The Purpose of Adventure Therapy
The District Recovery Community (TDRC) integrates many forms of adventure therapy into our clients’ lives, including adventure therapy. Adventure, camaraderie and character building is instrumental in early recovery. By employing an adventure-based experience, The District allows residents the opportunity to find hobbies and identify what they are passionate about. This is something they will carry with them far beyond their stay at The District Recovery Community.
What Adventure Therapy Looks Like
Essentially, TDRC researches and books mini-adventures for our clients to help break up the monotony of day-to-day life. Activities might include paintball, bowling, biking, deep-sea fishing trips or even a weekend in the mountains for skiing and snowboarding. There are many other activities of course, but the goals are the same:
- Develop a sense of self accomplishment
- Nurture the reliance upon a support structure
- Build self esteem
- Allow clients to discover new hobbies to help occupy their mind
- Encourage creativity
What is Adventure Therapy?
Adventure therapy centers around the therapeutic merits of challenging participants in new situations and then leading them through discussions that evaluate their reactions so as to bring about changes in behavior. Adventure therapy is an active approach to psychotherapy, or “talk” therapy that utilizes hands-on outdoor activities like rock climbing, hiking and horseback riding to bring about important internal changes to the client through real and perceived risks. Participants create new insights gained during their initial introduction to the activity, then from experiencing it and finally, from discussing the experience afterward. The experience and the subsequent discussions help individuals transfer the lessons learned during the activity into changed behavior. Adventure therapy programs are generally solution-focused and humanistic, emphasizing the whole person and drawing on the idea of innate goodness.
How Adventure Therapy Programs Can Help With Recovery
A variety of internal processes lead to positive behavioral changes in adventure therapy with the hope being that it leads to psychological healing. As an example, consider the client that has now learned to master a certain experience and has now developed a sense of self-efficacy during the adventure. In such a case, the thought is that this self-efficacy can be transferred across life domains. The process looks like this:
- Mastering an experience and examining the skills used and learned to do so
- Identifying similar sub-skills for use in daily life
- Developing these sub-skills through discipline, self-efficacy and cognizance
- Re-evaluating beliefs concerning self-efficacy
- Adopting the newly learned sub-skills and applying them to all areas of life
The discussions that follow an activity help participants to identify the skills gained in the process and to learn how to adapt them to their specific individual recovery goals.
Based on Educational Theory
David Kolb, the celebrated educational theorist whose large body of work focuses on experiential education, states that new experiences are the impetus for developing new concepts and skills. “Learning,” he writes, “is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Kolb’s theory on experiential learning is represented by a four-stage cycle:
- Concrete experience (do it) is stage one and is the act of engaging in a new experience or situation.
- Reflective observation (what happened?) is stage two and involves actively observing and reflecting on the experience.
- Abstract conceptualization (so what?) is stage three and is marked by the reflection of the experience giving way to a new idea or a reworking of an old idea.
- Active experimentation (now what?) is stage four and involves learners applying their new or reworked idea to their own life and the world around them.
In order for adventure therapy programs to work for an individual, all four stages need to be executed. The experience alone won’t precipitate change unless it’s reflected upon, conceptualized and applied. Further research suggest that in order for the process to work, participants must:
- Involve themselves openly and without bias or hesitation in a new experience
- Reflect upon and observe the new experience from a wide range of perspectives
- Create concepts based on their own observations
- Use these concepts to make decisions and to solve problems relevant to them
The Foundational Concepts of Adventure Therapy
According to the Association for Experiential Education, the foundational concepts of adventure therapy programs are based in the principles of experiential education, the value of action and a hands-on engagement in the therapy. These include:
1. The Involvement of Stress and Risk
In the natural environment, risk and stress are inherent. When risk and stress are effectively managed by the therapist and participant, participants are able to work through challenges, build resilience and develop and apply coping strategies. The therapist is responsible for monitoring participants’ appraisal of the risk and their stress level to ensure a safe therapeutic environment, as well as supporting them in applying what they’ve learned to their life on a broader scale.
2. Natural and Logical Consequences
Engaging in adventure activities that carry a risk gives participants the opportunity to experience the positive and negative consequences of their decisions and improve their self-awareness. A natural consequence is the outcome of a behavior without any enforcement on the part of the therapist, such as experiencing discomfort as the result of not putting on a rain coat during a downpour. A logical consequence is a therapist-enforced outcome of a behavior such as not being able to water ski if you refuse to wear a life jacket.
3. The Healing Power of Nature
A large body of research has documented the benefits of engaging with nature, which include reduced anxiety and depression, better cognitive function and increased creativity, according to the University of California at Berkeley. Taking therapy into nature is a unique way of providing immediate, non-judgmental feedback to participants and reaping the combined benefits of nature exploration and therapy.
4. The Shared Experience of the Practitioner
The role of the therapist in adventure therapy programs is somewhat different than that of traditional therapists. Because the practitioner and clients are sharing the experience, the relationship develops more quickly, and the therapist is in the unique position to be present during the activities that precipitate change. Other benefits of shared experience include:
- The ability of the practitioner to foster reflection at multiple points in the activity
- The ability of the practitioner to determine whether lessons learned have been integrated into other life domains
- A leveling of the power dynamics between client and therapist
- An increased likelihood for transference of lessons learned
5. The Actively Engaged Client
The opportunities for reflection and change in adventure therapy programs are many when the client is engaged physically, emotionally and cognitively. Active participation in therapeutic activities allows clients to reveal their true nature in an authentic way as they participate in various experiences. This serves to make the relationship between the participant and the practitioner more productive by allowing the therapist to see how a client might approach solving certain problems in other areas of life.
6. Client Empowerment, Freedom and Responsibility
The actively engaged client is responsible for choosing the type of change they want, and they’re given the freedom to make choices. The responsibility for the lessons learned and the changes made are their own. This enables participants in adventure therapy to engage in positive and self-directed risk-taking, which in turn enhances the client’s accountability for the outcome of treatment.
7. Activity as the Vehicle of Change
In adventure therapy, the treatment goals of the participant are addressed through activities that are specifically chosen by the therapist to explore particular issues. Because the activities are fun and engaging and offer a break from negative and inhibitive thinking, the client’s resistance to change and fear of taking risks are diminished. The “parallel process” inherent in adventure therapy refers to how the processes unfolding in each session mirrors the client’s functioning in “real” life. The activity becomes the catalyst for evaluating behavioral patterns, thought processes and psychological and physiological reactions and opens the door to changes that are real and meaningful. The District residents have enjoyed some very memorable experiences in the past, and we plan to continue to create these organic and team-building experiences for plenty of time to come.