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Benefits of Adventure Therapy

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 28, 2023

Table of Contents

Adventure therapy is a form of experiential therapy that started back in the late 1950s.

With this form of outdoor therapy, you’ll benefit from a combination of nature and community therapy while performing a range of exhilarating activities.

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The core goal of adventure therapy is to improve your physical and emotional wellbeing through the powerful healing properties of the wild, recreational activities, and evidence-based experiential therapies.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy was first rolled out successfully in 1962 with the Outward Bound program, a new deployment of mental health resources intended to reduce the occurrence of substance abuse, behavioral issues, and mental health problems in the program’s participants.

Since the 1960s, adventure therapy is widely implemented as part of comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment plans.

What Does Experiential Adventure Therapy Involve?

With adventure therapy, you’ll engage in a variety of activities. Examples include:

  • Surfing
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Paddle boarding
  • Caving
  • Rock climbing
  • Caving
  • Swimming
  • White water rafting
  • Rafting
  • Camping
  • Skiing
  • Orienteering

Various evidence-based therapies support these activities. You’ll draw upon the surrounding environment as you engage with problem-solving exercises, trust games, and cooperative tasks.

Following each activity, you’ll meet as a group to discuss what unfolded. Facilitators will help you to internalize the whole experience and then tie it into your therapeutic goals.
While the activities might seem initially challenging, they are all chosen to be low-risk. Although beneficial to get out of your comfort zone, the object of adventure therapy is not to throw you into situations where you’ll feel unsafe.
You can undertake adventure therapy in either a group or family setting.

5 Key Benefits of Adventure Therapy

While you’re taking part in the activities on your adventure therapy course, you’ll also practice mindfulness throughout. Adventure therapy helps you to focus entirely on the present moment.

One of the broad and overarching aims of this experiential therapy is to connect the outdoor activity with your life experiences to achieve a positive outcome. For instance, when you’re rock climbing, this is a safe environment to ask for help or independence openly. Therapy is something many people struggle with when abusing substances.

Adventure therapy, when used as part of an integrated treatment plan, can return many additional benefits, including the following:

  1. Get back to basics with the healing properties of nature
  2. Highly versatile therapy ideal for different ages and applications
  3. An outstanding opportunity for personal development
  4. This form of experiential therapy encourages self-reflection
  5. Valuable opportunity to sharpen interpersonal skills

Get back to basics with the healing properties of nature

If you spend time in nature engaging with outdoor therapy, this can deliver powerful benefits to your mental health.

Firstly, spending time outdoors can reduce some of the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Also, when you connect with nature, you’ll find your body produces less cortisol, a steroid hormone linked to stress.

If you’re someone who typically finds it hard to relax and shut off, surrounding yourself with nature can inspire a sense of tranquility you didn’t know you could tap into yourself.

Some research shows that experiencing awe – sweeping mountainscapes or towering Redwoods heaving into view, for example – can encourage positive social behaviors. At the same time, sharing staggering vistas or the raw power of crashing waves can help take you out of your head, focusing on something much bigger than yourself.

  1. Highly versatile therapy ideal for different ages and applications

Adventure therapy is initiated to help young people and can be effectively used for all ages.

This form of experiential therapy can be used to treat alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, and eating disorders.

  1. An outstanding opportunity for personal development

Embracing outdoor activities you have never attempted before can help you clarify better your thought processes and your behaviors and coping strategies in response to these thoughts. You’ll learn that you are not compelled to act on every thought that pops into your mind.

It’s a commonplace for individuals engaging with adventure therapy to apply the same coping strategies they would in other backdrops.

You’ll begin to take a more active role in your recovery when you’re undertaking adventure therapy, and you’ll also flesh out your understanding of risk versus consequences. By stepping outside of your comfort zone with adventure therapy, you have a solid chance to grow and develop as a person.

  1. This form of experiential therapy encourages self-reflection

Disengaging from the hectic pace of modern life and getting away from the screens and devices that can dominate your day, flooding you with information from all angles, presents you with the opportunity to reflect.

As you transition from active addiction into the early stages of recovery, the more time you allow yourself to reflect on what led you to this point and how you’ll do things differently in the future for the better.

2. Valuable opportunity to sharpen interpersonal skills

There are group activities that form the backbone of adventure therapy designed to sharpen your emotional intelligence.

You’ll also – and crucially – hone your communication skills. You’ll need to ask for help, cooperate with others, give and receive feedback while respecting the boundaries of others.

As you move from substance abuse to sobriety, the more openly you can communicate with your loved ones, the more chance you’ll have of avoiding past flashpoints and achieving superior outcomes.

Summary of Adventure Therapy Benefits

As well as the above possible benefits, here’s a snapshot of what you could gain from engaging with adventure therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan:

  • Problem-solving and decision-making
  • Promoting a sense of responsibility
  • Improving self-awareness
  • Building confidence
  • Alleviating the symptoms of depression
  • Developing positive relationships
  • Cooperating with others
  • Raising resiliency
  • Honing communication skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Encouraging emotional openness
  • Increasing engagement with the therapist
  • Building self-esteem
  • Stress management and coping skills

Adventure Therapy at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery Center, we offer adventure therapy as part of our personalized addiction treatment plans.

When you engage with any of our outpatient or partial hospitalization programs, you’ll benefit from evidence-based medication-assisted treatment if appropriate. The other core component of programming is psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). With CBT, you’ll build the skills to minimize the chance of relapse. Adventure therapy alongside these other therapies can be highly beneficial in some cases.

To explore your options, call the friendly Renaissance team at 866.330.9449

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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