About International Adventure Therapy Practices

Adventure Therapy is practiced differently around the world. To offer some ideas about the nature and scope of international adventure therapy in all its diversity, some example lists of AT practices have been compiled (from a wide range of sources). It is important to note that the lists are not definitive, nor are they a list of ‘requirements’ or defining elements; rather, they offer an example of elements that commonly exist in a wide range of adventure therapy programs around the world.

The context in which a program exists has a large influence on the elements incorporated within a particular program, along with intended target group and program aims. For example, a program for disengaged or socially isolated Aboriginal young people in the central desert of Australia will likely have many different elements than a program for mental health clients within a medical institution in the USA. The former will likely emphasise cultural elements, unstructured time and use of wide open natural spaces, while the latter may emphasise clinical therapeutic input, structured interventions, and use of contrived adventure environments.

The list of key elements below are categorised into a set of evolving sub-categories: 1) Therapeutic principles, 2) Settings, 3) Social contexts, 4) Adventure activities, 5) Engagement with wider systems, 6) Staffing, 7) Aims and intentions, 8) Target groups.

Additional or different sub-categories may be used for other purposes, including within different languages to describe adventure therapy in wide-ranging social, cultural and political contexts.

1) Therapeutic intentions

Just as therapeutic interventions and supports come in a wide variety of forms, international adventure therapy is practiced in diverse ways worldwide. Like many therapeutic interventions, adventure therapy participants are generally encouraged to take personal responsibility, working on learning to externalise their internal experiences, and discover new personal possibilities along the way.

In general, international adventure therapy experiences could be said to include the following therapeutic intentions:

    • Opportunities for personal growth, change and/or healing
    • Tailored experiences to meet the needs of individuals and a group
    • Development of physical, psychological and social safety-nets

Responsible follow-up, transference and integration of the experience.

2) Settings

Around the world, international adventure therapy is practiced in big cities, rural towns and remote villages. While many programs make intentional use of natural environments as part of the therapeutic experience, settings for adventure therapy include the breadth of settings, including:

  • Indoor places and contrived adventure settings, such as ropes courses
  • Local natural settings, such as urban parks
  • Remote wild spaces, such as large scale wilderness areas.

3) Social contexts

While international adventure therapy can be delivered with low staff to participant ratios (for example, one or two staff people supporting one to three participants) or even as a supported solo experience (for example, a practitioner supporting and adult to undertake a personal extended journey), international adventure therapy more often involves small groups of people. In general, international adventure therapy experiences include the following social components:

  • A focus on building healthy relationships, social skills and confidence
  • A use of personal and group agreements by which the group operates
  • Sharing of power and decision-making within the group
  • Use of intentional group processes such as mutual feedback and support.

4) Programmed activities

While the name may imply an emphasis on using ‘adventure activities’ for therapy, many international adventure therapy programs de-emphasize the use of activities in favour of a focus on tailoring intentional therapeutic experiences that may involve ‘adventures’ of any kind. This approach recognizes that adventure therapy offers a complex and holistic experience not just a set of physical activities. A wide range of philosophies and theories inform a use of adventure in therapy around the world, including the following:

  • Experiential learning – learning by doing and the cycle of action and reflection
  • Adventure activities – tailored physical, psychological and social challenges, a use of natural consequences as opportunities for  development
  • Quiet times – creating space for personal reflection and the giving and receiving of group feedback
  • Engagement and participation of the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

5) Engagement with wider systems

Gone are the days when adventure experiences were used as a ‘quick fix’ or panacea. Contemporary international adventure therapy practices tend to be informed by a wide range of social and cultural theories , including the need for programs to be integrated with the wider systems surrounding participants. For these reasons, many international adventure therapy programs include consideration of the following:

  • Culturally appropriate or culturally embedded approaches
  • Embedded evaluation and research
  • Integration with community and other agencies for ongoing support
  • Involvement of family and significant others where possible.

6) Staffing

Internationally, adventure therapy programs are often staffed by small multidisciplinary teams. Complimentary staff teams are able to meet the skills required for a given program, for example the need for cultural knowledge, expertise with a specific target group, therapeutic skills and outdoor activity leadership skills. Rather than requiring one person to hold all expertise or providing a specific set of skills at a distance, multidisciplinary teams allow high levels of safety and participant care. For these reasons, international adventure therapy staff teams are usually made up of staff with the following mix of experiences and expertise:

  • adventure activity and/or outdoor leadership skills
  • clinical therapy and/or counselling skills (individual, group and/or family)
  • knowledge and experience of the given target group (young people, adults, disabilities, mental health etc.)
  • strong cultural roots in the same culture as participants.

7) Aims and intentions

Internationally, adventure therapy is practiced across the spectrum of public health, including in prevention, early intervention, treatment and continuing care for a range of health difficulties. Examples of a use of adventure therapy across this spectrum are provided:

  • Prevention – is keeping people healthy, well and connected (for example a community recreation program which uses tailored adventure activities with individuals who want to improve their health and wellbeing)
  • Early intervention – is intervening early before the onset of a dysfunction, diagnosed difficulty, disorder or disconnection (for example with young people at risk of dropping out of school)
  • Treatment – is offering a tailored treatment  for people with a known dysfunction, diagnosed difficulty, disorder or disconnection (for example with adults living with a diagnosed mental health disorder)
  • Continuing care – is helping people to maintain their health and wellbeing (for example an ongoing program for people who live with and/or have recovered from a known dysfunction, diagnosed difficulty, disorder or disconnection).

8) Examples of target groups and associated aims

While some example of adventure therapy target groups and aims are provided, we acknowledge that the possibilities for a use of adventure therapy around the world are endless!

  •  Prevention
    • Community integration for refugees and migrant populations
    • Confidence-building and sense of family for children involved in child protection systems
  • Early intervention
    • Re-engagement of young people who are regularly absent from school
    • Building hope and capability for young people who have become disconnected from their culture
  •  Treatment
    • Re-socialisation of young people involved in criminal activities
    • Therapeutic intervention for people recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction
    • Treatment for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress
  • Continuing care
    • Respite for adolescent cancer patients
    • Palliative care and end-of-life support for ageing Aboriginal people.