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Adventure Therapy

Written by: Editorial Staff.

adventure therapy

Adventure therapy is just like it sounds. It’s a therapeutic process in which addicts and alcoholics participate in various “adventures” in a safe environment. Most adventure therapy activities are outdoors, while some of the activities in adventure therapy may be indoors. All of them share one thing in common — an element of perceived and/or actual risk.

How does Adventure Therapy work?

Essentially, a professional leads clients through trust-building activities that promote communication, challenge their minds, stimulates brainpower, and get the client out of his/her day-to-day environment.

Goals Of Adventure Therapy

  • One of the goals of adventure therapy is to get the client out of his/her head and into action.
  • Participating in active expeditions requires the person to use their physicality toward achieving a goal, such as getting the raft back safely or reaching a mountain peak.
  • When tenacity and fortitude are devoted toward a goal in adventure therapy, the idea is that the same level of motivation and perseverance will be applied to the person’s life outside of the session.

How Is Adventure Therapy More Engaging?

Recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction is an active engagement. People who want to recover and stay abstinent from drugs and alcohol must work every day to protect their sobriety, build a solid, sober foundation, keep in touch with their support group, and reach out when the time is needed.

Engaging in a group setting within the realm of adventure therapy sessions encourages the client to use the same cooperative mannerisms and methods of reaching out for help when engaging in their recovery.

Therapeutic Benefits

Overall research of adventure therapy’s effective nature surmises that it:

  • Improves psychosocial related difficulties
  • Increases group cohesion
  • Aids in diagnosing conduct disorders in adolescents
  • Is effective in treating drug-addicted and juvenile youth
  • Treats sensation-seeking behaviors
  • Improves clinical functioning
  • Facilitates connecting participants with their therapist and treatment issues
  • Increases interpersonal relatedness.

Such a wide array of benefits cannot be discounted. Hopefully, adventure therapy will continue to be integrated into many people’s recovery programs and treatment regimens on a case-by-case basis.

 Wilderness Activities

Some people advocate wilderness adventure therapy as the primary avenue to take within the realm of adventure therapy. Others feel that a more low-key activity is equally effective, as long as the activity is inclusive of cooperative games, problem-solving initiatives, and trust-building exercises.

Common Wilderness Activities

Adventure therapy is proven to be very effective across the board. Examples of wilderness expedition adventure therapy sessions include:

  • White water rafting
  • Hiking extremely high mountains
  • Dog sledding
  • Sailing
  • Rock climbing

Similarities Of Adventure And Wilderness Therapy

There is much similarity in adventure and wilderness therapy in terms of methodology, process, and objectives. The difference only lies in terms of Program duration and challenges that these offer to participants.

  • In both therapies, group activities are employed.
  • Both therapies entail follow-up sessions in which participants share their learning and experience.
  • In both types of therapies, natural consequences are employed to develop individual and group responsibility
  • Both adventure and wilderness therapies are outdoor clinical therapies
  • In both therapies, clients acquire psychotherapy from licensed therapists.

Isomorphic Connections

Various encyclopedias site the long-term benefits of adventure therapy. They specifically mention isomorphic connections as a key component contributing to the success of adventure therapy. Positive behavior changes, which are synonymous with psychological healing, can occur through isomorphic connections.

An isomorphic connection is transferring learning from a specific experience to other life experiences. As stated above, emulating the behaviors learned through adventure therapy in day-to-day life is one of the primary concepts behind adventure therapy.


Isomorphic connections occur through the structure of framing and activity. Framing is the creation of a metaphoric theme for a given activity or a series of activities that relates to a targeted treatment issue.


“Debriefing or processing the experience is a discussion during or after the activity that is related to the individual and group treatment issues designed to facilitate isomorphic connection,” states an article in Wikipedia. In it:

  • Essentially, the particular adventure is followed by a group session.
  • Participants sit down and share their feelings, thoughts, and emotions that transpired throughout the adventure.
  • They share how their feelings fluctuate depending on what part of the exercise they were experiencing.


For example, an adolescent teen participating in a wilderness expedition may have started out the trail encapsulated by fear and anxiety. Her feelings shifted from fear to fight or flight mode halfway through the hike when a bear peaked out at the group from behind a tree. From then on, perhaps she felt a shift to survival, the instinctual mode in which her brain focused on the ultimate goal of hitting peak before sunset.

This goal precedent all other feelings at that time. Others in the group may nod in agreement and understanding. Once everyone has shared their feelings, the group feels more tight-knit, and a sense of closeness is produced.