Working with Kids at Risk: Denver Passow

by Al Wadleigh

As a Field Instructor for SUWS, an outdoor therapeutic organization that works with kids at risk, Denver Passow uses his NLP skills every day. “We get kids from all over the country with various problems ranging from anger management and poor self-esteem to family problems and school concerns, to some who are court-ordered to come here,” notes Denver.

For Denver, rapport is the building block upon which he builds a relationship with the kids. “I talk the way they do, use their vocabulary and language patterns to promote acceptance, trust, and solid communication,” explains Denver. “I move between a number of different roles, such as instructor, fun guy, hard guy and role model. Once I have rapport with these kids it’s a lot easier for them to move with me to a more desirable emotional and social space.”

Denver takes the kids out on a three-week wilderness trip where they learn and practice primitive skills–real and metaphorically. “They learn things like how to start a fire without a lighter, cook for themselves, take care of themselves and, as the program progresses, they learn first aid and search and rescue techniques. We move them from taking care of themselves to working as a team.” What are the results of this training? “They come out with self-confidence, self-esteem, the ability to make better choices and to work together.”

Denver also uses language patterns such as the Meta-Model to gather quality information and to convey that to the Field Supervisors. He also uses techniques for putting problem behaviors into the past and future pacing the skills the kids learn into their lives at home.

“I love working with the kids. When they come in they have attitude, emotional pain and over the course of the three weeks I see them change. They become more self-confident, self-assured and they learn to work together.”