Adventure therapy is an experiential therapeutic approach that uses challenges in the outdoors as a tool for change. Influenced by the Outward Bound program founded by Kurt Hahn in 1941, adventure therapy programming emerged in the late 1980s. The principle is that placing youth in natural settings to undertake challenging tasks could lead to positive therapeutic results. And teen adventure therapy proves this to be true time and again.
Adventure therapy is an active, experiential approach to mental health counseling. Utilizing an activity in a group setting, teen adventure therapy employs real or perceived risk as a clinically significant agent to initiate desired change. In survival-like situations, teens in outdoor therapy scenarios learn to rely on themselves and each other. Therefore, they build self-esteem, trust, and responsibility. Moreover, a trained adventure therapist guides the group to a place of empowerment and skillfulness. Adventure therapy teaches lifelong skills.
Adventure therapy can include hiking, rafting, ropes challenges, wilderness expeditions, and rock climbing. Thus, while facing these challenges, teens develop a sense of accountability, a positive attitude about themselves, and a greater ability to work within a group setting. Additionally, by getting at-risk youth out of their “comfort zones,” teen adventure therapy pushes kids to develop a positive identity.
Research at the University of New Hampshire has shown that teen adventure therapy is actually safer than remaining at home, where car accidents, drug overdoses, and risky behavior result in much higher injury and mortality rates. Furthermore, the majority of outdoor therapy programs adhere to the quality standards of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) Council. The goal of the OBH council is to improve adventure therapy outcomes, reduce risk incidents, and promote best practices.