Adventure Therapy and positive change

We’ve all heard it before, getting outside can work wonders for the body, mind and soul, but can Adventure Therapy support people with mental health issues and substance addiction to achieve positive change?  

According to research by Gregory Bratman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in depression. 

Simply being outside can help to shift peoples’ mindsets and allow new thoughts, conversations and ideas to flow which can create positive conditions for change.  

When people are outside, they are given the space to move. There’s a body of evidence to indicate that people think better and feel better when they’re moving (which is often most enjoyable in nature). The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners indicates almost 70% of doctors are prescribing ‘Park Run’ social running to patients not only with low activity, but also loneliness and isolation. 

So, how can ‘Adventure Therapy’ support people to achieve positive change and improve life outcomes? 

American psychologist, professor and author, Michael J. Lambert summarises successful therapy into four areas… 

  1. ‘Extra-therapeutic change’ (40%), relating to the life and environment of the client
  2. ‘Relationship factors’ (30%) relating to the client’s therapeutic relationship
  3. ‘Expectancy’ (15%) relating to the client’s expectation or belief that treatment will work
  4. ‘Techniques’ (15%) relating to the client’s tailored treatment  

At Tumbelin Farm, our participants are involved in all four stages of successful therapy. The young people participate voluntarily and are generally excited to be outside, involved in hands-on work and experiencing a change in their physical environment (extra-therapeutic). The positive, trusting relationship that is formed with their Counsellor and Case Manager, coupled with their relationships with peers, allows them to connect, share their story and feel a sense of belonging (relationship factors). They choose to be there because they want to embark on a journey of recovery and change (expectancy), and they do this through ‘experiential learning’ – learning through listening, observing and doing (techniques). Together these factors create the conditions for positive change and improved life outcomes. 

Adventure Therapy can also help to increase self-esteem. If young people participate in a challenge (eg. abseiling down a cliff face or crawling into a small cave) and overcome their fear or experience some degree of progress, it’s a validation that they can achieve their goals.  

“When we slow down, take a moment to engage with our senses, whether on our own or in the company of others – we’re in good shape to connect with ourselves, others and the natural environment.  When we connect with one or more of these things, then we tend to feel like we’re worthy of love and connection and ready to embrace positive change.” – Ben Hopkins, Tumbelin Farm supporter and previous manager.

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