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Outward Bound: A Wilderness Drug Rehab Program

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

January 23, 2019

Many individuals prefer participating in an alternative rehab program rather than a traditional one. Outward Bound programs combine outdoor exploration and survival skills and turn it into a successful approach to treating addiction.

Have you ever gone through a hard time in your life—maybe the loss of a loved one, or suffered from substance abuse—and needed to get away from the struggles of it all? Maybe that need drove you to seek alternative forms of treatment, or perhaps you’re currently in a situation that makes this appealing. Fortunately, many programs are available for people in need of alternative treatment or even just alternative experiences, and Outward Bound is one of them.

With a strong curriculum and a consistent central focus, Outward Bound provides courses which focus on both life skills and outdoor exploration accompanied by survival skills. Combining a unique blend of cognition (thought) and physicality (action), this program gives participants a well-rounded, wholesome experience they can apply in life for years to come.

Beginnings And Principles

At its inception, Outward Bound was a school in Britain with a curriculum that focused on “physical fitness, enterprise, tenacity and compassion among British youth.” Today, those core principles are still at the forefront of the program, which utilizes both technical survival skills and necessary life skills within its courses.

Though the program has changed throughout its nearly eighty years of existence, the key aim of the program is the same. That is, to give students, “an intense experience surmounting challenges in a natural setting, through which the individual builds his sense of self-worth, the group comes to a heightened awareness of human interdependence, and all grow in concern for those in danger and need.” Ultimately, the vision of Outward Bound is to produce, through empowerment, “compassionate and resilient” people, who live in and create a more compassionate and resilient world as a result.

About Outward Bound

The programs and courses of Outward Bound reach 35,000 students a year in the United States, ranging from middle school, high school, college, and even to adult ages. Additionally, there are 11 Outward Bound chartered schools throughout the country. Even more, the program is international, with a presence in more than 30 countries. In its entirety, Outward Bound services about 250,000 people every year and has served more than seven million since the program began.

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What Are The Programs Like?

Programs through Outward Bound are offered as courses or expeditions, with more than 1,000 courses from which to choose in the United States. Some of these are specialized programs, geared toward groups with specific needs, such as:

  • Veterans
  • Teens dealing with the death of a family member
  • Families with teens or young adults at home who are struggling with different issues
  • ‘Intact’ groups
  • Professional/team-building

Courses and programs could be inside the classroom or outside in nature. There is a vast range of courses available for different ages and groups at all times. Here is a sample of some of the current courses, as derived from their website:

  • Intercept Blue Ridge Mountains Backpacking & Rock Climbing For Boys (Intercept, single gender)
  • Continental Divide Mountaineering (high school age)
  • Delaware Water Gap Backpacking & Rock Climbing For Grieving Teens
  • Pathfinder Texas Big Bend Canoeing & Backpacking (Pathfinder, college, and semester)
  • Southwest Rafting For Veterans
  • Boundary Waters Dog Sledding & Cross Country Skiing (high school, college, and adults)
  • Ten Thousand Islands Canoeing for Families
  • Maine Appalachian Backpacking (middle school)
  • Bahamas Sailing (college)
  • Oregon Smith Rock Climbing & Yoga For Women (college, single gender)

As you can see from this short list, Outward Bound offers a diverse variety of locales, terrains, weather, and activities to its eager participants, all of which offer transformative life experiences.

What Is The Curriculum Like?

Outward Bound’s curriculum is unique in that it can occur anywhere, from the classroom, to a mountainside, to an expedition exploring nature, and more. Each of these frameworks provide the setting for a unified set of values and specific outcomes. Values include compassion, integrity, excellence, inclusion, and diversity. Three outcomes are shared by all Outward Bound courses:

  • Character — through confidence building, courses help to build character by encouraging compassion as well as self-awareness.
  • Leadership — courses teach participants to “collaborate, communicate, solve problems and resolve conflicts effectively,” while setting goals and inspiring those around them to reach their own goals.
  • Service — courses help participants see the importance of service both in society and for the environment.

Effectiveness of these outcomes is measured by a course evaluation following the end of the course and a year after course completion. The majority of people who have taken courses with Outward Bound report that they have taken on more service in their community, participate more in leadership roles, are more apt to take responsibility for their own actions, have seen more success at school or work, feel they have been more compassionate toward others, and have greater self-confidence in their own abilities to succeed. All of these aspects can be very impactful to a person who desires to live a more balanced and drug-free life.

How To Pay For Tuition: Scholarships And Financial Aid

In an effort to bring the values and experiences of Outward Bound to as many people as possible, a Scholarships and Financial Aid program was developed to help prospective participants. The program operates by the principle belief that, “every person should be given the opportunity to experience adventure and challenge, develop character and compassion, and learn leadership skills and service ethics, regardless of financial ability.”

Financial aid and scholarships are awarded to over 6,000 students per year and are based on financial need. Donations from alumni, parents, and many companies and foundations make the aid possible. Awards may cover anywhere between 10 percent and 30 percent of overall tuition costs.

How To Get Started

If you are thinking about seeing what Outward Bound has to offer you, checking them out is made easy with the online Course Finder. Each available course will take you to a link with detailed information provided about ages accepted for the course, dates, location, cost, and course outcomes. Enrolling in a course requires simply filling out a short online form and securing your spot with a deposit.

Seeking Alternative Treatment Through Outward Bound

Though Outward Bound is not geared specifically for drug treatment, courses can provide a healing, accepting environment that many people need in recovering from adverse situations. People who are experiencing overwhelming grief may benefit from a course which lets them experience the outdoors in an adventurous way, be active, and build self-confidence. Similarly, people who have experienced substance abuse, or who are even in danger of heading in that direction, may benefit wholly from alternatives or positive accompaniments to treatment.

With the Intercept courses for teens, Outward Bound notes that it “is NOT for teens with a history of…chemical dependencies.” If a person has a severe concern of addiction, they may have to undergo a medical detox prior to enrolling, as Outward Bound may be best geared to serve those who are presently concerned with more minor forms of substance abuse and are looking to instill preventive measures. In fact, on their site they note that the Intercept “courses are intended to serve as an early intervention for families who are beginning to see disturbing patterns.” They continue to say that “the expedition itself can be the catalyst for that next important, and often life-saving, next step.” This experience may prove to be a positive and proactive means towards long-lasting change.

People who have fallen victim to substance abuse may lack confidence, which in turn may lead them to doubt their own abilities, both to stop abuse and to persevere in their pursuit of a fulfilled life. Outward Bound courses may help them regain the self-confidence, self-awareness, resilience, and integrity they need to make a positive change in their lives.

Make A Positive Change Through Outward Bound

Healing takes on many forms, and recovery is not the same for all. If you are interested in programs that will help you or your loved one regain the positive self-image and determination necessary to make a dire change in your life, we can help. Contact us at today to get more information, learn about different treatment methods, and to be connected with professional resources.

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