What Is Wilderness Therapy Part 2

Wilderness Therapy largely evolved from Adventure Education, which involves experiential learning.   The Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 BCE – 479 BCE),  understood the impact of   learning by experiencing :He said “I hear, I know.  I see something, I remember.  I do something, I understand.”  Although not as eloquent as Confucius, today we would say “learning by doing”. According to the experiential approach, learning happens more effectively if the learner is fully engaged in the activity. It is precisely this sort of engagement that Experiential Education seeks to promote.  The process that is able to transform “experience into experiential education” is referred to as “reflection”.  Guided reflection and analysis of the experience completes the cycle.   Reflections and analysis  motivate the learner towards further action for a new experience.

In experiential classrooms, individuals are placed in “real life” situations. This makes it necessary to develop problem solving techniques, or creative methods of working with the environment.  Effective experiential activities involve the participants in situations in which they must take some form of action to successfully cope with their surroundings.  Many outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, kayaking or surfing are atypical of everyday life,. It is necessary for people involved in these activities to face situations outside their normal range of experiences and to develop skills to deal with these situations.  In the early 1900s “groups of hospitalized tuberculosis patients were taken out of doors to camp in tents on the hospital grounds as a way to quarantine them.”  Follow up reports showed significant physical and attitudinal changes.

Adventure education can be traced back to the 1800s.  In the past forty years it has gained popularity. Through Adventure Education the ability to understand things about oneself (intrapersonal intelligence) and the ability to understand others and work effectively with them (interpersonal intelligence) is developed. Students acquire self-esteem as they learn to trust and believe in themselves.  Adventure Education also fosters team-building activities and students are able to bond with their group.  Leadership skills are often harnessed as well.  Zuckerman (1979) listed a number of psychological benefits associated with Adventure Education: “self-concept, self-confidence and self-efficacy (perceived levels of abilities), self-actualization and well-being”  With such testaments providing a basis for the therapeutic benefits of adventure activities, Adventure Therapy evolved, becoming the next major development in Experiential Education following Adventure Education.  Adventure Therapy uses challenging experiences and the natural outdoor environment to treat psychological dysfunctions through the development of emotional, behavioral and life-effectiveness skills.  Adventure Therapy, which aims to approach psychological and emotional therapy through adventure-based learning experiences, is rooted in the tradition of Experiential Education philosophy, defined as learning by doing, with reflections.  Experiential Education, based on the belief that learning is a result of direct experience, includes the premise that persons learn best when they have multiple senses actively involved in learning. By increasing the intensity of the mental and physical demands of learning, Gass (2002) says the “participant engages all sensory systems in a learning and change process”.

Psychological research on information processing provides some support of this premise, an indication that multi-sensory processing account for a higher level of cognitive activity and increased memory . Applied specifically to the context of Adventure Therapy, the multi-sensory level of the therapeutic experience inherent in adventure activities may account for the high level of change reported by practitioners, thereby suggesting that experiential learning may be more deeply rooted for the client because of this broad sensory experience .  Accordingly, it may be expected that the effects of Adventure Therapy are more lasting and feature a lower probability for relapse of symptoms than more traditional forms of therapy.

Lund, J. & Tannehill, D. (2005). Standards-based physical education curriculum development. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Priest, S. & Gass, A. (2006). Effective leadership in adventure programming, 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Ringer, M. & Gillis H. L. (1995). Managing psychological depth in adventure programming. Journal of Experiential Education, 18(1), 42-50.

Gass, A. (1993). Adventure Therapy: Therapeutic applications of adventure programming. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt publishers.

Kimball, R.O., & Bacon, S. B. (1993) The wilderness challenge model. In M. Gass (1993) Adventure therapy: Therapeutic applications of adventure programming, Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Lund, J. & Tannehill, D. (2005). Standards-based physical education curriculum development. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

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