Psychology and mountains: interview with Dirk Schulte
What connection is there between mountains and psychology? We ask our ambassador Dirk Schulte. An experiential ad minimalist traveller, he has chosen the mountains as his place of exploration. In addition to being an Alpine Guide Dirk has a doctorate in psychology and works as a management consultant for several companies.
Dirk, how do your experiences in the mountains help your work as a psychologist in developing decision-making skills?
There is a procedural analogy in the management of groups or individuals to the experience of going into the mountains. You have to constantly analyse, evaluate and decide about situations. This triad, analyse-evaluate-decide, is very important, it is fundamental to acquiring in-depth situational awareness. Only then will you be able to make well-founded and correct decisions. I use the example of the experience spaces ‘management/organisation vs. mountains’ to train behaviour and response to management or stress situations more intensively. In the mountains we have a different awareness of our actions because mistakes cannot be hidden or blamed on others. You cannot ignore situations until they resolve themselves or wait until conditions have changed before acting, as is often the case in operational practice. This behaviour can be dangerous or even fatal in the mountains. So I use the area of ‘mountain danger’ as a magnifying glass for daily thinking and acting as a manager; I can then create awareness and a space for reflection so that people can train further. Specifically, this means that I go into the mountains with managers or groups who want to train their management skills. I play out with them situations that can really happen in the mountains and together we reflect and analyse their behaviour, their way of approaching the choice. In this context, I use the tools as a systemic consultant and executive coach, with a solution-oriented approach. Usually people leave my coaching sessions with a new awareness.
You have seen and climbed many mountains on Earth. Is there a place that has impressed you in particular?
The Caucasus, wild and harsh, is the place that has impressed me the most during my mountain tours around the world. I find unique the combination of this original and wonderfully rough landscape with the small settlements clinging to the slopes. I have been to Kasbek, Ushba and Elbrus; especially the natural environment in Georgia is impressive, but beyond that the people are very friendly and open to strangers. During that trip because of the exposure to the wilderness (I travelled with a tent and in complete self-sufficiency) and because of the language difficulties (hardly anyone spoke English), I never felt so foreign and yet so at home. Today in Patagonia or the Himalayas there is a strong tourist infrastructure, something that does not exist in much of the Caucasus. This allows for more comfortable travel and trekking but you lose contact with the people and the local culture.In addition to this, one loses the opportunity to train one’s spirit of adaptation, the ability to relate to others and to face decision-making situations.
You are not only a psychologist and traveller but you also work with the Association of German Mountain and Ski Guides VDBS. Tell us what do you do with them.
I am on the VDBS board to do my part, to lead the association towards a more modern and sustainable future. This affects the organisation of the association on the one hand and the professional profiles within it on the other. In my department these are the new sub-disciplines: mountain hiking/trekking, climbing, freeriding. Mountain sports are constantly evolving and the individual activities are managed in an increasingly specific and professional manner, which means that new requirements are constantly emerging.That is why it is necessary that our guides are always trained so that they are up-to-date with the current level of performance and meet the needs of customers and the market. An important part of our work on the board is to lead these professions towards a successful future: not only expertise in the mountains but also with interpersonal skills and with the ability to read needs.
Last year we completely rebuilt the VDBS office and changed the organisational and working structure. A large part of the work processes were digitised. We have adapted the staff to the new challenges, so today we have a friendly and competent working environment that can react quickly to challenges and offer VDBS members and partners a wide range of services. In addition to my work on the board of directors, I actively contribute to driving these innovations forward with my skills as an organisational and personnel developer. I am a member of the VDBS teaching team and train the next generation in leadership and conflict management, in the mountains but also in the workplace.
The mountain environment is in some ways extreme, there is an ineliminable power about it that forces us to get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves. Precisely for this reason, I believe that learning to go into the mountains safely trains skills that can then also be used in everyday life.
“In the mountains we have a different level of awareness, because mistakes cannot be hidden or blamed on others”