The Effectiveness of Adventure Therapy

The effectiveness of adventure therapy lies in its focus on problem-solving, emotional catharsis, and immediate, unbiased feedback. The essence of adventure therapy is learning by doing, Sheldon &Arthur (2001). It is not the purpose of this work to define a theoretical integration of these models because the fields of endeavor include diverse applications. ―The use of the outdoors, adventure and wilderness for promoting personal and psychological development dates back to the earliest times of the formation of human family groups, Richards & Peel (2005).

A few of the parameters of this research are bounded by figurative language. The
language of therapy presupposes that to be therapeutic, an activity must be positive. It
posits an educating or normalizing position for the therapist and an incongruent
Rogers (1951) role for the client.

This idea is closely connected to the “positivity”
inherent in the process of beneficial behavioral change. We suppose that beneficial
change must be congruent with societal or group level changes in behavior, Rogers
(1951). This in itself is a dangerous step, fucked up societies are littered, like corpses or bad ideas, throughout history.


The arguments within this piece of work will not encompass this tautology.
We propose that the key elements to therapy do not need to be an antecedent to
nature in the construct. The therapy element comes after the nature element and
makes a smaller contribution due to the inherent weaknesses of manmade

A central conception is that the arrangement of adventure therapy,
wilderness therapy, nature therapy or other outdoor experiential title is based on
influence peddling. See “Influence” or “Pre- suasion” (Cialdini)

The setting, the dramatic backdrop of high mountains, deep fast
rivers and bellowing waves gives the therapist the aura of wise elder or battle
hardened veteran. This mythic role may not reflect the reality of the ―therapist in any
way. The therapist has control of the scene, much as the great and mighty Oz.

The client/student/trainee, being a neophyte, does not have the knowledge to make these distinctions.
Outdoor activities existed long before the current fashion for therapy and offer the
imagistic associations of wildness, travel, pioneer, frontier, backcountry and a sense of
back to basics living onto which therapy has been attached.

The strict focus of the therapy activity is to elicit behavioral change. A.T. is best
defined as an experiential approach to counselling or psychotherapy that integrates
adventure, or adventure-based, activities and experiences with more traditional forms
of psychotherapy. Gillis & Thomsen (1996) Newes & Bandoroff, (2004).

What the
literature of counselling tends to use is medical and health jargon to define their
processes, what the corporate outdoor activities providers do is tend to use
“leadership” and “dynamic experience.” For school groups the nomenclature is
“teaching” or l”earning.”

Today many organizations provide a variety of outdoor
adventure and outdoor development training courses claiming that individuals who
participate in them experience a range of benefits, including improved interpersonal
and cognitive problem-solving skills, a reduction in problem behavior, and an increase
in self-efficacy and self-esteem, Richards & Peel (2005).

There are advantages of having a positivistic ethos, but the central argument will be
that what a person undergoes within the experience will be some element of novelty
and influence, the short, sharp, shock Thatcher (1979) of wilderness experience is
neither always positivistic nor uniformly positively received by participants.

Every culture provides its members with appropriate beliefs, values and norms to
carry out required activities…for directing and controlling the behaviour of its members,
Ed. Biddle& Thomas (1966 p144) Ed. Biddle & Thomas (1966 p207).  Ideas are not
natural. On the contrary they arise from and can be explained in terms of, particular
forms of society and culture.

Many writers have suggested that the rupture between human communities and the natural world contributes to a lack of psychological well-being and ultimately to emotional problems and ill-health. ―It is time to advance a paradigm shift from an anthropocentric to an eco-centric in adventure therapy ―Beringer & Martin (2003) Kuhn, (2001) Pilisuk & Joy (2001)Roszak, (2001) quoted by Berger &McLeod (2006).

What this means is that we are becoming more distanced from our biological and physical connections to nature. This creates a narcissistic effect, which is ultimately resposible for our destruction of so many natural habitats, pollution of our eco system and reduction in planetary biodiversity.

This is a very important distinction in this series of discussions and is central to the framing of issues within the therapeutic domain.


Excerpt from

Adventure Therapy Current Theory and Future Orientation, Don Philpott (2010)

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