Otago Polytechnic

Occupational therapists find adventure-based activities useful and can contribute their own perspective to adventure therapy.

Helen Jeffery was interested in exploring the intersection between adventure therapy and occupational therapy. Some mental health occupational therapists in New Zealand are increasingly incorporating adventure therapy into their mental health practice. The relationship between the two therapies has not been documented and so Helen’s research sought to answer the question: What is the fit between occupational therapy and adventure therapy as it is practised in New Zealand?

Adventure therapy uses outdoor adventure based activities to facilitate change on a psychological or psychosocial level, particularly with adolescents and young adults. Helen's study explored New Zealand occupational therapists’ use of adventure therapy, in terms of theory, philosophy and practice. 

Adventure therapy is generally conducted in the outdoors, often in wilderness areas, but can also occur inside, for example with an indoor climbing wall. Adventure therapy is also generally conducted in groups, where the use of the group is an intentional part of the process; interaction between group members is critical for problem-solving for example. The adventure aspect of the activity may present challenge and novelty for the participants. They therefore need to adapt to carry out the activity, which contributes to a change in their self-perception and increased sense of accomplishment. Even without high levels of risk and challenge, adventure therapy can engender stimulation and fun.

Helen found that adventure therapists, who generally come from psychotherapy or counselling backgrounds, place a greater emphasis on the use of talk for participants to debrief and process the learning from the adventure activity. Occupational therapists place a greater emphasis on the use of activity as therapy instead of relying so much on talk. Occupational therapists  can incorporate adventure therapy more in their practice, partnering with adventure specialists when necessary to provide safe experiences for participants. As a result of her research Helen has become the international occupational therapy ambassador for adventure therapy.

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HEALTH & WELLBEING

October 2017

Image credit: Jo Simon, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0