What is Adventure Therapy?

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Adventure Therapy, also known as wilderness therapy, is a form of experiential therapy that uses challenging sports and activities to assist with the therapeutic process. Adventure-based therapy is mainly used for teenagers undergoing difficulties such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, addiction, and other mental and emotional challenges. This approach includes different exciting and physically challenging activities such as surfing, rock-climbing, biking, camping, and skiing. 

Some Adventure Therapy programs are designed to train the participants to master the sport, while other programs enjoy a one-time experience. Trained mental health professionals are on hand to support and aid the therapeutic process throughout the activities. At the end of each activity, there is usually a group discussion. Sometimes the individual meets one-on-one with the therapists to discuss the events of the day, what they’ve learned, and how they can apply their skills in their lives.

Three Types of Adventure Therapy Programs


There are three different forms of Adventure Therapy that are generally used. They utilize different methods to achieve the same goal of using nature and wilderness to aid the therapeutic process. Although they differ slightly, their names are used interchangeably. 

  1. Wilderness Therapy - This form involves a  group of participants  who usually remains the same throughout the course. They spend their days in remote locations engaging in challenging activities. By the end, the group has fostered meaningful relationships with one another. 
  2. Adventure-based therapy - In this model, most participants are usually enrolled in an outpatient program or attending some form of group therapy at the same time. Individuals join various activities close to home. These activities usually take place in nature although they may also be indoor activities.
  3. Long-term residential camping - The participants live in outdoor temporary accommodations like tents or mobile training units, and master one skill over a very long period of time. As an example, they could learn surfing and other water sports over the course of a year.

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Adventure Therapy Programs Vs. One-on-One Therapy

An adventure therapy session is very different than your regular meeting with a therapist. It is recommended to be attending one-on-one sessions in conjunction with adventure therapy. Nevertheless, Adventure-based therapy has a lot of qualities that regular therapy does not necessarily have. 

Action Focused 

One-on-one and group therapies take place in a room where the client is mostly physically inactive. In Adventure Therapy, the client is placed in a more natural environment, which allows him/her to be more open in expressing his/her feelings verbally and through body language.

Accurate Assessments

By observing the individuals in action, therapists can get a better picture of what the clients struggle with. This makes them better equipped to help the clients identify and address their challenges. 

A Change of Scenery

Many teenagers are wary of authority or therapists in particular. Once they are removed from the traditional therapeutic environment, they are less likely to create negative associations about therapy. In the wilderness, they may be more open to acknowledging their issues and committing to change.

Improved Client-Therapist Relationship

Participants often report that the typical barriers between therapist and client fall away when they are both engaging in the same challenging activities. This is because the role gap between the client and therapist is less highlighted. In these adventure settings, clients are able to connect better with their therapists.

Increased Confidence in Capabilities  

By introducing challenging activities that may cause adolescents to feel positively stressed, they learn that becoming stressed can be healthy and used beneficially in certain environments. Their stress propels them to work on their attitudes and negative behaviors to achieve the best outcome. Therefore, outdoor drug treatment programs prove to clients that they are capable. This feeling of confidence is harder to achieve in a therapist’s room.

Based on Success

Traditional therapy can sometimes be negative, with a focus on the dysfunction in the client’s life. Being outdoors allows both the therapist and the client to focus on their strengths, their capabilities, and everything they’re accomplishing through the activities.

Small Groups

Small groups allow participants to develop a feeling of camaraderie with their peers, rooting for each other’s success and being mindful of their individual needs. Together they form their own community which many individuals may have been previously lacking. 

Benefits of Adventure Therapy

One obvious benefit of adventure therapy is that most activities take place outdoors. The fresh air and physical activity stimulate the hormones and produce endorphins while reducing the level of cortisol - the chemical that causes stress and anxiety. Spending time in nature also has a relaxing, reflective effect, providing the opportunity to bond with nature and access a sense of inner peace. In addition to the nature aspect, adventure therapy programs offer other advantages.


The different sports that teenagers engage in through adventure therapy programs can aid in reversing the negative effects of mental health challenges by improving grit, building resiliency, and developing self-efficiency.


The teens are often forced to collaborate with each other in order to complete tasks or for self-preservation, improve communication skills, self-confidence, and trust. It also allows adolescents to explore personal boundaries, while giving them a sense of empowerment when mentoring their peers.

Coping Strategies

The idea of wilderness therapy is that the participants are placed in a similar position to the pressures of a family and social structure, but in a relaxed, non-judgmental space, away from their usual negative influences, where they can explore and discover different tools and coping techniques to deal with their negative feelings. Some of the other adventure therapy benefits include learning problem-solving, a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, and increased resourcefulness, self-awareness, and responsibility.

Better Quality of Life

As mentioned above, wilderness therapy is not used to treat or cure any mental or emotional issue. Rather, it can be used to assist in many areas of the standard treatment protocol as it aids in providing many important life skills.

Here are some of the issues that Adventure Therapy can help for:

·   Depression

·   Anxiety

·   PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

·   Substance Use Disorder (drug or alcohol addiction)

·   Bipolar Disorder

·   Schizophrenia

·   Personality disorders

·   Self-esteem issues

·   Eating disorders

·   ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder)

·   Relationship issues·   Loss and grief


Wilderness Therapy Programs for Addiction Treatment

Wilderness therapy programs for addiction treatment are widely used at drug rehab centers to provide a ‘break’ from therapy. The participants enjoy nature and master new skills in a therapeutic environment. These activities are designed to reinforce the skills and behaviors learned at the rehab.  

People who struggle with drug addiction may feel powerless against their addiction, blaming different causes for their struggles. Nature teaches us that although we cannot control life’s circumstances, we have to take responsibility for our actions and our reactions to everything that happens to us. In outdoor drug treatment programs, individuals learn that they must take control of what they can change. 

For example, if it suddenly gets very cold during a hike, people cannot make the weather warmer. The group is faced with a decision, either they can take no action and blame the weather for making them miserable. Or they can gather wood to make a fire, proving to themselves that they are in control of their reactions.  

Adventure Therapy at Avenues Recovery

Here at Avenues Recovery, we partner with Jake King from Thrive Outdoors [1] to provide bi-weekly Adventure Therapy activities for our clients. Thrive Outdoors is five core principles that keep people alive in the wilderness:


A positive mindset is crucial to physical survival, but equally important for getting through life emotionally. 


Shelter refers to the tangible shelter that protects us form the elements, but also on an emotional level, to the toxic and negative environments and people that we have to remove ourselves from.


Fire is vital to our survival in nature as it provides warmth, food, and other benefits, but it’s also necessary for life - we have to find fire and passion in life and a reason to get up every day.

Food and Water

Food and water are what sustains us but with everything we put into our bodies, we have to determine: Will this harm or be beneficial? Do I need this or do I want this?

Our Success in Wilderness Addiction Treatment

The reason why Thrive Outdoors is so effective as a wilderness drug rehab program is that we push people out of their comfort zones. Difficult and challenging activities within nature are not typically within the comfort zone of our participants, but the more we extend ourselves to step out of our familiar surroundings, the more comfortable we become at stretching ourselves. This translates into our daily lives when we push ourselves to remain sober for another day, we remove ourselves from toxic or triggering situations, and we find the strength to deal with the core issues of our addiction.

If spending time in nature doing challenging activities talks to you, you may be an excellent candidate for Adventure Therapy at Avenues Recovery treatment programs. Our team is here to answer any questions you may have as we offer a variety of resources. Reach out today to begin your journey to an addiction-free life.

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[1] www.thriveoutdoorsnh.com

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