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Depression is a pervasive problem in modern society. According to the National Institutes of Health, 16.1 million adults over the age of 18 experienced at least one major depressive episode in the United States in 2015.1 At least 3 million adolescents experienced depressive symptoms in 2015.

Depression can occur due to a number of external factors, but it is also thought to have a genetic component. Depression can be a factor in the development of addiction if individuals attempt to manage their symptoms by using drugs or alcohol. Although a number of treatments for depression are available, adventure therapy can be a highly effective treatment for depression and associated symptoms.

How Adventure Therapy Began

In the 1960s, an adventure group called Outward Bound became a popular resource as a therapy to help at-risk youth learn cooperative skills and improve their self-esteem through wilderness training. The young people who participated in their programs experienced a significant improvement in self-image and interpersonal skills that served to increase their ability to fit into the adult world.

The wilderness therapy effort saw so much success that it began to be used as a therapy for mood disorders, allowing individuals with depression to separate from their usual surroundings and succeed at new challenges. Today, adventure therapy is offered as a treatment for individuals diagnosed with depression who may not get sufficient relief from medication or talk therapy. Adventure therapy provides effective treatment for depression with improved self-esteem, greater self-confidence and better management of symptoms.

Adventure Therapy as Effective Treatment for Depression

Therapies that center on the outdoors as a medium for self-understanding and behavior management can have a beneficial effect on symptoms of depression for all age groups.2 Being in nature has a beneficial effect on many mood disorders, allowing individuals to separate from normal habits and pressures.

Adolescents can begin to re-script their self-image in an entirely different environment. Being outdoors encourages them to test themselves physically, communicate with others in order to accomplish tasks, find creative solutions and depend on other people for support. Women can throw off negative scripting about limiting gender roles and their physical abilities, so they can succeed in an active and self-motivated way. Men, too, can benefit from the complete separation from their normal lives and duties, so they can test their physical limits and enjoy creative problem-solving in a challenging and interactive environment.

What Adventure Therapy Includes

Adventure therapy does not necessarily require rigorous wilderness experiences that take the individual to the utmost of their abilities. It can also include cooperative games and challenges, hiking, camping, route navigation, rope courses, sailing, rock climbing and other activities. The primary aspect is being outdoors, which provides interaction with nature and group activities that improve connections with others in a positive experience.

Individuals involved in adventure therapy have the opportunity to be away from the noisy, ultra-technological world with plenty of time for self-reflection, learning elemental skills and interacting with other people without the usual societal distractions.

If you or a loved one is dealing with depression and are interested in trying this effective treatment for depression, contact a mental health treatment center that offers the program. Adventure therapy can help reduce depressive symptoms and improve psycho-social development to help individuals lead more satisfying and productive lives.


  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149718915300094
Adventure Therapy: Effective Treatment for Depression
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