What is Outdoor Adventure Treatment? 

Outdoor adventure therapy is an experiential treatment that comes in many forms. It’s an active approach to psychotherapy that can be used for various purposes and is used for everything from team building, leadership development to treating behavioral and mental health-related disorders such as schizophrenia and drug addiction -- it’s a dynamic treatment model.  

Adventure therapy is classified as experiential therapy and involves engaging participants in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, camping, biking, and rope walking courses, to name a few. The activities are designed to be fun and physically challenging. 

While engaging in outdoor activities, participants are encouraged to discuss their thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and reactions with a licensed therapist specializing in experiential therapeutic practices. During their discussions, the therapist will probe participants with questions to provoke insight they gained from the adventure-based experiences, then using said insights to develop lessons to be applied to other areas in their lives. 

Working as a team to overcome physical obstacles is a significant element of outdoor adventure therapy. Whatever the activity, participants must rely on one another to complete cooperative activities. In doing so, participants build trust and formidable bonds with one another as they work together to solve problems under the supervision of a therapist. 

Adventure-based experiential therapy is a relatively new treatment that, on the outside, may seem like nothing more than a group of young people having fun in the wild. However, despite appearances, adventure therapy is legitimate psychotherapy with roots in well-established traditional psychological systems such as System Theory, Experiential Learning, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

Adventure therapy is a form of psychotherapy created as early as the 1960s.[1] It is influenced by a variety of learning and psychological theories. Experiential education is the underlying philosophy. Existing research in adventure therapy reports positive outcomes in improving self-concept and self-esteem, help-seeking behavior, increased mutual aid, pro-social behavior, trust behavior, and more. There is some disagreement about the underlying process that creates these positive outcomes. 

Is Wilderness and Adventure Therapy the Same Thing? 

Wilderness therapy is commonly lumped together with adventure-based treatments. But while they are similar in many ways, they are not the same. 

Wilderness therapy, for example, is a form of treatment that typically spans over several weeks to even months at a time. And while it also uses the natural landscape of the wild to promote therapeutic growth, it is a much more intensive and immersive experience.

Whereas adventure-based therapies rely on specific activities (such as rock climbing, hiking, fishing, surfing, etc.), wilderness therapy requires campers to live off the land literally. In their weeks’-long stay in the wilderness, campers must endure the wild 24/7 and develop primitive skills such as building fires, cooking their food, and setting up base camps. 

Adventure therapy, however, is much less intensive and relies on emotionally and physically challenging singular activities that sometimes incorporate a degree of risk. 

Among the essential commonalities shared between the two outdoor-based treatments is that they are both significantly effective in treating mental and behavioral problems in troubled teens, especially adolescent girls. 

Clinical Studies Support The Efficacy of Outdoor-based Treatment for Troubled Teenage Girls

A study by the Paracelsus Medical University Salzburg looked into the mental health-related benefits of adventure therapy. The study included two groups of participants who were considered high-risk of committing suicide. However, after engaging in weeks of adventure-based activities, both groups reported feeling significantly less depressed, hopeless, and suicidal. 

Further studies show that outdoor adventure-based therapy is also highly beneficial in treating troubled teenage girls. 

In one example, behavioral scientists published a study in the Therapeutic Recreational Journal. 

In their study, the scientists explored the possible benefits of adventure therapy on out-of-control adolescent girls’ mental and behavioral health. The study found that the teenage female participants found positive, therapeutic meaning in their activities and developed “perceptions of trust, empowerment, teamwork,” and “higher self-esteem.”

Adventure Therapy is Clinically Proven to Treat Addiction

According to Dr. Mark Widmer, a leading behavioral scientist specializing in adventure therapy, outdoor-based psychotherapies are significantly effective in treating addiction-related issues. “Rather than self-medicating, the adventure activities provide young adults the opportunity to get a high” doing something healthy.

In addition, by building on each individual’s strengths, adventure therapy allows teenage girls to learn new, healthy coping strategies, behavioral and emotional regulation skills, leadership skills, and life skills.”

Adventure and Outdoor Therapy for Troubled Teenage Girls

The demographic behavioral professionals refer to as “troubled teens” has risen to unprecedented and epidemic heights within the last 20 years. That withstanding, teenage girls are at an even higher risk of engaging in out-of-control, life-altering behaviors more so than adolescent boys. 

According to multiple studies on the subject, girls are more likely to develop mental illnesses and engage in self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, and even suicidal ideation.

Thankfully the rise of troubled teen behaviors amongst American adolescent girls has caused therapists, addiction specialists, and behavioral experts to seek out and develop new psychotherapeutic opportunities to combat troubling teen behaviors. 

For reasons listed in this article and many others that can be verified elsewhere, outdoor-based treatment -- such as wilderness and outdoor therapeutic programs -- are amongst the most effective and cutting-edge interventive treatment options in the country. But don’t take our word for it; we at Clearview encourage parents to do their own research regarding how adventure and outdoor therapies can change their daughter’s life today.