A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies explored the efficacy of wilderness therapy in treating troubled adolescents. Researchers found that 95 percent of participants deemed the project as enormously beneficial. In fact, six weeks after the program, parents reported significant improvements in the behavior and mindset of the teenagers who participated.
In part, Adventure Therapy works by allowing teens to venture outside their comfort zones. By providing opportunities to escape from the daily routine, Adventure Therapy helps teens see themselves in a new light. Furthermore, mastering new challenges in a collaborative environment boosts adolescents’ self-esteem and social skills.
Adventure Therapy is one of the many unique therapeutic strategies incorporated into Newport Academy’s individualized treatment plans.
What Is Adventure Therapy?
Adventure Therapy can take many forms. However, it generally takes place outdoors and involves a variety of fun—and often challenging—physical activities. Therefore, trained mental health professionals provide guidance and supervision as teens take part in excursions such as camping, hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, ropes courses, and even surfing.
Working with others is an important element of Adventure Therapy. Excursions typically include cooperative activities that help participants learn to better trust and solve problems with their peers and guides.
While Adventure Therapy takes place outside the confines of a traditional therapy setting, it has its roots in several psychological concepts. These include systems theory, experiential learning, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Here are some of the many ways that Adventure Therapy can benefit mental health.
Adventure Therapy is applicable for many different ages and mental health challenges.
Individuals of all ages can benefit from Adventure Therapy. Moreover, it is proven to be an effective tool for overcoming a wide range of mental health challenges. As a result, adventure Therapy offers ways to care for mental illness for people recovering from eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and teen substance abuse.
Additionally, it is a powerful anxiety and depression treatment approach. It can also help those who are working to come to terms with personal loss. As well, Adventure Therapy can add an exciting and productive element to family or relationship therapy. Adventure Therapy can even be beneficial in schizophrenia treatment.
It allows individuals to experience the therapeutic properties of nature.
Spending time in nature through outdoor therapy can improve mental health in a number of ways. For one, time outdoors has been shown to decrease levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Moreover, being outside in nature is proven to reduce stress by lowering the stress-associated chemical cortisol.
Additionally, being surrounded by nature can inspire newfound tranquility and positivity.
Research has found that experiencing awe, such as one might feel while immersed in a lush forest or surveying a scenic mountain landscape, can encourage more generous, positive social behaviors. It also takes us out of our own heads, helping us focus us on something bigger than ourselves.
Furthermore, unplugged time in nature helps regulate mood disturbance and nervous system arousal caused by too much time in front of screens.
Participants take part in engaging, real-world experiences.
Adventure based therapy can help individuals make strides in the recovery process by reframing the entire therapy experience, outside the context of mental health facilities. Rather than reflecting on their habits, personalities, tendencies, and triggers in an abstract way, Adventure Therapy patients take part in goal-based activities. Such activities often provide a window into their unique mental traits and challenges.
Adventure Therapy also promotes emotional healing by removing individuals from the habits that they may use to avoid confronting personal challenges. Additionally, they are removed from the environmental factors that may be contributing to their mental health issues.
In Adventure Therapy, individuals work together to overcome a wide variety of obstacles. These might include using a compass, scaling rock walls, navigating a river, or other challenges. As they encounter opportunities to explore their own strengths and weaknesses, teens learn to take calculated risks, and push their limits in a safe and supportive environment.
Watch how Newport Academy’s Adventure Therapy Program helps teens discover new strengths, build peer relationships, and find a new, strong sense of self:
Adventure Therapy provides ample opportunities for personal development.
Adventure Therapy provides participants with ways to better understand their thought processes, behaviors, and coping strategies. Often, an individual’s approach to solving problems in Adventure Therapy will mirror the coping strategies they employ in other settings. This awareness can provide helpful insight to both individuals and their mental health practitioners.
For teens, Adventure Therapy offers an opportunity to take a more active role in their mental health treatment. This can help them feel a greater sense of empowerment, self-awareness, and responsibility.
Adventure Therapy is also effective at encouraging an improved understanding of risks and consequences; a more optimistic outlook; and a greater willingness to confront challenges and step outside one’s comfort zone.
Participants hone their interpersonal skills.
During Adventure Therapy programs, individuals take part in group activities designed to improve emotional intelligence. By supporting one another in pursuit of shared goals, participants improve their ability to communicate, give and receive feedback, and respect personal boundaries—among other important social skills.
Adventure Therapy gives teens a chance to focus on connecting with others in a supportive and distraction-free environment. This might mean connecting with other teens and/or with the Adventure Therapist leading the experience.
Furthermore, Adventure Therapy provides opportunities for adolescents to improve their ability to lead and mentor others.
It provides the opportunity to be physically active.
We all know that exercise is vital for physical health. However, regular exercise also turns out to be an effective therapy for mental health. Adventure Therapy prompts participants to be physically active.
In a study of a dozen young adults, participants with major depressive disorder exercised regularly—three times a week with a trainer and on their own the other days. As a result, after 12 weeks of exercise, 10 of the participants were no longer categorized as depressed. Multiple studies have confirmed these results.
Therefore, exercise improves well-being and positive outlook by impacting serotonin levels. In addition, it can even be as effective as antidepressants. Hence, the findings prove the power of exercise for mental illness treatment.
Adventure Therapy encourages self-reflection.
Adventure Therapy provides real-world activities for teens to engage in and relate to past experiences. Therefore, it’s easier for teens to reflect on their mental health challenges. After their wilderness experiences, teens at Newport Academy often discuss their experiences in individual, group, or family therapy sessions.
Moreover, teenagers are encouraged to express their reflections in written journals. Therapists do not read these journals. Instead, the purpose of the journals is to enable teens to freely express and organize their thoughts, reflect on their own mental health and recovery, and gain new insights about themselves in the process.
In conclusion, Adventure Therapy has significant benefits for teen mental health. It helps adolescents heal by providing multiple opportunities for growth and self-understanding.
J Experiential Education. Volume: 17(1): 40-47.
J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Jun;108(6):883-99.
J Child Fam Stud (2013) 22: 1039.
J Child Fam Stud (1994) 3: 175.
Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):18-26.
International Journal of Exercise Science: Vol. 10(1), 6.
Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Jun;21(3):474-81.
Child Youth Care Forum (2013) 42: 155.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2015
Mental Health CATs 2011