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Adventure Therapy

Adventure Therapy - Theory

James Neill
Last updated:
20 Feb 2005


Adventure therapy programs tend to be solution-focused and humanistic in their orientation.  Many programs also have important behavioral principles, particularly for programs involving delinquent or incarcerated youth.  Also evident is theory based on the therapeutic value of challenging participants and helping them learn about their reactions.  Psychological theorists of particular importance include Carl Rogers, Milton Erikson and William Glasser.  Also of particular significance is the ABC-model (Adventure-based Counseling) developed by Schoel, Prouty and Radcliffe and the work by Project Adventure. 


Iím on the ĎNetí.  Iím discussing the inís and outís of metaphor and simile, of analogic frames,  of . . . . . . , Iím reading clever sentences and long words.  And Iím confused.  Adventure Therapy?  It just doesnít make sense.  Adventure is adventure.  Whereís the therapy in that?  It is an experience of risk, of fear, of failure and success.  Anyone part of such an experience is affected.  But is that therapy?  Adventure is unguided.  Therapy is manipulated.  This is where my confusion lies.  I read and I listen within this discussion for the means by which this manipulation can occur, and I find few satisfying answers.  My conclusion - adventure is adventure and therapy is therapy.  To enmesh the words together, the qualities of each must be better understood, and their marriage carefully planned.  Until some prenuptial counselling is achieved the term Adventure Therapy lacks definition - a catchy slogan for adventure based educators or recreationalists to use when they want a broader client base or a wider market.
- Ray Handley, 1996, "Adventure therapy: I'm confused"


Although a small field of inquiry and endeavor, adventure therapy has produced a reasonable amount of written material that warrants reviewing (see References).  Closely related fields, such as therapeutic recreation, also have notable bodies of literature.   Adventure therapy has second and third cousins in outdoor education (see Research), group therapy, and solution-focused therapy.

The two books by Gass (1993) and Davis-Berman and Berman (1994) provide major overviews of history, concept, methods, types of programs, scope, and directions of the adventure therapy field, at least in North America (where adventure therapy was, arguably, born and has flourished).

The most well developed adventure-based model for describing the adventure therapy process is the ABC model (adventure-based counselling) by Schoel, Prouty and Radcliffe.

Also it is important to read about the psychological theorists whose work most adventure therapy programs are in some way based:

  • Carl Rogers

  • Milton Erikson

  • William Glasser

To read more, it is recommended that you visit the Theories of Outdoor & Adventure Education page.