The Many Benefits of Adventure Therapy in Recovery

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Adventure therapy is an experiential form of therapy that is distinct from, and often used as a supplement to, traditional group cognitive-behavioral therapy. Adventure therapy takes clients out of the treatment center environment and gives them dynamic challenges. From an hour of therapy on the ocean while paddling a kayak, to a weekend spent in the wilderness, the activities used this type of therapy are designed to help clients meet their treatment goals, overcome challenges, build self-esteem and enjoy the many benefits of being active and outdoors.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy and wilderness therapy are both forms of psychotherapy that uses active experiences as a therapeutic tool, as compared to passive observation. The definition of adventure therapy according to the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group of the Association for Experiential Education is:

“The prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by mental health professionals, often conducted in natural settings, that kinesthetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels.”1 In other words, mental health professionals use experiences to engage their clients and help them make positive changes.

Giving Back to the Community

Jake Hampu is the founder of Unified Dream, a nonprofit organization helping to educate the world on the importance of community groups. Unified Dream helps other nonprofits raise awareness for their cause by filming their story and creating documentary-style videos they can share with the world. Jake is also a former US Marine Corps Platoon Sergeant and, after completing rehab at Transformations Treatment Center, he was looking for a career with a sense of purpose, one that would let him give back to the community.

“I’ve started working with local organizations, including Street Waves, which is a non-profit that teaches children from under-served communities how to swim and surf. I met one of the founders of the program during a Father’s Day junior camping and survival skills clinic I held at the Delray Beach Children’s Garden. He invited me to one of the surfing classes and I was instantly hooked so, the next thing you know I’m helping him run his program. Through my experience with these organizations I was able to see the magic that they provided to the children and to the community. Helping humanity helps me stay sober!”

Benefits of Adventure Therapy

As with any type of therapy, the goals of adventure therapy are for clients to make progress toward mental health goals. It is the job of the therapist to select holistic activities and to guide clients through them in a way that promotes that progress. Research into the effectiveness of adventure therapy as a mental health treatment has demonstrated that this is a strategy that provides a number of benefits to clients who participate.

In the article “Fun in Recovery”2 published by Transformations, BHT Supervisor Brian Lockard mentions that many clients have a fear they’ll never have fun again once they are sober. Lockard mentions that the social and recreational activities they provide for their clients are not only therapeutic, they are also a lot of fun.

When discussing some of the services available to clients Lockard says, “…THRIIV Adventure Therapy is orchestrated by a certified Mental Health Counselor named Jonny who served our country for four years in the US Army. Sessions conducted by Jonny include: strategic team building and group cohesion challenges, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, exploring secluded islands and even snorkeling through local reefs with tropical fish. Jonny does a tremendous job at providing a fun experience that benefits our clients’ character and even their confidence.”

The many benefits of adventure therapy were evident in a study published in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning.3 The study included 36 adolescents with a range of mental health issues and who had participated in outpatient therapy. They completed a 10-week adventure therapy course, and the researchers evaluated them before, immediately after and three months from the conclusion of the program. The results showed that the participants had significant and lasting improvements in depression symptoms, psychological resilience, self-esteem in their peer groups, and emotional and behavioral functioning.

Other studies have found that adventure therapy can benefit adults, not just adolescents. In one study, researchers found that this kind of therapy was useful for teaching adults positive coping mechanisms for stress when used to complement traditional outpatient services.4 Outdoor activities, conducted in a therapeutic setting, also helped the adult clients form better relationships with their therapists. Other potential positive outcomes from adventure therapy include:5

  • Encouraging and promoting a sense of responsibility
  • Building positive relationships and learning to cooperate with others
  • Acquiring other positive social skills, like communication and conflict resolution
  • Improving self-awareness and self-confidence
  • Increasing resiliency
  • Promoting greater engagement with therapy and a therapist
  • Encouraging openness and emotional discovery
  • Creating meaningful opportunities to face real-life experiences and challenges

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