Adventure therapy is an experiential therapeutic approach that uses challenges in the outdoors as a tool for change. Influenced by the Outward Bound program founded by Kurt Hahn in 1941, adventure therapy programs emerged in the late 1980s. The underlying principle was that placing at-risk youth in natural settings to undertake challenging tasks could lead to positive therapeutic results.
What Is Adventure Therapy?
Adventure therapy is an active, experiential approach to psychotherapy and counseling. Utilizing an activity in a group setting, adventure-based therapy employs real or perceived risk as a clinically significant agent to initiate desired change. In survival-like situations, teens in outdoor therapy scenarios learn to rely on each other. Therefore, they build trust and responsibility. Moreover, a trained adventure therapist guides the group.
Types of adventure therapy include ropes courses, wilderness expeditions, cooperative group games, and rock climbing. Thus, while facing these challenges, teens develop a sense of responsibility, a positive attitude about themselves, and a greater ability to work within a group setting. Additionally, by getting at-risk youth out of their “comfort zones,” adventure therapy pushes teens to develop a positive identity.
Research at the University of New Hampshire has shown that adventure-based therapy for teens is actually safer than remaining at home, where car accidents, drug overdoses, and risky behavior result in much higher injury and mortality rates. Furthermore, the majority of outdoor therapy programs adhere to the quality standards of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) Council. The goal of the OBH council is to improve adventure therapy outcomes, reduce risk incidents, and promote best practices.