Wilderness adventure therapy effects on the mental health of youth participants

Eval Program Plann. 2016 Oct:58:49-59. doi: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.05.005. Epub 2016 May 13.


Adventure therapy offers a prevention, early intervention, and treatment modality for people with behavioural, psychological, and psychosocial issues. It can appeal to youth-at-risk who are often less responsive to traditional psychotherapeutic interventions. This study evaluated Wilderness Adventure Therapy (WAT) outcomes based on participants' pre-program, post-program, and follow-up responses to self-report questionnaires. The sample consisted of 36 adolescent out-patients with mixed mental health issues who completed a 10-week, manualised WAT intervention. The overall short-term standardised mean effect size was small, positive, and statistically significant (0.26), with moderate, statistically significant improvements in psychological resilience and social self-esteem. Total short-term effects were within age-based adventure therapy meta-analytic benchmark 90% confidence intervals, except for the change in suicidality which was lower than the comparable benchmark. The short-term changes were retained at the three-month follow-up, except for family functioning (significant reduction) and suicidality (significant improvement). For participants in clinical ranges pre-program, there was a large, statistically significant reduction in depressive symptomology, and large to very large, statistically significant improvements in behavioural and emotional functioning. These changes were retained at the three-month follow-up. These findings indicate that WAT is as effective as traditional psychotherapy techniques for clinically symptomatic people. Future research utilising a comparison or wait-list control group, multiple sources of data, and a larger sample, could help to qualify and extend these findings.

Keywords: Adventure therapy; Mental health; Program evaluation; Youth; Youth development.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia
  • Behavior
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Self Concept
  • Wilderness*