Adventure Therapy as a form of Evidence-Based Treatment

Clinicians who have worked with clients struggling with emotional, psychiatric or addiction issues have long appreciated the healing value of nature immersion as well as the benefits of “fun” recreational activities where a once-isolated, often addicted and mood dysregulated client could experience a deeper sense of connection and joy with experiences that were not related to their addictive patterns of abuse.

Indeed, there is ample research that has proven the clinical efficacy of such experiences: 91.4 percent of participants show a significant clinical improvement and, on average, participants significantly improve from intake to 6 months after completing treatment. In addition, in a study published in 2003 by Dr. Keith Russell from the University of Idaho, found that participants showed significant improvement in functioning from intake to discharge and that the gains were maintained one year after discharge.

According to Dr. Steve DuBois, Clinical Director of Second Nature, a wilderness program in Utah: “A big part of this experience is helping people experience for themselves a greater sense of self-efficacy and internal locus of control.” For clients struggling with emotional or addictive disorders, this is a critically important healing dynamic.

These experiences were often the magic moment when “the shift” occurs and a client gains the internal realization that there is more to life than addictive self-medicating, numbing and escape. In addition, for many struggling clients, there is a profound sense of healing and grounding that comes with re-connecting to nature.

Indeed, Dr. Kardaras–who has long used nature immersion as a therapeutic tool–recalls one particular case:

“I had been working with a young woman who had become horribly and self-destructively addicted to crystal meth. She came from a good family but had been living on the streets for years in many dangerous and abusive situations. She had been to many traditional residential and outpatient treatment programs where she was ‘therapized’ and talked to by an army of clinicians. And still, she would relapse and wind up in hospitals. Finally, she began integrating nature immersion into her therapy–a sunrise beach walk (or jog) with her therapist. It was on one such walk that she had “the shift”; she broke down sobbing when she fully experienced the overwhelming beauty of the sunrise and said “I feel sorry for the people in my old addictive life who aren’t able to experience this…I don’t want to live like that anymore.” And ever since that moment, she hasn’t. She has just celebrated 4 years clean and sober. We can debate whether it was JUST the nature event–or the combination of nature and therapy–that led to this breakthrough. But what is undeniable is that the nature experience was a CRITICAL component of her shift and personal insight that she no longer wanted to live that addictive lifestyle anymore.”

At Maui Recovery, we try to create a variety of such nature immersion/adventure therapy opportunities where clients can also experience just such a potentially life-saving “shift”.