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What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure Therapy is the prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by mental health professionals, often conducted in natural settings that kinesthetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels." (Gass, Gillis, and Russell, 2012)

The following is an excerpt from the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Groups' Best Practices in Adventure Therapy document. You can read more here.

Adventure Therapy:

● Utilizes active (kinesthetic) experiential methodology[1] to engage clients and establish an identical or parallel process[2] between the client's life experience and the client's therapeutic experience and enhances the transfer of learning from the therapeutic context to the client's life.


● Focuses on therapeutic goals[3], possibly including the cognitive[4], behavioral[5], affective,[6] physical and spiritual facets of the person.[7] This differentiates adventure therapy from uses of adventure for recreational, education, or physical health purposes.


● Involves a dynamic therapist-client relationship[8] enhanced through the shared experience and the active involvement of the client in the creation and maintenance of an effective therapeutic environment, such as goal setting[9], personal decision-making[10], and achieving outcomes.[11] The therapist is intentional[12] in facilitation of process, the selection and 9 Helpful Tip: How To Search for Words or Phrases in a PDF Document design of the intervention, and about the role of the environment. This process may, but does not always, include real or perceived, physical or psychological stress or discomfort.[13]


● Incorporates a dynamic use of the environment and often the role of nature. [14] This may include exposure to unique environments or environments with adaptive dissonance for the client.[15]

[1] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Friese (2006); Neill (2004); Alvarez and Stauffer (2001); Gillis & Ringer (1999); Gillis, Ringer, Priest (1999); Crisp (1998); Thomsen & Gillis (1996); Gillis (1995); Gass (1993)

[2] Thomsen & Gillis (1996)

[3] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Berman & Berman (2008); Neill (2004); Alvarez and Stauffer (2001); Itin (2001); Priest (2006); Gillis & Ringer (1999); Gillis (1995)

[4] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Schoel & Maizell (2002); Neill (2004); Schoel & Maizell (2002); Itin (2001); Thomsen & Gillis (1996); Gillis (1995)

[5] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Neill (2004); Schoel & Maizell (2002); Itin (2001); Thomsen & Gillis (1996); Gillis (1995)

[6] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Neill (2004); Schoel & Maizell (2002); Itin (2001); Thomsen & Gillis (1996); Gillis (1995)

[7] Wedding & Wedding  

[8] Norcross (2011); Berman & Berman (2008); Thomsen & Gillis (1996)

[9] Crisp (1998)

[10] Crisp (1998)

[11] Crisp (1998)

[12] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Berman & Berman (2008); Neill (2004); Alvarez and Stauffer (2001); Itin (2001); Gillis & Ringer (1999); Thomsen & Gillis (1996)

[13] Crisp (1998); Thomsen & Gillis (1996)

[14] Gass, Gillis, & Russell (2012); Neill (2004)

[15] reference missing

Okay, but what does all that mean?

What that means is that during our sessions, we create or choose specific activities, challenges, etc, that are designed around the goal of the session. We will choose the appropriate activities based on what we're working on in the moment, as well as over all. 

Sometimes that can be using a hammock to support you or your child in learning frustration tolerance (have you ever tried to do something and been successful the first time? Not very often.). 

Or it can look like you and your child working together to build the same lego structure while following specific guidelines, to help with communication. 

It can look like the client leading us to find a Geocache, helping them learn to trust their instincts, follow directions, slow down, and be in the moment. 

These are *very* basic examples of what Adventure Therapy can look like. The options are endless, and it changes up the traditional thoughts of mental health therapy. 

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