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What is Adventure Therapy and How Can It Help?

Adventure therapy can be a beneficial tool in the treatment of substance abuse or mental health conditions. While talk therapies are crucial, not everyone responds equally well to all forms of therapy. Adventure therapy provides an alternative approach focused on physical activity, group work, and spending quiet time in nature. An essential aspect of any treatment plan is finding the method that works best for you.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a form of alternative psychotherapy that focuses on outdoor, explorative, or physical activity as a form of therapy. Adventure therapy can help people overcome substance abuse issues and mental health challenges through engaging with life experiences.

Activities in adventure therapy can include camping, hiking, rock climbing, boating, or group games, including sports and team-building exercises. Adventure therapy can help build important life skills and promote healthier behavior. This form of treatment particularly can help people learn how to work with others and become independent.

Although some activities can occur indoors, most sessions will occur outdoors or in nature. Adventure therapy is sometimes referred to as wilderness therapy when it focuses on having people spend time in wooded or otherwise “natural” areas. Spending time in nature can be especially helpful for young people raised in urban areas that lacked the ability to spend time in nature in the past.

Many programs may last for a few hours, but some can last for a few days. The longer the program is, the more time they encourage participants to spend time alone in quiet reflection. This can be something maybe people who live in cities or urban areas never get to truly experience. For many people, quiet is not often an option, as every moment is filled with noise from phones, cars, speakers, and work.

Adventure therapy is not only about quiet interpersonal reflection, however. Most programs are conducted in a group setting. These groups can be made up of people struggling with the same problems, different conditions, or a person in treatment and their family. Regardless of the people who compose the group, these programs are often beneficial for building up relationships and increasing teamwork and understanding levels. 

How Does Adventure Therapy Work?

Adventure therapy has proven to be a highly effective approach to treatment. Research has shown that 95% of people who participated in adventure therapy as a treatment for a substance use or mental health disorder found the program beneficial to their recovery

Adventure and wilderness therapy encourages self-reflection and understanding. Talk therapy is a vital tool in any treatment, but some people may struggle to find beneficial treatment in talk therapy. For people uncomfortable opening up or who become defensive, outdoor activities give them time to reflect on their decisions and past behavior personally. This is helpful enough but may also encourage them to open up in traditional therapy later in treatment.

Physical activity is also a great way to relieve stress, lessen anxiety, and manage symptoms associated with depression. Exercise or other forms of physical activity cause a release of serotonin in the brain. The release of serotonin and endorphins caused by exercise is comparable with the brain’s reaction when a person takes an antidepressant.

For programs that focus on spending time in nature, there is a proven relationship between conditions like anxiety and depression and the amount of time a person spends in nature. Nature often has a relaxing effect on people. It also encourages people to remove themselves from their technology, which can be a vital aspect of treatment, especially among young people.

While adventure therapy encourages some time to be spent in quiet reflection, it is mainly conducted as a group or a family. The activities are all led by trained medical professionals and are structured around traditional therapeutic ideas.

What is Adventure Therapy Used For?

Adventure therapy can be used for a variety of different conditions. Since many of these programs are broad and focus on personal growth, most substance use disorders and mental health conditions can be aided explicitly by physical activity. 

Young people and adolescents seem to respond particularly well to adventure therapy programs. People who have lacked the ability to spend time in nature or engage in outdoor activity can also find beneficial treatment through adventure therapy.

Some mental health conditions or behavioral issues that can be helped through an adventure therapy program include:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Depression
  • Grief or loss
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Anger management or other behavioral problems, especially among young children and adolescents
  • Low self-esteem or a poor self-image
  • Toxic or conflicted relationships, including family relationships, friendships, and romantic partners

Studies have shown that adventure therapy can be helpful in many ways. Because these programs often increase happiness and relaxation, there is no mental health condition that would not be helped by programs focusing on physical activity.

The most important thing anyone can do if they are experiencing mental distress or substance abuse issues is seeking professional medical help. Despite the drastically climbing rates of mental health disorders, substance abuse, and suicide, many people refuse to seek help in dealing with their issues. Some may feel embarrassed by their problems, while others may not see them as serious enough to warrant treatment. Neither of these reasons or any reasons should be enough to prevent a person from reaching out for help.

Due to COVID-19, support groups and therapy sessions have had to find ways to engage digitally. Telehealth options exist for anyone uncomfortable with in-person meetings still, while more and more offices will open to face-to-face visits for clients who prefer treatment that way.

If mental health or substance abuse issues are affecting your life in any way, reach out today.

At Warner Park Recovery, we’re here to help individuals and families by providing exceptional addiction treatment options. We’re a dual diagnosis (mental health combined with substance abuse treatment) program that offers partial day, intensive outpatient, and traditional outpatient levels of care. We regularly treat patients from the Woodland Hills, Calabasas, Topanga Canyon, The Valley, and Thousand Oaks areas. If you are looking for help with addiction treatment, please give us a call to learn more about our professional services!

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