The | Outside (Adventure Therapy)

The | Outside – Outdoor/Wilderness

Being outdoors is healing and creates an environment that allows for us to simplify our world and take a look around at our surroundings and within ourselves.  The Adventure Therapy component of EVNSQ is designed to get clients connected to the world around them.

adventure therapyAdventure therapy often involves spending time in nature. This has therapeutic benefits in and of itself, particularly young adult men who come from urban areas. Getting away from the day-to-day stressors of daily life, as well as being surrounded by spectacular natural beauty, breathing fresh air, and listening to the unique and often tranquil sounds of nature, can boost anyone’s spirits and help them gain a new appreciation for the present moment and what they have.

For those recovering from deep emotional wounds, unresolved trauma, or the grips of a destructive addiction, adventure therapy can open doors to healing that traditional forms of talk therapy often can’t by itself. This is why adventure therapy is a key component of EVNSQ and all of the Balance House programs.

Unlike most forms of therapy, adventure therapy doesn’t require you to spend all of your time sitting and talking to a therapist one-on-one, or sitting in group all day. Programs that last for a weekend or several days out in nature provide individuals with ample opportunity to listen, instead, to the still, small (or perhaps raging or crying) voice within. For many participants, this may be a very foreign experience as the majority of their waking hours are bombarded with almost non-stop noise from multiple sources – mobile phones, computers, social media, traffic, planes, trains, and automobiles, neighbors, and family members, and the self-talk that is often so negative and can sometimes be the loudest.

Facing and reflecting upon one’s thoughts during moments of silence is an important therapeutic aspect of adventure therapy. Likewise, if someone is doing an exceptional job, other participants will express their admiration and praise. Team activities also allow participants to learn from one another and practice new skills in our lives as we are trying to be our best selves.

Spending time in quiet reflection allows participants to gain a greater sense of self-awareness. They can think about the things they have accomplished (e.g. putting up a tent for the first time or climbing a challenging rock face), the fears they’ve faced (e.g. heights, performing a task while others watch), the connections they’ve established or difficulties they’ve encountered with other participants, and things they’ve learned about themselves. The activities used in adventure therapy represent, in some form or another, situations and challenges that participants face in the “real” world (whatever that might mean to you). Therapists will often encourage participants to talk or think about the similarities between a particular activity and experiences they’ve had in their lives.

They may also encourage clients to think about the feelings an activity or experience elicited, or the consequences (good or bad) of a choice they made (e.g. not being cooperative during a team activity or helping around the climb). It’s not uncommon for participants to be instructed to keep a detailed written log or journal about their experience. At all of the Balance House Programs, it is part of the daily process as it is a healthy way of dealing with the chatter that exists in our fast moving brains. Although the journals are for their own eyes only and not to be read by therapists or other participants, keeping a log of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences gives them something to go back and read later as a way to reflect and see how far they have come in their process. They can use it to discuss things in future therapy sessions, and to help them look back and see the progress they made during and since the experience.

Overtime, journals provide invaluable information regarding patterns of behavior and emotional triggers that further increase self-awareness. Just putting thoughts and feelings down on paper can also be cathartic. Even though they are still private, they’re no longer silently held inside. The journaling process can be especially helpful for Young Adults who have a difficult time expressing identifying and expressing their real feelings.

Since adventure therapy is typically done in a group format, it also provides opportunities to talk to, learn from, work alongside, and share experiences with other participants. Activities often require working closely together as a team or unit. This helps participants develop better communication and social skills. It can also increase self-awareness as participants give each other both positive and negative feedback. If someone’s not pulling his weight, someone else is going to point it out. Likewise, if someone is doing an exceptional job, other participants will express their admiration and praise. Team activities also allow participants to learn from one another and practice new skills.

Benefits of Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy has many wonderful benefits for those who participate in it, including the following:

  • Trust in oneself as well as others
  • Opportunity to model healthy behaviors of therapy staff in a safe, supportive setting
  • Sense of personal empowerment and accomplishment
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Increase in leadership skills
  • Stronger self-esteem and greater self-confidence
  • Greater sense of self-awareness
  • Greater problem solving skills
  • Emotional discovery and healing
  • Greater sense of self-reliance
  • Increase sense of worthiness and personal value
  • Better communication skills
  • Ability to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Ability to set appropriate limits and boundaries
  • Ability to cooperate with others to achieve a common goal
  • Greater sense of personal responsibility
  • Willingness to accept help from others when needed
  • More optimistic outlook on life
  • More positive attitude
  • Appreciation and respect for the needs of others
  • Increased ability to face one’s fears rather than avoiding or numbing them
  • Greater focus and attention
  • Increased ability to identify unhealthy patterns of behavior
  • Greater awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses

Adventure therapy can be fun, exciting, and challenging. It’s a great way to learn and practice new behaviors, improve your interpersonal skills, face your fears, overcome personal obstacles and challenges, and heal painful emotions.

Primary Elements of Adventure Therapy

  • Therapy clients are directly involved in their treatment rather than merely observing from the sidelines
  • Individuals receive positive therapeutic benefits from the process because they are motivated to participate in it
  • Ongoing reflection during therapy enhances personal growth and progress
  • The activities that are chosen must teach lessons that are applicable to both past and future experiences
  • The experience is both meaningful and real to the participants because it reflects their real life.

Types of Adventure Therapy

  • Wilderness excursions (e.g. camping, backpacking, hiking in the mountains and other remote areas)
  • Problem solving initiatives
  • Trust activities
  • Outdoor activities (e.g. kayaking, rock climbing and rappelling, skiing/snowboarding, whitewater rafting)
  • Ropes courses (high and low)

Each of these activities is designed to be therapeutic in nature. They may focus on fostering communication and cooperation, building trust in self and others, or developing and improving problem-solving skills.
Disorders, Issues, and Conditions that can benefit from Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy can be a very effective treatment for many different mental health disorders, challenging life issues, and other conditions and problems with which people struggle. Studies have shown it to be beneficial in the treatment of:

  • Young Adults with substance use/abuse disorders
  • Anger management issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Recovery from trauma
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Individuals with developmental disorders
  • Attachment Disorders
  • Grief and loss issues
  • Emotional Deregulation
  • Depression
  • Relationship Issues
  • Issues with codependency
  • Adventure therapy can also benefit families in conflict, individuals struggling with low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence, and those who struggle with taking initiative.

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