What Is Adventure Therapy? How Can It Help Heal the Effects of Trauma?

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What Is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a therapeutic process that helps individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction by having them take part in various “adventures” in a safe environment. Adventure therapy became a popular type of therapy in the 1960s and has continued to have a positive effect on individuals in recovery.

While most of the activities take place outdoors, some can take place indoors as well. The main element of adventure therapy is the perceived risk, causing the individuals involved to rely on the help of others and to step out of their comfort zones.

Trust-building activities are a large aspect of the process of adventure therapy, as they help participants with communication and problem-solving. By stimulating their brains with different activities and a different environment, the participants are able to overcome their perceived limitations.

The guilt, shame, and emotional pain that are associated with addiction also decrease during this process. Self-esteem tends to increase over the course of the therapy.

What Is the Difference Between Adventure Therapy & Wilderness Therapy?

It is common to mix up adventure therapy and wilderness therapy due to their similarities. Wilderness therapy is a subset of adventure therapy and differs in:

  • Only using weather and the landscape
  • Having only some risk involved
  • Focusing on the adaptability and endurance of the participants
  • Including other treatments that adventure therapy does not

Adventure therapy differs because of its challenges. Each challenge is commonly made up of a man-made obstacle. Aside from only focusing on the adaptability and endurance of the participants like wilderness therapy does, the emotional and physical challenges of the participants are also taken into account.

How Does Adventure Therapy Work?

Adventure therapy treats its participants by promoting rehabilitation, growth, and development. It also encourages people to become more physically, socially, and psychologically healthy.

Adventure therapy often takes place in a group or family setting using hands-on activities. Such activities involve the participants cooperating with each other, trusting one another, and using problem-solving skills. This is because they normally include wilderness expeditions, outdoor pursuits, and high adventures.

After each activity, the group or family comes together to discuss the activity. Processing the activity together helps the participants discuss the experience and understand what happened during the activity. Here, they are able to connect the adventure to their own therapeutic goals and overall recovery.
Examples of Adventure Therapy Activities

  • Rock climbing
  • Caving (or spelunking)
  • Kayaking
  • White water rafting
  • Paddleboarding
  • Canoeing
  • Rafting
  • Swimming
  • Bushwalking
  • Skiing
  • Snow camping

What Are the Benefits of Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy has been successful in treating trauma, depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, loss, grief, addiction, and eating disorders. It can be used in conjunction with family or relationship therapy to help treat individuals. Overall, it is beneficial for young adults, teens, and others that have various mental health issues.

Adventure therapy works to encourage a sense of responsibility and the building of positive relationships. It increases resiliency in its participants as they overcome perceived limitations of themselves. It also teaches people positive social skills such as communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution. This helps boost self-confidence and helps patients feel more comfortable being vulnerable with their therapists.

Through adventure therapy, you are able to be more open-minded and open yourself up for emotional discovery. Healthy coping skills are taught such as mindfulness, reflection, emotional regulation, and more. You learn that you are able to overcome challenges you think are impossible to complete. This helps you overcome your fears and grow more independent and assertive with your own needs.

How Does Adventure Therapy Treat Trauma?

In trauma recovery, participants can undergo adventure therapy to learn how to bond with others and trust people. By being in a distraction-free environment, participants can focus more on internalizing decision-making, developing social skills, trusting others, and more. Trauma survivors can participate in healthy risk-taking activities and feelings.

After experiencing adventure therapy, many trauma survivors have stated that they feel more motivated, energized, confident, open to trusting, and more honest with themselves. These feelings can help trauma survivors in relationship building as they are less closed off from other people because of the experience. Ultimately, they learn how to trust others. They can then use these newfound skills in their everyday life.

Adventure Therapy & Trust

As stated before, adventure therapy helps trauma survivors by teaching them how to lean on others for support. This is especially important because participants put themselves in potentially risky, somewhat frightening situations.

When someone undergoes a traumatic experience, they often lose their ability to trust other people. In fact, it is not uncommon for trauma survivors to have problems trusting anyone at all. Adventure therapy helps treat this by putting individuals in an environment where they must rely on others in each activity to be successful.

By being forced to work with others and ask for help, trauma survivors learn that it is okay to be vulnerable and need support from others. Overcoming this barrier of trust is powerful in trauma recovery. Adventure therapy sets up situations where participants must develop trust.

Healing from trauma can be daunting and stressful. Adventure therapy helps combat these feelings by putting participants in a situation where they must rely on others to successfully complete the tasks at hand. Since the 1960s, adventure therapy has proven time and again that it can help treat various mental conditions and addictions. Finding treatment centers that use adventure therapy as a form of healing is less difficult today as it is becoming more accepted. In the beautiful setting of Colorado, NorthStar Transitions utilizes this experiential therapy to help its clients. Contact them today at (303) 558-6400 to learn more.


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