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Outdoor Education Philosophy

Humanistic Psychological Perspectives on Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
02 Nov 2004

Humanistic Psychological Perspectives on Outdoor Education


Many outdoor programs (whether they realize it or not) subscribe to what's known as "third force psychology", also known as the human potential or growth movement.  In other words, the programs assume that is a desirable and reasonable goal to trigger and facilitate personal growth through participation in outdoor activities.


Outdoor education philosophy generally emphasize third force psychology.  Some particular areas of interest are:

  • Human growth movement philosophy (Maslow, Rogers, et. al)

  • Group encounter movement (e.g., read about Encounter groups)

  • Stress, risk, challenge, and coping philosophy (for example Lazarus & Folkman's transtheoretical model of stress, appraisal and coping)

  • Readiness for change (Prochasta & DiClemente)

  • Ken Wilber's integral psychology offers a holistic developmental philosophy

Note that whilst this humanistic view of outdoor experiences has some strong arguments (see Philosophy and Theory) and reasonable evidence (see Research) in its support, there are several cautions, e.g.,:

  • There is also argument and evidence that sometimes outdoor education experiences have negative impacts, e.g. through physical injury, psychological stress, social issues in groups, financial cost, environmental impact, lack of professionalization of outdoor education, etc.

  • A human-centric view of outdoor education, particularly one occurred during a human cultural, individualistic "cult of self" phase, tends to blinker one to other potentially useful perspectives on outdoor education, e.g., ecological, ecopsychological, social and cultural perspectives.