Adventure Therapy: The Best Way to Deal With Depression, Anxiety, and Stress

  • by Scott Sajowitz

Dual Diagnosis therapy evaluates patients seeking rehab treatment for addiction for possible underlying mental illness, too. Addiction often comes about when people who are confused about the mental health issues they are experiencing choose to cope with them by self- medicating with recreational drugs. Treating only the addiction without treating the mental illness fails to address the reason for the addiction. More rehab facilities are including dual diagnosis as an essential part of their addiction therapy. Mental illness is treated along with the addiction that developed as a failed effort of the patient to cope with symptoms he or she didn’t
understand. Some mental health an addiction treatment centers are incorporating a more holistic approach in their programs like Adventure therapy as a treatment option.


What is Adventure Therapy?
With Adventure Therapy, patients and their therapist engage in outdoor programs which combine nature and recreation with physical challenges. Patients engage in activities like hiking, camping, rope climbing, and kayaking. The group engages in various activities which are selected by the therapist. Selected physical activities help patients work through issues highlighted in their individual treatment plans. Adventure Therapy has a place in the treatment of dual diagnosis patients with Stress and Anxiety disorders along with addiction.

Ways Adventure Therapy is Helpful to Dual Diagnosis Patients.
Facing physical challenges in a natural environment offers patients the opportunity to commune with nature, realize the consequences of their behavior, engage in physical exercise, and gain satisfaction from mastering the outdoor skills they learn. The program offers effective teaching moments through activities like kayaking, orienteering, rock climbing, and other outdoor skills.
Feedback is immediate, and the participant learns to experience the outcome of poor decisions by experiencing them firsthand. Patients discover abilities they never knew existed and strengths they never had the opportunity to use prior to engaging in Adventure Therapy. Many dual diagnosis patients with social anxiety experience high levels of stress erroneously believing themselves incompetent or incapable to handle certain situations. Studies were done on the positive effects of Adventure Therapy on patients suffering from such mental issues as Depression, Anxiety and Stress -related disorders show positive results that are carried over after the patients finish the program and into their recovery. Patients learn
ways to overcome obstacles and challenges through the program through various activities like Kayaking, climbing, hiking, and other physical activities.
Patients with Anxiety disorders learn ways to conquer their fears by facing challenges and building self-esteem. By learning their abilities to overcome obstacles and achieve success, patients learn to use the experience as a metaphor for situations in their own lives which make them anxious.
There is more to Adventure Therapy than just the bonding and group activity it offers. The activities used in the therapy are chosen for their proven abilities to ease the symptoms of mental illness.

Three activities in particular rank high when it comes to choices for the therapy:
Kayaking, Backpacking, and Rock Climbing. Studies have been done which show a positive link between those activities and easing the symptoms of mental illnesses such as Anxiety, Depression, and Stress-related disorders.
Kayaking Studies have shown that Kayaking is an excellent reliever of stress. In studies conducted on the benefits of Kayaking proved to have a positive effect on people suffering from stress-related disorders including PTSD. By improving the individual’s self-concept and satisfaction by achieving a challenging goal, stressors were relieved and the endorphins released by the physical activity had an ameliorative effect on participants. Warrior Hike, a program which uses physical activity to help Iraq War vets suffering from PTSD has also experienced great success relieving the symptoms of the stress disorder with Kayaking trips. Symptoms of stress disorders include shortened patience with delays. This is something kayaking has helped sufferers to deal with since the need to patiently work to achieve goals set during the trip is a requirement for success.
It’s not that some vets suffering from PTSD consider seeking help or treatment as weakness and unfortunately, some may not get the help they desperately need due to this limiting belief. However, by using a physical activity like kayaking as treatment, the grueling work needed to battle nature and achieve victory are qualities no one can consider weak. Participants eagerly undertake the challenge and the results have been heartening. Results showed improvements in Anxiety, PTSD, Depression, and more.


More and more physicians are including nature therapy as a prescription for their patients. High on the list of desirable activities suggested by medical professionals and used in Adventure therapy is Hiking. The activity is suitable for all ages and heightened physical condition is not a prerequisite for involvement.
Spending time in nature takes away the negative and limiting thoughts of people suffering from Depression, Stress Disorders, and Anxiety often report. Studies have shown that activity in the Brain is positively impacted by hiking. Increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex has been tied to Stress. Hiking noticeably reduced activity in this area. Spending time outdoors walking in nature was shown to be a great stress-relieving activity. A recent Arizona-based study suggests that Hiking can be used to treat many symptoms associated with Depression.

Rock Climbing
Rock climbing, particularly Boulder Climbing, was shown as an activity that not only increases muscle mass and endurance but has shown to be a stress-releasor , too. A study in German produced results showing an improvement in depression levels among patients engaged in rock climbing. The results have been favorably compared to results from established treatments like Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Some people allow the social stigma unfairly placed on mental illness to prevent them from seeking therapy and treatment. In the case of a serious mental
illness like Depression, this could have dire consequences. By using a form of therapy attached to an activity with no social stigma, it is hoped more will seek therapy this way who might otherwise not have sought the help they needed. Benefits from rock-climbing were shown to benefit anxiety disorders, including Social Anxiety by increasing self-esteem and discouraging self-imposed isolation.


Overcoming addiction and maintaining a successful recovery requires determination, confidence, and inner strength. Patients learn they have the inner toughness to meet any of the challenges of their mental illness diagnosis. With Adventure Therapy those who have a Dual Diagnosis learn the strengths they need to handle their symptoms don’t come from the substances they are striving to leave behind.

The Steps For Adventure Therapy.
Patients in a Dual Diagnosis program go through several stages to enable them to engage in Adventure therapy:
1. The first stage is cleansing through Detoxification. This is followed by the Intake
which includes evaluation, testing, and gathering enough information about the
patient to develop an initial treatment plan. With this information, therapists can
determine if the patient is a good candidate for Adventure therapy.
2. The second stage of Adventure Therapy helps the patient learn to accept
individual and group responsibilities in the teamwork aspect of the program.
Patients are required to take personal responsibility for the outcome of their
decisions in real-life situations in the program. Members of the program are all
held accountable for their actions by other members of the group.
3. The final stage of Adventure Therapy is its aftermath and the aftercare needed to
maintain long-term sobriety. Consistent adherence to the core values learned in
the program will serve to reinforce the coping strategies they need to remain

Who Can Benefit From Adventure Therapy?
While much of the background of Adventure Therapy has been with young people, the therapy is suitable for patients of all ages.
For patients who have stress disorders, Adventure Therapy allows them to engage in a hands-on approach to their mental health and addiction recovery. Studies were done on Adventure Therapy which shows this method of treatment is successful for people with Stress Disorders. These patients demonstrated improvements in their self-efficacy and their ability to repeat the coping strategies which brought them success over challenges in their therapy.

Patients with addictions often feel powerless against their addiction and the difficult situations in their environment. Encouraging patients to learn essential skills for survival in nature like setting up a shelter, cooking, and relying on each member of the team to fulfill their role patients learn teamwork and the importance of individual effort and responsibility. Mastering skills in an outdoor environment reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels.

Life-Long Lessons From Adventure Theory.
The various lessons taught in Advantage Therapy help patients form core values that are important to maintain their sobriety. An example is rock climbing. This activity offers a challenge which requires significant effort to master. Achieving success gives participants pride in mastering a difficult challenge they initially believed was impossible. At the conclusion of the
program, patients learn that all challenges aren’t negative and stressful. Some can also bring additional enjoyment to life. Kayaking builds the important value of teamwork and a patient’s role as an important member of a group working towards a single goal.


written by: Patrick Bailey


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