Adventure Therapy Explained

Over the past several decades, groundbreaking research has completely revolutionized the field of addiction treatment. While those addicted to drugs and alcohol were once looked down upon or institutionalized, they are now able to access a wide variety of life-changing therapies. Chief among these is adventure therapy, also referred to as experiential therapy. But what is involved in this modality, and how effective is it? Today, we’ll walk you through the definition and benefits of adventure therapy.

Definition of Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy originated in the 1960s as a combination of mental health care and challenging physical activity. It differs from two similar activities: wilderness therapy and outdoor experiential therapy. According to key researchers, adventure therapy consists of outdoor activities involving risk, along with physical and emotional challenge; wilderness therapy is based on survival and primitive methods, and outdoor experiential therapy hinges on the execution of structured activities centered around personal development and direct experience.

Activities may include:

  • Ropes courses
  • Outdoor pursuits
  • Problem-solving exercises
  • Trust-building
  • Cooperative games
  • Wilderness expeditions (canoeing, backpacking, sailing, camping)
  • High adventure (rock climbing, peak ascents)

Adventure therapy addresses psychological treatment through a nontraditional lens; rather than focusing on talk therapy or speaking directly about trauma, participants channel their efforts towards achieving symbolic victories in the great outdoors.

Types of Adventures Offered at Cumberland Heights

At Cumberland Heights, our expert therapists provide an ever-increasing number of adventure therapy experiences to our residents. Currently, residents can choose from wilderness therapy, ropes courses, hiking, rock climbing, games and group activities. We also provide access to a state-of-the-art climbing wall. Adventure therapy typically occurs in a group setting; some challenges, such as ropes courses, may require all individuals to cooperate in order to achieve their goals. Others may rely more on introspection and reflection. Exposure to new environments and challenges can be extremely effective in one’s early recovery; at Cumberland Heights, we provide a safe environment to be vulnerable, try something new and build self-esteem through outdoor endeavors. Our therapies also incorporate “fun” and “play” into recovery, resulting in rewarding, exhilarating experiences.

How Adventure Therapy Helps You Heal

While adventure therapy has only been formalized since the 1960s, its uses trace back to the earliest human civilizations. Many Native American and Jewish traditions hinge upon this practice.

Modern adventure therapy is informed by the work of several well-known psychologists, including Albert Bandura, John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Kurt Hahn. Ultimately, it is a cognitive-behavioral-affective approach that pulls from humanistic theories. According to these leaders in the field, four factors may be used throughout the process in order to catalyze psychological healing:

  • Overwhelming mastery experiences (successfully completing a challenging task)
  • Vicarious experiences (witnessing others’ successes)
  • Verbal persuasion (coaching and reassurance from facilitators and others in the program)
  • Emotional and psychological states (emphasizing positive emotions and dealing with negative ones in a healthy way)

In layman’s terms, this form of therapy boosts effectiveness, or self-efficacy: a person’s judgment of how well they can execute actions to deal with a given situation. This belief in one’s self is crucial to early recovery. Often, addiction makes people feel helpless or out of control. In order to address this disease, it is vital to renew one’s sense of self-control. Adventure is a great way to spark feelings of self-efficacy that carry over to other areas of one’s life. This is particularly effective for adolescents, who may not have responded to traditional therapeutic approaches, such as talk therapy.

Effective Addiction Treatment

Adolescents struggling with substance use disorders may feel lost and hopeless as they attempt to define themselves without drugs and alcohol. The unique experience of adventure therapy can strengthen their view of themselves and create a new “big picture” of life. If you or a young person in your life could benefit from adventure therapy, we encourage you to contact Cumberland Heights today. Our friendly admissions staff are standing by.