Understanding How Adventure Therapy Promotes Resilience and Trauma Recovery

understanding how adventure therapy promotes resilience and trauma recovery

Adventure therapy is a therapeutic process that helps you overcome mental health issues like substance use disorder and trauma by having you take part in various “adventures” in a safe environment. This form of therapy became popular in the 1960s and continues to have a positive effect on individuals in recovery.

The main element of adventure therapy is a perceived risk that causes you to step out of your comfort zone and rely on the help of others. This perceived risk will feel uncomfortable and scary in the beginning, however, over time this teaches you how to navigate distressing situations healthily. In other words, adventure therapy allows you to build resilience and learn how to effectively communicate with others while working as a team. 

By stimulating your brain with various activities and adventures in a different environment than what you are used to, this type of therapy helps you overcome your perceived limitations. The guilt, shame, and emotional pain associated with addiction and trauma are decreased through this process by allowing you to realize your full potential, build problem-solving skills, and teach yourself self-soothing techniques. As a result, adventure therapy can help promote resilience and trauma recovery.

How Does Adventure Therapy Work?

Adventure therapy helps treat trauma and addiction by promoting rehabilitation, growth, and development. Additionally, it encourages you to become more physically, socially, and psychologically healthy. Many of the activities you will take place in during adventure therapy require you to cooperate with your peers, trust them and use problem-solving skills to overcome difficult situations. 

Examples of adventure therapy activities you may take part in include:

  • Rock climbing 
  • Kayaking 
  • Paddleboarding 
  • Canoeing 
  • Rafting 
  • Swimming 
  • Hiking 
  • Skiing 
  • Backpacking 
  • Canyoneering 
  • Mountain biking 

After each activity, you and your peers will come together to discuss and process the activity and how each person responded to the challenge, allowing you and your peers to take a look at the way you respond to difficult situations, and enabling you to change negative patterns of thought and behavior. In other words, adventure therapy works by showing you how you naturally respond to distress and teaching you how to respond more effectively.

What are the Benefits of Adventure Therapy?

Oftentimes, addiction is caused by unresolved trauma. This means to treat your addiction, you must first address your trauma and learn how to overcome difficult situations that occurred in your past. Adventure therapy teaches you how to thrive without using substances to cope with events that occurred in your past by teaching you to be resilient–both physically and psychologically.

The benefits of adventure therapy include:

  • Learning how to problem solve
  • Learning to feel safe even when you are outside of your comfort zone 
  • Being around others who are going through similar challenges as you 
  • Learning how to effectively communicate and work with others 
  • Engaging in trust-building activities 
  • Learning how to be vulnerable through therapeutic exercises 

How Does Adventure Therapy Promote Resilience?

Resilience is a term that describes your ability to overcome or adapt to adversities in life. Being resilient means you can become mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally flexible to overcome a difficult situation – internally and externally. The entire point of adventure therapy is to teach you how to be resilient. 

According to the American Psychological Association, several factors contribute to how well people can adapt to difficult situations, including:[1]

  • how individuals view and engage with the world
  • the availability and quality of social resources
  • specific coping strategies

During adventure therapy, you will face potentially challenging situations. In the beginning, you may feel like giving up or think that the activities are too difficult for you. But after working with your peers and receiving guidance from your therapist, you will begin to build the skills you need to be resilient, allowing you to overcome the challenges you face.

This is extremely important in the recovery from addiction and trauma, as resilience is a skill that you will need to overcome the obstacles that stand in your way. 

How Does Adventure Therapy Aid in Recovery From Trauma?

If you experienced trauma in your childhood, you probably did not realize it until you were an adult. This is because children are incredibly resilient, as they naturally use coping strategies and defense mechanisms without realizing it. 

Once you began using substances as an adult, your coping mechanisms were masked by the drugs and alcohol you were abusing. Instead of taking a hard look at your trauma and attempting to work through it, you began masking your emotional pain with substances.

Adventure therapy teaches you how to look your problems in the face and immediately address them. During this process, you will not be able to use negative coping mechanisms to blunt your emotional responses. Instead, you will have to deal with them as they come up. 

In other words, adventure therapy conditions you to face your issues head-on instead of burying them deep within your psyche. Once you have learned that you can face difficult situations without abusing drugs or alcohol, you will then apply this to your past traumas. As a result, you will be able to heal from any childhood trauma you have faced, removing your need to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Recovering From Trauma With the Help of Adventure Therapy 

If you or a loved one suffer from unresolved childhood trauma and have adopted negative coping mechanisms like drug or alcohol abuse, it’s time to seek help. At Moving Mountains, we believe in a hands-on approach to trauma recovery known as adventure therapy. This process allows you to learn how to use healthy coping mechanisms in real-world situations rather than attempting to teach you in a hospital setting. 

To learn more about our adventure therapy and trauma-focused recovery program, contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today.


  1. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
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