The Value of Adventure Therapy in Recovery

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The Value of Adventure Therapy in Recovery

Sometimes people in early recovery worry that their days of having fun are over. The rush of substance abuse and the “wild partying” that goes along with it is closed off to them, and they are afraid nothing exciting or fun will take its place. The innovative methods of adventure therapy prove how wrong that thinking is, and show how a sober life can be one lived to the fullest. In addition, adventure therapy can have a number of other benefits as part of a program of recovery from addiction.

What is Adventure Therapy?:

Adventure therapy takes people in need of healing out of “normal” and sterile therapeutic environments, allowing learning to take place outdoors instead. It may make use of a wide variety of activities including cooperative games, wilderness expeditions like camping or canoeing, rock climbing, and ziplining. All these activities involve risk and are both physically and emotionally challenging.

With roots that can trace themselves back to traditional Native American rituals that utilized healing through grueling adventure, contemporary adventure therapy has been around since the 1960s. A variety of theorists coming from different backgrounds discovered that bringing people in these unfamiliar, risky, outdoor situations to face a challenge can help them develop the skills needed to overcome the challenges of life.

Testing showed that people struggling with substance abuse issues were among those most likely to experience a positive outcome from adventure therapy. People struggling with addiction often feel that their lives are out of control. By providing a real-life space to push boundaries and learn about our capacity for survival and thriving, adventure therapy can be a very helpful way to discover how life is in control. This has led to many rehab centers and recovery support groups to find ways to incorporate adventure as part of their programs.


While simply engaging in outdoor activities for fun and exercise can provide a valuable need for exercise, excitement, and connection with other people having fun together, a program of adventure therapy goes beyond that. By integrating these activities in with discussion, the program is able to relate them to issues in sobriety and recovery, making them part of a holistic treatment of body, mind and soul as your whole self heals from active addiction.

For example, ziplining can provide an opportunity to face and overcome fears. The activity itself is followed by a discussion of how to use the experience to find ways to feel calm and grounded in the midst of stress and pressure. The basic principles of recovery haven’t changed, but they are communicated in a direct way, both illustrated and put into practice in a way that will be very hard to forget. By taking an action-based approach that engages every part of your mind and body, you must evaluate your thoughts and behaviors with more directness than almost any other way.

Many people who participate in adventure therapy programs say it gives them a sense of empowerment and a boost to their self-esteem. A positive self-image is an invaluable tool in recovery. Everyone in sobriety faces many struggles and challenges, and believing in yourself and your abilities can give you the strength and resilience to keep going no matter what. The best way to build this sense of self-esteem is to set and accomplish goals. In an adventure therapy setting, you will try new things and be pushed to your limits. In this way, you will expand your understanding of what’s possible for you. Returning to real life and rebuilding yourself in sobriety may seem less intimidating, if you know what other challenges you were able to face.