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Is Adventure Therapy Effective For Teen Treatment?


adventure therapy

In the 1940s Kurt Hahn founded an experiential learning program, called Outward Bound in Great Britain as a means to train British seamen with physical and emotional challenges. It was brought to the United States in the 1960s and currently serves thirty-five nations on five continents. Adventure therapy is derived from the principals of Outward Bound. The purpose of adventure therapy is to inspire self-discipline and self-confidence through facing mentally and physically challenging experiences in a wilderness setting. Adventure therapy provides teens with the opportunity to depart from their daily routines and venture outside of their comfort zones. Adventure therapy typically takes place outdoors and involves participating in different physical group activities (e.g. kayaking, ropes course, mountain climbing, hiking, camping, swimming, rafting, skiing, etc.). The outdoor format of adventure therapy allows teens to experience the therapeutic properties of nature. Mastering new challenges in a collaborative environment can enable a teens to view themselves in a new light, boost self-esteem, improve social skills, and adopt a growth mindset. 


There are many ways that adventure therapy can benefit mental health. The Encyclopedia of Counseling, First Edition asserts “The fundamental proposition of adventure therapy involves exposing a group of individuals to a novel setting in which they strive to negotiate a variety of challenging tasks that involve real or perceived risk and where the outcome of their efforts is directly affected by the choices that they make, both individually and in concert with other group members.” This can yield exceptional benefits. Examples of such benefits could include, but are not limited to: 

  • Improved executive functioning
  • Decreased symptoms of anxiety and/ or depression
  • Improved interpersonal skills
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Trauma resilience
  • Learning to effectively self-advocate for one’s needs
  • Identity development
  • Improved grit

When participating in adventure therapy, each teen brings his or her worldview, life experiences, and challenges, which greatly inform the dynamic of the group. Fortunately, the adventure therapy model is designed to be versatile enough to meet each teenager at his or her level. 

Does It Work?

Every teenager is different and each will respond distinctly to the wide array of treatment options available. For some, adventure therapy may be an ideal fit, while others may find alternative therapeutic modalities to be more suitable. Participating in adventure therapy is not mutually exclusive. Depending on the needs of the teenager, his or her treatment plan could include several different therapeutic treatment methods. Adventure therapy that does not resonate with a teen will likely yield far less effective treatment results. As such, it is imperative to consider a teenager’s nuanced needs and treatment preferences, so as to ensure the most effective treatment plan can be cultivated and subsequently executed. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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