New England Recovery and Wellness makes an effort to provide a wide array of therapeutic interventions, from cognitive behavioral therapy to holistic care. We want our clients to experience recovery in many forms, allowing them to see how all actions may contribute to their journey of self-discovery when undertaken with the right mindset. Of the many program features which contribute to this goal, one of the more exciting is adventure therapy.
We offer adventure therapy in collaboration with Thrive Outdoors, an incredible organization that uses wilderness survival principles to help clients reach a better understanding of their own mindset. Clients meet with Thrive founder Jake King for two weekly groups, followed by one weekend adventure.
Thrive’s model for adventure therapy revolves around what they call the Big Five. Clients learn about five key necessities for survival—mindset, shelter, fire, food and water. While the latter four necessities play a physically tangible role in our survival, Mr. King explained in a previous interview with us that they also play a metaphorical role which links them back to mindset.
Mr. King agreed to speak with us again, so that we could better elaborate on the benefits of this model. We also wished to speak about adventure therapy in a broader sense, providing newcomers with a better understanding of what to expect from this leg of our treatment program. The following discussion should provide a thorough overview of the key points from our discussion.
Getting to Know Your Own Mind
As noted above, the Big Five model offers practical survival skills while also engaging clients in a better understanding of their mindset. For instance, fire provides warmth and light, which relate to passion and inspiration. Food provides sustenance, something the mind requires as well as the body. But the symbolism doesn’t stop there. One benefit of adventure therapy is that clients not only get to explore their mindset, but they can take a slightly different approach to it each week. A wide variety of activities ensures virtually no limitations to the lessons our clients may learn from Mr. King and his team. And they can personalize the experience, as Thrive will work with them to determine the nature of each outing. According to Mr. King:
“That’s part of what the groups during the week are. We’ll do therapeutic sessions based on whatever it is we’re working on with them, but we’ll also talk about the hikes and the adventures and what they’d like to see and what they’d like to get out of it. If there’s certain hikes or certain adventures that they’d like to do. Boating, ropes courses. So we try to make it very fluid.
The overarching theme is the same no matter what we do. It’s basically the ‘thinking about thinking.’ Figuring out how you deal with stressful situations and environments. No matter what we’re doing, that’s kind of the overarching theme. But each individual activity definitely has a different focus. And they all come back to mindset and the Big Five, but there’s a different focus depending on the activity.”
So clients will take slightly different lessons away from building a winter shelter versus rock climbing or kayaking. Each activity will present physical challenges and teach them to identify different habits in their thought processes. But other than that, the lessons will differ with each activity. Fortunately, the clients’ involvement in choosing these activities guarantees that they will learn the lessons most important to them. Whatever thought patterns the clients identify as necessary to their recovery, they can subsequently develop them through adventure therapy.
As the clients explore their own minds and make necessary adjustments to their thinking, they will develop a few core skills along the way. We addressed these next in our discussion with Mr. King, beginning with the importance of fellowship.
Developing Your Sense of Teamwork
We say quite frequently that nobody recovers alone. Recovering addicts and alcoholics require a strong support network. We require fellowship, a sense of unity. Yes, we benefit from a certain degree of self-sufficiency. But we also need to feel comfortable reaching out to others when necessary. And since we often must give what we receive, we must learn to support others as well. This necessitates a sense of camaraderie, cooperation—teamwork. We asked Mr. King to describe the role of teamwork in adventure therapy. He explained that it’s largely written into the DNA of the Big Five.
“If you see the Big Five, how it starts with mindset, it almost goes full circle. Everything has mindset at its core no matter which of the Big Five we’re looking at. Within mindset is communication and teamwork in everything we do. Teamwork is huge. We really try to talk about how we all live in a society together whether we like it or not, whether we like the people around us or not. So teamwork is essential to all our groups, all our activities, no matter what we’re doing.”
Naturally, not all people are team players. We asked if adventure therapy will still work for such individuals. He noted that it can, and in fact sometimes serves to benefit the “lone wolf” types quite immensely. Because as soon as someone discards the value of camaraderie, teamwork becomes a primary focus of the exercise.
“We run into that no matter who we’re working with. In the recovery field, it’s not that different. Sometimes they’ll be more extreme, either the people who kind of draw themselves out and bow out of the activity altogether or the people who become really competitive. But the way we work is we either succeed or fail as a team. We really try to encourage those who are super competitive to rein that in a bit and consider the people who are struggling, and we try to encourage the people who are struggling or just trying to remove themselves altogether to work on that comfort zone.
And we also talk about failure, how failure is not actually a be-all-end-all. It’s an experience. There’s something to be gained from success or failure, and it’s all about doing that as a team.”
In other words, whether clients see people as competition or as burdens to avoid, adventure therapy provides an opportunity to change this mindset. This connects back to the core benefits of adventure therapy as discussed above. It also demonstrates how getting to know our own minds and pushing past our old beliefs can become transformative.
Broadening Your Worldview
While speaking with Mr. King, we wanted to address a 2013 study on the link between adventure therapy and morality. This study suggests that adventure therapy helps clients develop a great sense of self-control, as well as self-efficacy. These attributes naturally play a large role in recovery. Aside from these specific attributes, however, we wanted to pick his brain on moral responsibility and how he sees it play a role in his work with clients. He answered quite eloquently:
“Basically, adventure therapy removes you from your day-to-day. It removes you from the ‘shoulds’ that people have in their minds about how things ‘should be.’ And it opens people up to see a whole other world that is always around us. That can really motivate people to consider bigger-picture things. There’s more to where we’re living, what we’re doing and how we’re living than just our thoughts, our emotions. That has a deeper effect on how we see society, but it also has a deeper effect on what is out there, what should be guiding us, what should be guiding our decisions. And that effects our moral compass.”
In addition to expanding our moral compass, adventure therapy also expands our comfort zone. While we’ve spoken before about getting out of your comfort zone, there’s actually a difference between leaving it and increasing its range. Thrive focuses primarily on the latter.
“That is a huge lesson that we want everyone we work with to understand. We’re not trying to remove people from their comfort zone, we’re trying to expand the comfort zone. You can remove somebody from their comfort zone and maybe that becomes a traumatic experience. Then they seek to find that comfort zone again, and maybe their comfort zone shrinks. If we teach people to slowly expand that comfort zone, to take things that are uncomfortable and find ways to be more comfortable with them, it becomes less traumatic. Less stressful. And then we have an easier time navigating everyday life, because fewer things are outside of our comfort zone.”
Between our comfort zone and our moral compass, our overall worldview changes through our experiences with adventure therapy. Many clients will walk away from each adventure with a heightened sense of strength and courage. As they prepare to leave treatment and adjust to a life in sobriety, they can carry this feeling with them. They can carry the lessons they learn about the world, and about themselves, applying them in their everyday recovery journey.
Sobriety only works through self-discovery. If one does not acquire the ability to make radical life changes, then recovery matters very little. Why would a person stop imbibing substances if not to live a better life? Fortunately, adventure therapy can help us learn the lessons necessary to define the life we want and overcome the negative mindset that often keeps us from achieving it. And RAW is most fortunate to be partnered with Thrive Outdoors, as their particular model is incredibly conducive to this goal.
What Makes Thrive Outdoors Unique?
While many may lack familiarity with adventure therapy, its existence predates our current generation by decades. Professionals began using various forms of wilderness therapy to treat adolescents as far back as the 1930s. These usually took the form of milder activities such as camping trips. But while clients may not have been kayaking down the river or balancing on slacklines, the general goal was the same—to use nature and survival techniques as tools to promote stronger mental health.
Naturally, we were curious as to how adventure therapy has changed over the years. We asked whether Thrive Outdoors chooses to modernize its approach, or simply utilize traditions already in place. As it turns out, they incorporate a solid balance of both old and new techniques, yet do tweak their approach in certain ways. Interestingly enough, Mr. King believes the biggest feat of adventure therapy today lies not in modern technology, but in the therapeutic model itself.
“The Big Five has really been around forever, the survival mindset’s been around forever. It ties in closely with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s been around. The way we’ve modernized it is we’re trying to turn it into more of a society and a community-based practice. We’ve modernized it to a point where there’s a lot more conversation that can be had.
Back in the day, the model was kind of remove people from their environment, teach them to live in a whole new environment, but then put them back in that same toxic environment they came from with no skills directly related to it. We don’t take them out and then put them back and then it’s done. We work with everybody ongoing to incorporate nature and survival mindset skills into their everyday life. And we teach them how it all ties together, how that mindset—no matter where you are—is paramount.”
This model plays a role in prevention as well. Quite recently, RAW sponsored Thrive’s InnerCity Rocks team as they hosted a four-day youth outreach program. From the first day to the last, kids with various degrees of rock climbing experience got together to experience the Big Five model for themselves. Those with no knowledge of rock climbing whatsoever learned to overcome their perceived limitations, engaging with their peers and learning to embrace their own inner strength. And at the end of the event, these youths learned a lesson that many of our own clients learn during their time here—the experience means a great deal more when we take time to process it.
“The experience itself is great. But, you know, you can do a ropes course for eight hours, and the twenty-four hours after of in-depth looking at what you’ve gained, what you’re going to get—that’s where it can all really happen.”
Adventure therapy allows us to move past our internal boundaries, provided we take time to look back at the experience. Not only does Thrive incorporate this into their own model, but RAW provides further outlets for introspection as well. A lesson learned during one adventure therapy hike might influence the client’s next session with their therapist. They then incorporate this lesson into their recovery. What started as a fun activity becomes an ongoing source for inspiration to seek positive change.
RAW is truly honored to be allied with an organization that shares so many of our views on mental health. Whether helping clients to realign their moral compass, teaching them the value of fellowship or simply expanding their comfort zone a little, Thrive Outdoors embodies the very core principles that we wish for our clients to develop during their time in treatment. We are grateful for their continued offering of adventure therapy at our facility, and we look forward to helping them on future preventative outreach efforts.
For more information on adventure therapy or other features of RAW’s programming, contact us today. We are always grateful for an opportunity to spread our message to those in need.
We should also note that Thrive Outdoors caters to far more than treatment clients. If you like their philosophy and would like to learn more about their programs and services, give them a call at 603-625-6600 or simply visit their website for more information.