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Adventure Therapy Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau, MSCP, LPCI, NCC

February 1, 2019

Adventure therapy is a type of alternative treatment that exposes patients to an environment outside of the traditional clinical setting. It is not a proven treatment method for addiction, but it may have other benefits for patients in recovery. We will sometimes use adventure activities in rehab to enhance the patient experience and promote comprehensive healing.

What To Expect In Adventure Therapy

There are five different facets of adventure therapy including games, initiatives, trust activities, ropes courses, and wilderness activities. In all of these activities, there is an element of risk, whether that be perceived risk (physical or psychological) or real risk. Adventure therapy is an active approach to therapy where participants will engage in various activities and build trust in team members.

Here are the five types of adventure therapy in more detail:


This category of activity focuses on games that are fun and most are non-competitive (such as word games or cooperation games). For those struggling with addiction, games can help in many ways. First, games place each participant in a new or uncomfortable situation. Games also teach participants that fun is spontaneous and defeats the preconceived notions that remaining in control means not having fun. Games also promote a connection and camaraderie amongst the patients and can lead to bonding.


Initiative tasks are where participants form a group to solve a common goal. These types of activities are called initiatives because it relies on the initiative of the group to solve the problem they are presented. Types of initiative adventure therapies might include: crossing a river with very few supplies, navigating around an obstacle, or even obtaining an obstacle with limited supplies. Whatever the task may be, participants learn that by working together they can accomplish many things. Accomplishment and teamwork can help improve participants’ feelings of self-worth and self-esteem because they all achieved a challenging task.

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Trust Activities:

Trust activities are where patients need to trust that other patients will help them in a difficult situation. This is also a type of teamwork exercise that may include trusting someone to lead you around blindfolded or even falling backwards and being caught by your peers. These types of activities also influence a person’s spirituality as it is causing participant to develop a trusting relationship in their peers and to believe in others. Participants are also taught the importance of letting go and can witness firsthand how to do so.

Ropes Course Activities:

These types of activities are where individuals are presented with challenges but are also once again taught to seek the support of others. You may be required to walk across a log 40 feet off the ground. Or you may even be required to walk on a wire (using a rope to assist yourself). Participants can learn to overcome fears and powerful emotions and turn them into positive and productive ones.

Wilderness Activities:

Wilderness rehab or therapies may also be an option. Be sure to note that some wilderness rehabs are separate programs and not all adventure therapies include activities such as hiking, backpacking, or white water rafting. However, just like the name states, wilderness activities take place outside in nature and can sometimes be challenging activities. Wilderness therapy can also have more focus on the natural world. Some places offer fishing or even equine therapy in their wilderness programs. Wilderness therapy offers participants the opportunity to gain joy and pleasure through outdoor activities that may include teamwork and challenging tasks.

Hard Work Vs. Play

Some people may be skeptical about adventure therapies or even wilderness rehabs. Is it all play and no work? To be clear, adventure therapy is still therapy, but it’s just a different approach to rehabilitation than the traditional forms we’re all accustomed to hearing about.

Adventure therapy can engage individuals in fun and challenging activities. However, it is not all play and no work. By engaging in various and sometimes strenuous activities, participants may be taught many lessons and coping mechanisms they can apply towards their recovery. Patients can learn about their own determination to succeed, how to connect with others, and also how to build up their self-esteem. Therapists will help those in recovery by presenting challenging tasks each participant must overcome.

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Adventure activities can range from horseback riding, ropes courses, white water rafting, backpacking, and more. While not evidence-based like proven treatment methods, when these activities are combined with traditional programming, they may have some benefits for some patients in rehab.

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