Adventure Therapy: How Nature Can Help Mental Health


Adventure Therapy: What Is It?

Adventure therapy, also called outdoor behavioral therapy or adventure-based therapy, is a health treatment that uses expeditions into nature or other unfamiliar surroundings to address behavioral or mental health issues. In other words, it uses adventure experiences, and it is conducted by a mental health professional (adventure therapist) in a natural setting.

Being outdoors has many benefits, but it started being used as a therapeutic tool in the early 1900s.

What Are the Benefits of Adventure Therapy?

  • It provides a secure, supportive, and non-critical environment for self-discovery.
  • It may mimic the pressures and challenges found in family and social structures but free of negative influences.
  • It helps develop healthy relationships, and boundaries.
  • It helps build an inner sense of wisdom, strength, and confidence.
  • If done in group, adventure therapy helps to forge friendships, which helps with confidence, communication skills, cooperative skills, and trust.
  • It improves physical condition, heightens mind-body connection, and enhances self-awareness.
  • It is recommended for people who don’t love the idea of sitting in an office to talk about their feelings.
  • It develops a more positive and optimistic attitude towards life.

Adventure Therapy: Who Is It For?

Adventure therapy or nature therapy has tremendous benefits for people of all ages. Teens may benefit tremendously from this type of therapy by being surrounded by spectacular nature and breathing fresh air.

Imagine being surrounded by the beautiful and relaxing sounds of nature, away from the bombardment of phones, TVs, computers, traffic, among others. If you are used to the “noise”, perhaps it would be a great idea to give yourself time to reflect during a moment of silence and listen to that still voice within.

Although it may be beneficial for many, adventure therapy is not a replacement for traditional therapy altogether, but it works as a holistic treatment for patients with:

  • Depression,
  • Addictions,
  • Behavioral problems in adolescents, including substance abuse,
  • Eating disorders,
  • School failure,
  • Anger management,
  • Anxiety disorders,
  • PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder),
  • Relationship problems,
  • Grief and loss,
  • Unresolved traumas,
  • Deep emotional wounds, etc.

Adventure Therapy: Types

Adventure therapy has many approaches, and they may also differ according to the patient, and the therapist. Some of them include:

  1. Wilderness excursions and games,
  2. Problem-solving initiatives,
  3. Trust activities,
  4. Outdoor activities, such as backpacking and hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding, rappelling, mountain biking, primitive skills, among many others.

Adventure Therapy for Teens

As we mentioned before, adventure-based therapy is a remarkable option for teens undergoing mental health issues.

This form of experiential therapy inspires emotional healing particularly in teenagers. Studies show that troubled adolescents see themselves in a new light after wilderness therapy. It improves their behavior and mindset during these problematic years.

Many teenagers spend hours in front of a computer or other screens, but adventure therapy allows the patient to experience the therapeutic properties of nature.

Furthermore, unplugged time in nature regulates mood disturbance and nervous system arousal, which is caused by spending too much time in front of screens.

Being outdoors lets teens reduce stress by lowering cortisol, a stress-related chemical. For many adolescents being surrounded by nature is an entirely new experience that will inspire tranquility and positivity.

Another great benefit of adventure-based therapy is that it develops a more optimistic outlook of life. It helps teens understand risks and consequences and encourages willingness to face challenges and to step out of their comfort zones.

Adventure Therapy for Adults

When it comes to this form of therapy, there are many options to choose from. Different programs feature individual and group therapy, individualized treatments, gender-specific programs. These are planned by the professional according to the needs of the patient.

Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy may be considered a subset of adventure therapy, since it focuses on a more direct connection with nature. This type of adventure-based therapy is especially effective and recommended to teens, veterans, and young adults.

Moreover, wilderness therapy engages patients in rigorous expeditions and survival camps. Among its benefits, it provides freedom and a sense of independence to the individuals. It also develops problem-solving skills.

Adventure therapy: Individual Therapy vs. Group Therapy

Whether individual or group therapy is better for you will be determined according to what you prefer and the professional you visit.

On the one hand, individual therapy may offer a one-on-one approach to emotional healing. It allows the person to express a range of emotions and feelings freely. Individual therapy in nature may be the best option if you feel that sitting on a couch talking is not for you. With this therapeutic approach, you will be sharing a wonderful time with your therapist in a more friendly and comfortable environment for you.

On the other hand, group therapy (family therapy included) offers many benefits. Group sessions may include several themes dealing with:

  • Self-awareness: mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal communication, how the brain works, trust issues.
  • Recovery: warning signs of addictions, recognizing denial in addictions, triggers, developing a support group, relapse prevention.
  • Inner reflection and personal development: developing a plan for our lives, taking responsibility for our actions and envisioning goals and who we desire to become.

Adventure Therapy: Where Does It Come From?

As we mentioned above, adventure therapy is one type of experiential therapy.

Experiential therapy refers to numerous types of therapy and therapeutic methods. These include various kinds of experiences, emotional processing, interactions with others, reflection, creativity, etc.

In short, experiential therapy goes beyond talk therapy. And involves interactions with other people, animals, artistic work, etc.

Expressive therapies also include: Drama therapy, Music therapy, play therapy, Art therapy, Poetry therapy, Animal-assisted therapy (which may involve horses, dogs, or other animals), and, of course, adventure therapy.

We hope this was helpful. If you feel this is for you, go and find an adventure therapist near you!

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