Phases of Change, 2 of 6 – Caution Phase
By Maia Christopherson
The Phases Program at Discovery Ranch for Girls (DRG) mirrors the phases of motivational change that people experience throughout their lives. The basic question behind every phase is, “When you do the right thing, why do you do it?” When a student begins their time at DRG, they work on their Caution phase. The Caution phase represents the times in our lives when we make choices out of our fear of negative consequences.
Fear Can Be Good
As strange as it sounds, this is a good thing. For example, fear of getting into a car accident or fear of getting pulled over keeps people from speeding. A healthy dose of caution keeps us safe. Those who never learn to exercise healthy caution can end up seriously injured, facing legal consequences, or worse. Fear may be the most primitive reason to do the right thing, but it is an important reason nonetheless.
Significantly, the strength of our phase system is in the ways it describes the students’ actual, lived experience at DRG. We understand that most students at this phase have not yet bought in to the process. We know that they have not yet taken ownership of their therapeutic goals.
All our program asks of the girls at this phase is, “Can you keep yourself safe?” For many girls, a fear of the unknown or negative consequences is the only thing keeping them in treatment, and that’s okay. That’s a starting place. Girls who can exercise that healthy caution will find themselves moving quickly through this phase of the program and into the higher levels of motivation represented by our other phase work.
The Caution phase is considered a dependent phase because someone who acts out of caution is dependent on others people for motivation. In our other phases, students examine and develop their own internal motivations for making healthy life decisions.
In order to complete their Caution phase, our girls have to meet residential, clinical, and academic goals, which are:
- Exercise healthy caution and keep herself and others safe
- Comply with basic Ranch and House rules and expectations
- Complete her Orientation Packet
- Finish her quilt
- Complete her Outcome survey
- Complete her True Grit survey
- Finish reading the student manual
- Complete What can you accept? What can you commit to? paragraph
- Attend school
- Complete Initial Academic Testing and Interview
- Meet with Academic Mentor
Getting Their Boots
Girls who receive their Caution phase also receive their boots around the same time, which represents alertness and vigilance in a hazardous situation. The boots are symbolic because boots are a barrier between the person wearing them and the world. In ranch life, caring for animals and working with horses can be challenging and even dangerous, so boots are important in keeping people safe.
Furthermore, just like ranch life, life outside of the ranch is full of trials and potential dangers. We teach our girls that it is necessary and wise to protect themselves. Caution will keep them safe and alive. We also teach our girls that, although caution is a valuable tool, caution is only an easier, more basic form of motivation. If their only aim in life is to remain safe, they limit their possibilities.
A young horse is a good example of Caution since a young horse obsesses over safety. Generally, a young horse does not think; it reacts. Any disruption is seen as a threat. Moreover, generations of experience have taught the horse and its ancestors that the one who stays safest is the one who fights hardest or runs away fastest.
Though a young horse is beautiful and strong, the horse can never fulfill its potential if it cannot learn to reason and control itself. Similarly, an individual in the Caution phase keeps herself safe. She may be anxious or unsure, but she safely accepts what she can and does not lash out or react.