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Adventure therapy is a complementary therapy that’s been shown through a substantial body of research to be effective for treating addiction. Adventure therapy benefits are wide-ranging and apply to many aspects of life beyond an addiction.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is an active approach to “talk” therapy, or psychotherapy. It involves physically and emotionally challenging outdoor activities like camping, hiking, kayaking and climbing. During adventure therapy, participants are first introduced to the activity, then experience it, and then discuss it. In doing so, they make meaningful connections between the experience and their own lives.

Adventure therapy programs emphasize whole-person healing, and they draw on the assumption of the innate goodness of humankind. Adventure therapy benefits individuals struggling with addiction by leading to psychological healing, positive changes in behavior and self-confidence that transfers across life domains.

How Adventure Therapy Helps Transform Lives

Educational theorist David Kolb’s large body of work focuses on experiential education as a catalyst for developing new skills and concepts. “Learning,” he says, “is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

In order for adventure therapy to be successful, it should follow Kolb’s four-stage experiential learning cycle:

  • Stage 1: Concrete experience, or the act of engaging in a new situation or experience.
  • Stage 2: Reflective observation, or actively observing the experience and reflecting on it.
  • Stage 3: Abstract conceptualization, or the reflection of the experience turning into a new idea or concept or a re-evaluation of an old idea or concept.
  • Stage 4: Active experimentation, or applying the new or re-worked idea to one’s own life and their perception of the world around them.

Adventure therapy benefits self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-awareness. It involves working through challenges, engaging with risk and stress in healthy ways, building resilience and developing and applying coping strategies.

Adventure Therapy Benefits

The benefits of adventure therapy are far-reaching. It gives participants the opportunity to experience positive and negative natural consequences of their decisions, and it increases engagement in the treatment process. According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, engaging with nature alone reduces anxiety and depression, improves cognitive function, and increases creativity.

Different types of adventure activities produce different types of benefits. For example,

Cooperative activities promote trust, mutual respect, positive interactions and deeper relationships. Initiative activities require participants to take the initiative to communicate, solve problems and make decisions together, and they promote cooperation and communication skills, coping skills and problem-solving skills. Trust and support activities involve situations where participants aren’t in total control and must therefore rely on others to accomplish a task. These activities promote healthy boundaries and the development of self-confidence in one’s ability to support others in a positive way. They also enable participants to experience the positive effects of a trusting relationship.

According to the Institute for Outdoor Learning, general adventure therapy benefits include:

  • Relief from mental fatigue.
  • Better concentration and focus.
  • Better physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • A more positive outlook.
  • An enhanced ability to cope with stress and negative emotions.
  • Realistic goal-setting.
  • Improved management of impulsive behaviors.

A high-quality adventure therapy program will be facilitated by a trained, experienced adventure therapist, and it will follow the best-practices guidelines set forth by the Association for Experiential Education.

Adventure therapy is a fun, engaging and worthwhile treatment therapy that can have a long-lasting impact on individuals who participate.