was a need for a way in which to discuss behavior, and that discussion needed to be clear, to the point, and strong. If a model for group interaction could be put in place, we could confront ourselves and others regarding our goals and practices. In the hard counseling work we were doing, confrontation became a useful addition. However, the mixed definition of this word (including both positive, face-to-face discussion and negative, defiant opposition) forced us to define confrontation according to our real goals. We wanted a strong word that could imply the desire for growth. Confrontation requires group work; growth and change are not easy, and there can be tremendous denial and sidestepping to avoid them. Since just doing Adventure activities is not necessarily enough to probe deeper issues and implications, the word confront became an important part of the Full Value Contract. And, the confronting began to take the shape of feedback.
Feedback is a fairly new word. It is unclear how it first made its way into the psychological training realm. In relation to stereo components, "feedback" means an inverse sound-something that we want to get rid of. But, the concept of something coming back to you that you may not have known or realized before is essential to the learning process. That is why feedback has become an important counseling term. It ideally has a regenerative effect, aiding in the growth process. The risk is that feedback can be inverse-that is, not correct, hurtful, ill-timed. Like confrontation, feedback is a strong word, not without potential negatives. This is where the earlier commitments to no-discount, or safety, need to be applied. Maintaining a safe environment means that confrontation and feedback must be given in a supportive, timely and careful manner in order to protect against inverse, hurtful experiences. Feedback can go both ways; the person delivering
the feedback can in turn receive it. No one in the group is immune from this process;
no one, therefore, should risk causing hurt.
The Full Value Contract continues to operate as a cornerstone of Project Adventure's work and has been both adopted and adapted by thousands of schools, programs and organizations worldwide. This group process continues to offer a structure that helps foster growth-enhancing communities. Some essential features from the 1970's that survive the test of time: