Holistic and complementary approaches are becoming increasingly popular in addiction treatment, as people seek programs that resonate with their personalities. Experiential therapies such as adventure-based programs are a class of holistic treatment that are particularly useful in addressing issues of mind, body and spirit to promote the overall healing of the individual in rehab. Adventure therapy has been shown to be highly effective in treating addiction as part of a rehab program and works by promoting self-esteem and leadership skills.
What Is Adventure Therapy?
This approach is based on the personal value of being challenged by nature, which leads to individuals having to adapt their responses and behaviors in different situations. By using hands-on activities like hiking, or camping as therapies, patients learn how to interact with nature and wildlife. They also learn invaluable lessons through the exploration of the world outside their minds, which may have become a prison for them through addiction.
Adventure-based therapies are physical activities which allow patients to have meaningful experiences that bring about great personal change. The key benefit of adventure based therapy is that it provides insights during the experience of the activity that can then be discussed with the individual to incorporate lessons learned into changed behavior. This kind of therapy focuses on finding solutions, which encourages participants to make better choices when they are in recovery.
How Adventure Therapy Works
There are several processes that can promote positive changes in behavior and psychological healing with programs including:
- Mastering an experience and examine the skills that were used during the activity
- Identifying related sub-skills that came into play
- Developing new skill sets
- Re-evaluating an individual’s beliefs of self-efficacy
- Learning how to apply learned skills to all aspects of life in recovery
It is, of course down, to the individual as to how effective adventure therapy can be and it is important that participants enter into activities without preconception or bias. For example, it would be unwise for someone with a fear of horses to engage in a therapy involving them, despite the efficacy of the treatment. Submitting oneself completely to the activity chosen for adventure therapy programs is essential to gain the full benefits of this highly successful approach.
The Involvement of Stress and Risk
Activity-based therapies in rehab are extremely effective in providing patients with coping mechanisms for stress they are likely to face in recovery. For example, with an activity such as camping, problem-solving comes to the fore as the need to respond to the risks of natural environments is ever-present. Identifying the best place to camp, preparing a habitable structure for overnight shelter and dealing with the strange sounds and noises that fill the night air can all be invaluable experiences for someone with addiction issues.
Stress is one of the principal triggers of addiction and as the illness develops, it becomes progressively harder to control responses to stressors as the need to self-medicate becomes a compulsion. Being in a natural environment or working with horses puts patients in situations that are beyond their comfort zone. This makes them more aware of the world around them and how their behavior may impact their personal security, which can then be discussed in therapy afterwards for a clearer understanding.
Harnessing the Power of Nature for Effective Recovery
One of the main objectives of addiction treatment is the provide patients with a better understanding of who they are. Many people become ‘lost’ as their dependence on drugs or alcohol deepens and it is important for them to re-learn how to identify and communicate their feelings more effectively for a brighter future. Experiential therapies that get patients actively participating and embracing natural surroundings and wildlife can lead to significant and highly positive personal change.
For example, someone who has developed their addiction in a suburban or city environment can benefit greatly from being in completely new surroundings. Many addicts become isolated and withdrawn when they are using, largely because they fear being misunderstood or harshly judged but also because they have lost the ability to communicate. One of the most difficult aspects of combating prolonged drug or alcohol abuse is undoing the damage done to an individual’s mental health. Physically active therapies tend to catapult patients into unknown environments which encourage them to learn how to think of their feet and also to be more aware of the consequences of their actions.