Adventure Therapy

When we think of drug rehab, the concept may bring to mind a very specific picture, depending upon what our own experiences have taught us. There are luxury treatment centers that focus on relaxation and alternative therapies while incorporating evidence-based treatment options. Other treatment centers may cater to women or men exclusively, or even young teens who need help to overcome addiction. Still others may be operated on a strict, outpatient basis.

Within each setting for drug addiction treatment are the much-varied concepts of therapy programs as well. These differences in programs and therapy approaches are a necessary component to the overall health and wellness of the recovery addict, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to these experts, each person who suffers from drug addiction is different. There is no formula that determines precisely why someone might suffer from the illness; therefore, there is no single protocol that exists to treat all of those suffering. By creating many options and opportunities, there is a greater chance for each person to find the treatment that works for them on the most complete level.

One method of treatment that has grown in popularity over the course of time is the concept of adventure therapy. According to the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, wilderness-style therapy practices are gaining ground as a legitimate and productive form of treatment for several reasons. Some individuals may feel more at ease in a natural setting outside of the strict, sometimes medicinal setting of a therapist or counselor’s office. Rather than sitting on a sofa – or the proverbial psychiatrist’s couch – the patient can engage in hiking, camping, fishing or other activities that take the formality and stigma away from the therapy sessions.

Another benefit of adventure therapy is in the total and complete removal of an individual from his or her familiar surroundings, which can create a new and alternative means for processing thoughts and feelings surrounding addiction. Finally, the challenges that an individual may experience in an adventure setting can boost confidence, stamina and one’s overall ability to handle the stress associated with recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

Adventure and Wilderness Therapy Is Safe

wilderness rehabAccording to Psych Central, adventure therapy is generally used to treat troubled individuals, primarily youths, who haven’t responded to other types of therapy. In some cases, the programs can seem harsh, almost like a boot camp program, meant to punish or demoralize the individuals taking part in the activities. Unfortunately, there have been some injuries and even deaths as a result of excessive practices over the years. This may lead some individuals considering this form of program to question not only whether they are effective, but whether they are safe at all.

A study conducted by the University of New Hampshire, however, has determined that these programs, when managed and operated responsibly and correctly, are safer than allowing a teen to play high school football. A few highlights from the report found that:

  • An average of 12 therapy programs amounted to one injury for every 9,091 client days of participation.
  • Rates of injury among youths nationwide were triple those that occurred in adventure therapy programs.
  • High school football injuries are 140 times greater than injuries incurred in adventure therapy.
  • Adventure therapy programs have less instance of injury than snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking and backpacking.
  • The study included injuries treated in the field as well as injuries that required evacuation to a medical facility.
  • When managed correctly with experienced and trained staff, adventure therapy is safe.

Evidence-Based Therapy for Drug Addiction Treatment

The location of treatment is certainly a key to any adventure program as the surroundings and exploration of those surroundings is a necessary to the implementation of the program. However, this does not mean that the evidence-based therapy practices that have been established as most effective for the treatment of addiction are ignored. Rather, they are implemented in the field, rather than in an office or residential setting. In order to understand more about how adventure therapy works, it is important to understand these evidence-based therapies as well.

One type of therapy that has been effective in the treatment of alcohol and some drug abuse and addiction disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy centers on the belief that we learn our behaviors based upon our experiences. If an individual experiences a vicious dog bite as a small child, they may learn that dogs are mean and can harm them. They may avoid dogs and experience severe anxiety when they are unable to avoid them. Of course, millions of people own dogs as family pets and suffer no attacks or even minor bites or injuries, but the person’s experience has taught them that dogs are simply unsafe.

Cognitive behavioral therapy would seek to help this individual to unlearn the lesson they took to heart as a child by helping them to see a more rational approach to the situation. Is it more likely that all dogs are vicious or that the one dog that attacked and bit was vicious? Is it possible that the dog misinterpreted behaviors and felt threatened? If the thought process surrounding the behavior – in this case, the anxiety and fear surrounding all dogs – can be changed, then the individual can change their behavior when it comes to their acceptance of dogs.

Cognitive behavioral therapies apply this same method to the treatment of drugs or alcohol, along with the possibly of co-occurring disorders that may contribute to the addiction disorder. An individual may have learned that choosing not to abuse drugs or alcohol will lead them to experience withdrawal symptoms that they are unable to control. They may believe that choosing to not abuse drugs will lead them to lose their friends or family members who engage in drug abuse. They may believe that they will be unable to function in society without the aid of the substances to which they have become addicted. These beliefs are so real to them, so foundational to their own existence, that their behavior – the abuse of drugs – is the logical next step in behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help them to unlearn these believes, much like the individual who comes to realize that not all dogs are vicious, so they can alter their behavior to a sober lifestyle.

This type of therapy does not have to take place in a residential setting, but can take place during an adventure program where individuals are proving to themselves each and every day that they can live without drugs and alcohol. They can strive to hike one more hill, climb one more precipice and achieve one more goal before the sun goes down.

In an adventure therapy program, not all therapies necessarily take place in an adventure-type setting. Other types of evidence-based and alternative treatments that can take place in an adventure therapy program include:

  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Alternative therapies (such as yoga or meditation)
  • Support groups (such as AA, NA and others)

Getting the Help You Need When You Need It

One of the most important principles of treatment established by the National Institute on Drug Abuse is that treatment is readily available when it is needed. Certainly, the family and loved ones of those who are directly affected by drug addiction may have a different idea of when treatment is needed than those who are actually suffering. When someone who is suffering from addiction makes the difficult decision to get help, it is not unusual for them to change their mind if they do not act immediately. For this reason, it is important to investigate options for treatment and have a plan in place before you confront someone in your life about getting the help they need.

If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, it is never too early or too late to seek help. At Axis, we can provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision, and when you’re ready to proceed, we can provide you and your family with exceptional care. Please, do not hesitate to contact us today to find out more about the programs we offer.