Adventure Therapy – A Tutor’s View

by Bree Arnott

Adventure Therapy has been on our minds a lot lately – we were privileged to host the Adventure Therapy Aotearoa Forum 2018 earlier in the year and we have just started the ground work for our own Adventure Therapy programme with staff visiting potential partners and participants.

Georgia, a WIO tutor, recently visited the USA to learn about American Adventure Therapy and what they do that could also work well here in New Zealand. We’ll do further posts so you can read all about her adventure Stateside, but for now here are Georgia’s thoughts on why we need Adventure Therapy in the first place.

remote beach experiential education program

Life as a teenager can be a tumultuous time.  Hormones wreaking havoc, the pressures of life amplified by social medias’ rampant effects as well as the weight of career/life decisions and peer pressure – just to offer a few challenges for thought.

It is a strange no man’s land between childhood and adulthood; the frontal cortex is undergoing massive renovations. Then add more specific challenges to inflame an already delicate situation – drug and alcohol use/abuse, sexual orientation and activity, depression and suicidal thoughts, anxiety, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, an unstable home life, academic failures to name a few … the list however is infinite.  The combination and severity of pressures are unique to each individual and it can be easy to pass these issues off as an unrecognizable phase that your once lovely child is going through. Potentially there are many long lasting issues that if ignored can have very detrimental, sometimes even have fatal repercussions.

What next? Our mission at Whenua Iti Outdoors is to achieve positive change in individuals and communities. Our Adventure Therapy program opens a space where rangatahi can explore issues and life pressures in a neutral space with specific activities and therapeutic practices designed to help clients set and achieve goals, overcome challenges, build self-esteem and enjoy the many benefits of being active and outdoors.

What is adventure therapy? Adventure therapy (AT) is defined as “the prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by mental health professionals, often conducted in natural settings, that kinesthetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels” (Gass, Gillis & Russell, 2012). In other words, the use of experiences to engage clients and help them make positive changes. Benefits include; encouraging and promoting a sense of responsibility, building positive relationships and learning to cooperate with others, acquiring other positive social skills, like healthy communication and conflict resolution, improving self-awareness and self-confidence, increasing resilience, encouraging openness and emotional discovery, creating meaningful opportunities to face real-life experiences and challenges.

Therapy can be a daunting and is often a misunderstood word that can easily fall to the shadows with the kiwi approach of “she’ll be right” and “toughen up mate.” Adventure Therapy is a relatively new term that represents a solid approach, combining experiential education, and individual and group therapy in an outdoor setting.

New Zealand has the highest youth suicide statistics in the world. It is time to make change, time to break the stigma, get real and connect. Teenage-hood is a time to nurture. An important right of passage to celebrate, to set individuals up for success to instill strength and understanding. Clearly what we have now is not working for many of our youth – let’s have the courage to do things differently –  adventure in the outdoors provides a great platform for this positive change.

Contact us if you’d like to know more about our upcoming programme

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