Adventure Therapy and Youth in Addiction Recovery: Pathways to Healing

Teen in addiction recovery“I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Over the years, more additions have been implemented in addiction recovery programs because researchers and addiction professionals alike have witnessed first-hand the benefits of having a variety of treatment interventions. With a number of activities to choose from, recovery can be customized to a person’s age, gender and recovery needs. Adventure therapy, otherwise known as experiential therapy, has been shown to greatly benefit adolescents in recovery by breaking down some of the barriers and stigmas associated with typical treatment and by getting youth actively involved in their program – and in truly unique ways.

Defining Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is simply a form of psychotherapy that involves adventure. It is through a variety of activities that youth and others in addiction recovery can address past, present and future issues but in nontraditional ways. There are several types of activities that can be incorporated into this, such as:

  • Wilderness therapy
  • Rope courses
  • Hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, etc.
  • Games
  • Group activities

Adventure therapy often exposes youth to different environments, which also promotes their involvement in the present moment. There’s something about adventure – curiosity, exploration and learning – that appeals to embracing life as we know it. The period of adolescence is one where symptoms of depression and anxiety can kick in, along with other stressors; when we incorporate “fun” and “play” into recovery, new opportunities arise for our teens to learn more about themselves and others in a safe environment.

Benefits of Adventure Therapy

Adolescents are likely to get so much out of adventure therapy – in both direct and indirect ways. A 2016 study published in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning assessed 36 adolescents in an outpatient treatment center for 10 weeks as they embarked on adventure therapy and found that it offered these adolescents with prevention, early intervention and treatTeen in addiction recoveryment benefits that truly helped them with behavioral, psychological and social concerns as well. The Association for Experiential Education notes that adventure therapy promotes goal setting, personal decision making and achieving outcomes and group activities can enhance teens’ abilities to build connections with others.

Even at a young age, there are many teens who have struggled with abuse, neglect or other forms of trauma. As a 2017 study published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma notes, adventure therapy can also greatly benefit youth who have experienced some trauma in their life; when families become involved in these activities, it can improve family functioning – especially regarding communication efforts, closeness and problem-solving skills.

Since adventure therapy takes place in a variety of settings, multiple learning styles are addressed, including visual, audio, kinesthetic and youth who benefit from spatial learning. This means that in addition to physical and emotional exercise associated with a variety of challenges, adolescents are supported through intellectual exercise. As the study mentioned previously states, “cause and effect” experiences teach youth how to handle stressful events in a supported environment with peers and staff. One individual from the study explained,

“The student is able to learn how to take immediate accountability and ownership for his emotions and choices after a stress response elicited by an experience which has occurred…”

Breaking Down Barriers

The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that young people in recovery often go through an avoidance stage, a learning stage and a stage in which they begin to internalize healthier thinking and behavioral patterns. Adventure therapy typically lasts over the course of a few hours or weeks, which works to break down some of the defensive barriers that many teens experience at the beginning of the program. Dr. Andrew Erkis, a psychologist who studies adolescents at-risk, told the APA,

“They’re in an emotionally safe place, they’re not going anywhere, and by the way, they’re exercising, they’re eating well, they’re sleeping well – they’re starting to look and feel great.”

With time spent outdoors and interaction with nature, adolescents are likely to find themselves strengthening their coping skills while discovering the importance of sobriety and how that can enrich their lives.

Adolescents struggling with substance dependence are often feeling a sense of loss and hopelessness as they attempt to discover who they are and how they fit into the world. Adventure therapy truly provides a unique experience that strengthens their view of themselves and how they connect to others, as well as a better understanding of the “big picture” of life. If your teen is ready to start taking hold of their journey to recovery, we’re here to help.

Adolescent Recovery of Cumberland Heights (ARCH) originally began in 1985 when there were few other adolescent programs like it in the country. In 2019, we’re expanding our continuum of services with ARCH Academy, a unique program that offers 60 days to 6 months of residential care to adolescent boys ages 14-18 who are struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction. This new program stems from Cumberland Heights, which has been around since 1966 and is located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. The adolescent age is a critical time for development, making this a crucial time of positive influence. For more information, call us today at 1-800-646-9998.