How To Use Adventure Therapy for Your Personal Development?

Friends hiking in the mountains.

How To Use Adventure Therapy for Your Personal Development?

For many people, talk therapy can feel claustrophobic. This can be especially true for men, who are often socialized from a young age to avoid talking about their feelings. It can be hard to dive straight into one-on-one or group therapy where all there is to do is talk. Although talking about your experiences and emotions is an important skill to learn, particularly in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), there are alternative types of therapy that may help you adjust to the idea of therapy. If spending time in nature with like-minded people sounds more comfortable to you, you might want to try adventure therapy.

What Is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential therapy. This means that it doesn’t involve talking it out like what happens in individual or group therapy. Instead, in adventure therapy, you’re having an experience. The experience usually takes place outdoors and involves challenging adventures or activities. These activities aren’t only meant to challenge your body, though. They may also require you to flex your mental muscles in the area of trust-building, leadership, problem-solving, or wilderness survival. Examples of popular adventure therapy ventures include:

  • Rock climbing
  • Kayaking
  • Ropes courses
  • Backpacking
  • Cycling
  • Snowshoeing


These activities are usually guided and supervised by mental health professionals from your program. They are there to help you process the experience in a productive and positive way that leads to personal development. That might mean talking together as a group after an activity to reflect on what it taught you.

Most adventure therapy programs cover the span of multiple days or even weeks, and some require participants to sleep under the stars every night. On the other hand, some are only day programs, where you go home to the comfort of your own bed at the end of the day. Which type of program you choose depends on the level of intensity you’re comfortable with and how adventure therapy fits in with the other parts of your treatment plan.

The Benefits of the Great Outdoors

Adventure therapy is based on six core principles:

  • Action-centered: By removing you from a traditional therapy setting, your therapist can observe you in a more natural state. This will allow them to see how you interact with others, how you face challenges, and how you react to success.
  • Unfamiliar environment: A change of scenery can make a big difference in your perspective. An unfamiliar environment may allow you to open up more to your inner world and those around you.
  • A climate of change: Many people who suffer from SUD live their lives in fear of change. The outdoors can show you that change is not only natural but often beneficial. Adventure therapy can introduce you to the concept of “eustress” which means “good stress.”
  • Small group development: Adventure therapy activities often take place in small groups. This encourages you to practice working with others, trusting them, and considering their perspectives.
  • Focus on successful behaviors: People with SUD often only see the worst in themselves. In adventure therapy, you’ll be able to celebrate your victories, which will boost your self-esteem.
  • Altered role of the therapist: Seeing your therapist struggle through the activities along with you can help you feel a rapport with them, resulting in more mutually beneficial communication.


six principles highlight the benefits that adventure therapy can offer. Additionally, time spent in the great outdoors is proven to lower your risk of depression and help you recover more quickly from psychological stress. This means that it can potentially help with anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It might even help you be a better person. A 2015 study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that viewing awe-inspiring landscapes can make people more generous, ethical, and prosocial.

Adventure Therapy and Personal Development

You may think that sobriety is the most important thing you’ll receive from treatment. In reality, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. To help you grow mentally to better understand yourself, your addiction, and what you want from the rest of your life. We use alternative therapy techniques like adventure therapy to do just that.

You’ll likely come into treatment with coping strategies that you’ve used to get by until now. Sometimes, those coping mechanisms can work. More often, they’re actually harmful to you and those around you. Adventure therapy can provide you with the opportunity to face new problems and learn new ways to solve them.

Your therapist and guide will help you build healthier thought processes, which is a skill you can build on throughout recovery. This approach can also give you a better understanding of risk and consequence, something that is very applicable to people with SUD. At the end of the day, achieving your goals can leave you with a sense of empowerment, self-awareness, and greater self-esteem.