What is Outdoor Experiential Therapy?

An outdoor experiential therapy (OET) program usually involves the use of engaging outdoor activities for therapeutic purposes. First and foremost, such activities engage the body and the mind to support a full healing process. Second, they have long-term sustainability in mind and are valuable throughout one’s recovery journey.

Therapeutic outdoor recreation involves the use of any type of outdoor activity to promote healing from any number of conditions. An outdoor wilderness therapy program would fit in the realm of experiential therapy as opposed to indoor recreational therapies such as arts and crafts or music. These are all included in recreational therapy programs, but outdoor programs require you to be in nature.

What Does the Research Say About Outdoor Experiential Therapy?

More research is being done on the benefits of outdoor experiential therapy. According to one study that focuses on mindfulness and OET, a variety of OET therapies have been effective interventions with the following improvements:

  • View of self-concept
  • Social skills
  • Substance abuse
  • Recidivism (repeated criminal offenses)
  • Depression
  • At-risk youth
  • Healthy family functioning

The benefits of OET range far and wide. It is also useful for a broad demographic including age groups, genders, socio-economic circumstances, and those with co-occurring disorders.

Why is Experiential Therapy Helpful for Addiction Recovery?

An experiential therapy program can offer many benefits for those struggling with addiction, as the study above has shown. OET can be a key part of recovery from substance abuse and addiction, as well as the co-occurring disorders that often accompany them. Keep in mind the following list of well-being advantages that this type of therapy offers:

Improve Your Team Building Skills

Many types of outdoor therapy activities require cooperation and teamwork with other individuals. In these situations, communication and trust are an essential part of the process of engaging in these activities with others. With more high-intensity OETs that involve a sense of risk or increased adrenaline, you can even form lasting bonds of friendship with those around you. Moreover, such team building activities promote the development of other life skills that can have a positive impact on many other parts of your selfhood. Strategizing, problem-solving, and learning to deal with your emotions in stressful group settings are all things you can take into your long-term recovery.

Improve Your Impulse Control

Individuals who try outdoor experiential therapy activities are exposed to situations that require them to be fully present in the moment. This also helps them have a greater understanding of cause and effect. In outdoor therapies, you will have an opportunity to become more aware of how your choices can influence a particular outcome. You can quite literally practice making decisions in the moment and train yourself to not act impulsively. As a result, your brain responds and learns from these experiences, which can help you in your addiction recovery journey. Learning impulse control is also an essential part of reducing the risk of a future relapse.

Reduce Stress and Insecurities

It has been known for some time that physical activity can reduce stress. Experiential therapy activities can provide a great physical outlet for stress and excess energy. These activities can also foster the development of skills that improve self-esteem and confidence. The less chronic stress one can experience, the more room there is for healing. Feeling good about yourself and learning how to deal with daily stress in a productive way can support recovery from substance abuse and addiction.

What Are the Mental and Physical Benefits of Experiential Therapy?

Severe mood swings and cooccurring disorders can be huge problems for those struggling with addiction. Physical activity can instigate changes in the brain chemicals that support feeling at ease and overall happiness. Furthermore, those who engage in these activities may find that they experience fewer intense episodes of anxiety, depression, and anger. If that’s the case, a happier outlook on life can make dealing with cravings significantly easier. One’s mental health certainly has an effect on one’s recovery journey.

Moreover, many people who suffer from addiction also experience physical issues. Ongoing addiction and substance abuse can result in a weak immune system, vitamin deficiencies, weight problems, and cardiovascular disease propensity. Engaging in experiential therapies can help address these physical conditions by reducing stress, increasing circulation, and stimulating the body’s natural healing processes.

What Types of Outdoor Experiential Therapies Are There?

There are a number of ways to reap the benefits of outdoor experiential therapies. More and more treatment centers are beginning to implement them into their programming, especially for addiction recovery. Here are a few examples of structured OET programs:

  • Wilderness therapy
  • Equine-assisted therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Challenge courses

Other activities can fall under the big umbrella of OET including a number of outdoor sports and nature-oriented activities. Some involve climbing, hiking, swimming, other animal-assisted therapies, and other exciting physical experiences. There is room for OET to grow and develop, and new activities are always being researched. For example, one recent study explored how sailing adventure therapy might be useful for veterans recovering from substance abuse.

The key is to approach these activities with healing in mind and an intention to get to know oneself better in the process.

Outdoor Experiential Therapy As a Holistic Approach

OET is a holistic or integrative treatment that is only one aspect of the journey to recovery and healing. Experiential therapy is often used in combination with other evidence-based treatment methods, such as individual therapy, group therapy, and medication-assisted treatment. When experiential therapy is used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, it can help participants progress in their recovery journey.

At Pinnacle Recovery, our professional team leads each outdoor activity with positive therapeutic outcomes in mind. Each experiential therapy session promotes self-care and skill-building in each client in unique ways. Experiential outdoor therapies, therefore, enhance the clinical work in the traditional therapies Pinnacle provides. By combining both clinical and integrative therapies with outdoor, physical experiences, we take a holistic approach to your recovery. To learn more, get in touch with one of our team today and begin your healing journey.