Adventure therapy for early intervention
Adventure therapy for early interventation
A form of therapeutic care that is popular with teens
by Will Dobud
As a therapeutic option for children and adolescents struggling with behavioural and emotional issues, adventure therapy is a research-proven intervention combining evidence-based methods from psychology and social work with outdoor adventure experiences. For the teenager struggling with depression, anger issues, anxiety or drug and alcohol abuse, adventure therapy provides a safe and effective option for early-intervention and therapeutic care.
At present in Australia, young people are the least likely of any age group to engage with a helping professional or youth program. One of the many perks for adventure therapy is in delivering a treatment option that adolescents tend to find more appealing as the excitement and adventure provide an opportunity for therapists to better connect with their young clients. Adventure therapy can be particularly effective with adolescents who have seen psychologists or counsellors previously but did not find the service helpful or failed to establish any type of therapeutic relationship.
A recent 2013 analysis* found that adventure therapy interventions have helped participants to improve academic performance and problematic behaviours, including aggression, anger and anxiety, general mental health and family functioning. Research also suggests that adventure therapists often have the ability to establish stronger relationships with their young clients, which is a common predictor of a successful outcome.
Despite positive results for adolescents engaging in adventure therapy, there are particular categories of young people who do not benefit from these programs. These are clients who are younger than 11 years old, those with suicidal ideations, eating disorders and violent or antisocial behaviours. If you are unsure if your child would benefit from adventure-based programs, an assessment from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist would be an appropriate step to see if there is a program right for you.
In Australia, a typical adventure therapy program involves small groups of up to 10 participants spending time in a wilderness setting for anywhere from five days to two weeks. A key component to adventure therapy is the presence of mental health professionals providing clinical services that engage the young person while they are in the bush. In many programs, participants spend their days hiking from camp to camp learning new skills, such as fire-making, navigation with a map and compass, and how to work effectively as a team.
The Australian Association for Bush Adventure Therapy (AABAT – to be found at www.aabat.org.au) is the peak body for practitioners and researchers with experience in adventure therapy. In April 2016, AABAT will be hosting the National Bush Adventure Therapy Forum in Adelaide, SA for all those interested in learning more and experiencing adventure therapy first hand.
Will Dobud is a master social worker and program director of True North Expeditions, an adventure therapy organisation working with children and families across Australia. For more information visit www.willdobud.com or www.truenorthexpeditions.com.au