Trails Carolina’s Family Therapeutic Program Director Explores Therapeutic Value of Objects

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The idea that objects carry a great deal of meaning and value to people is pretty much an irrefutable fact. Recently, Trails Carolina’s Family Clinical Director Jason McKeown MS, LMFT, CPE, DCC, conducted research alongside Brenda Cowan, an Associate Professor of Exhibition Design at SUNY/FIT as well as Ross Laird, PhD.

By observing the ways in which Trails Carolina utilizes objects throughout the therapeutic program and through interviews with object donors to the September 11th Memorial and Museum, McKeown and his team have been looking into the ways in which objects can have therapeutic value to individuals. Their research revolves around the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics.


The Theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics

You may be wondering: what is the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics? This theory refers to the the relationships between an object, an individual, and the direct therapeutic, healing impact an object may have on an individual. There are five dynamics which define the psychotherapeutic value of objects to humans. These include:

  • Making: Creating an original, sometimes hand made object in order to experience and implement the creative process. By going through a creative process such as making an object, individuals undergo stages of psychological growth and healing. Example: At Trails Carolina, students bow drill. By bow drilling, students are mindful of their actions and with that self awareness comes therapeutic growth.
  • Releasing/Unburdening: Completely releasing an object from an individual’s ownership and control. Removing its meaning to an individual entirely and letting go of it in a meaningful way. Example: One object donor to the September 11th Memorial and Museum donated her loved one’s tie and gun.
  • Giving/ Receiving: Donating an object to another person in order for it to be accepted and for its attributed meaning to be accepted by the receiver of the object. Example: One object donor donated her deceased husband’s wine to the museum and to relatives.
  • Associating: Keeping an object close by in order to carry on the knowledge and memory of whatever an individual associates with the object. Example: After Trails Carolina’s therapeutic program, some students take home their worn and dirty mountain clothing in order to associate it with the memories and therapeutic progress made at Trails Carolina.
  • Composing: The bringing together and juxtaposition of objects in order to express and examine a concept or idea that is not easily expressed any other way. Example: A survivor of 9/11 donated a series of items that were with him throughout his escape and release from medical care.

McKeown’s work with object donors to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum


Recently, McKeown carried out a case study which involved interviewing eleven individuals who donated objects to be put on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

These interviews with object donors were intended to help the researchers explore the psychotherapeutic benefits experienced by the donors of physically giving the object away.  They also looked into the  ways in which donors personally identified with the objects they donated.

Study participants included people touched by the experience of September 11th in various ways.  There were some participants who lost a spouse, some who had survived themselves but lost a loved one (including one who also lost a husband and one who lost a cousin), some who lost a child, some that had been first responders, and one on-location journalist.

By using the information collected by these interviews, along with the observations of object-based therapeutic techniques at Trails Carolina, McKeown and team will continue their research into the future.

Trails Carolina can help

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program for struggling teens, ages 10-17. Our students commonly deal with issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, trauma, and other behavioral challenges.


For more information  about Trails Carolina, please call 800-975-7303 today.



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