Can the key to long-term recovery success be found in a backpack, tent or pair of hiking boots? With adventure therapy, the great outdoors is yours to explore alongside a licensed therapist, helping you to find your inner self along the way.
A Brief History of Adventure Therapy
Adventure therapy has its roots in the 1800s with an early format that involved the use of the natural environment to treat mentally ill patients in Philadelphia. According to the Association of Experiential Education, the progressive education movement also influenced adventure therapy with its philosophy that “experience is a central means to broaden a student’s knowledge and, thus, experience must form the basis of a student’s curriculum.”1
The adventure education movement emerged in the middle of the last century. Some components of the early programs, such as promoting risk taking and subjecting clients to extreme stress, are controversial and no longer widely used. Adventure therapy has evolved into a methodology that prescribes adventure experiences, often outdoors, with a focus on therapeutic goals.2
Does Adventure Therapy Work?
According to a study published in the 2010 issue of Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, researchers confirmed that young adults participating in private therapeutic schools, residential programs and wilderness adventure therapy programs improved significantly during treatment, with continued improvement upon returning home.3
Another study found statistically significant improvements in depression and behavioral and emotional functioning of participants in a wilderness adventure therapy program. These improvements were still present at a three-month follow-up.4
What to Expect with an Outdoor Adventure Therapy Program
Outdoor adventure therapy programs take many forms with activities ranging from hiking, kayaking and mountain climbing to extended wilderness camping, sailing adventures or ropes courses.
The Association of Experiential Education notes that definitions for adventure therapy vary in program literature, but most have the following in common:
- The dynamic use of the environment or role of nature
- Activities designed to engage clients, relating to both their life and therapeutic experiences
- Activities led by licensed or certified mental health professionals
- Assessments and interventions prescribed based on the individual’s needs and general functioning
- Emphasis on therapeutic goals
- A dynamic therapist-client relationship that actively encourages the client in creating an effective therapeutic environment.
Benefits of Outdoor Adventure Therapy
Enjoying the great outdoors under the careful supervision of a licensed therapist who guides you through the treatment has the potential to deliver long-term success. Other benefits you or your loved one may experience include improvements in:
- Problem solving
- Focus and attention
- Teamwork and leadership ability
- Personal responsibility
Though adventure therapy programs have a recreational element and oftentimes stunning outdoor settings, they’re not just fun and games. They are legitimate therapeutic programs focused on healing now for long-term success.