Being with nature is healing and this is something we have all personally experienced. You may not realize it, but being outside, in the sun, around nature is actually healing. There’s something about breathing fresh air and feeling the breeze blowing on your face that makes you feel at ease. Nature relaxes you which is why for many recovering addicts, going to an outdoor therapy can be very beneficial.

What is Outdoor Therapy? 

Outdoor therapy is also referred to as wilderness therapy or outdoor behavioral health care. It is a form of treatment that uses explorations or expeditions into the wilderness and other unfamiliar surroundings to address mental health and behavioral issues. It aims to treat people who are at risk for mental health issues and addictions.

Generally, clients are assessed to see their specific needs so an appropriate treatment plan can be given and address any behavioral health issues. They will then live in the wilderness and develop the skills they need to overcome the activities laid out for them. The length of the program and the amount of time spent in the wilderness may vary depending on the needs of the client. Programs consist of individual therapy, group living, and group therapy as well as education and nature therapy and survival skill activities.

Clients are supervised by licensed mental health professionals and trained staff members that help teach them the most basic survival skills and self-care. Among the most common forms of activities in this treatment program include preparing campsites, hiking, and building fires.

There are two forms of wilderness or outdoor therapy programs: expeditions and base camps. Base camp programs offer structured activities while those who are in the expedition programs live in the wilderness and undergo the entire substance abuse treatment program outdoors, not in a facility. People who signed up for this therapy can leave camp for expeditions and return for post-expedition activities and processing once they have completed treatment.

Depending on the structure of the program, the therapy can last from three to eight weeks. There are two types of structures for each expedition program and these are either contained or continuous flow. A contained program allows the clients to live in with the treatment staff for the entirety of the trip and usually lasts for 3 weeks. A continuous flow on the other hand is a program for clients where the treatment staff and therapist who work with them rotates in and out of the field. They are then joined by new clients in the program where the treatment could last up to 8 weeks.

The 3 Phases of Outdoor Therapy

There are three phases involved in outdoor therapy and each stage builds on the previous phases. This way, the individual has support and self-improvement once the therapy is over. The three phases are as follows:

Phase 1 – Cleansing Phase 

The very first step in this program is cleansing. The goal is to help patients/clients build their healthy habits without substance abuse. This is done by removing them from their usual environment that help fuel their substance abuse. It is also during this phase that clients maintain their physical exercise regimen as they learn how to care for themselves and enhance their survival skills. During this phase, clients are given a minimal but healthy diet to keep them in good shape. It is also during this stage where the treatment staff takes a step back and let the clients adjust to living in the wilderness. It also helps prepare them for more strenuous work in the later parts of the program as a part of their treatment.

Phase 2 – Social and Personal Responsibility Phase

In this phase, clients begin to interact with others and learn about their personal and social responsibility. This is also the phase where they have peer interactions and at the same time, it teaches them how to be accountable for their own actions. They learn how to take responsibility for the choices they make or learn the consequences. This is also the phase where they are taught that caring for themselves and choosing personal responsibility are all part of good well-being. It is the goal of this phase to teach each person the cause-and-effect relationship that applies to their everyday choices, putting a strong emphasis on their past habits.

Phase 3 – The Aftercare and Transition Phase

The last phase of the treatment is aimed at easing the transition of the client from the wilderness back to their usual environment. It is also in this phase where the clients are taught to process the lessons that they have learned and developed during the treatment therapy and apply them in their day to day activities. Some people enter a recovery living program once the outdoor therapy is done to help them continue building a much stronger foundation towards their recovery.

The Benefits of Outdoor Therapy

If you are a recovering addict, going through an outdoor therapy is very beneficial. Not only are you going to enjoy the beauty of nature outdoors, but it will also provide you with the following benefits:

  • Overall self-improvement – Completing an outdoor therapy program gives you a sense of satisfaction. Your behavior and thoughts are improved around this time which are both fundamental in building your motivation to continue this kind of self-improvement. You also leave with better physical health and mental well-being since you have developed your skills in using appropriate emotions in dealing with the issues that surround your substance abuse and behavioral problem.
  • It helps reduce your stress – Think about waking up and being able to hear birds singing, isn’t it wonderful? To wake up surrounded by fresh air and sunshine can definitely help reduce stress. Studies show that spending about 30 minutes with nature helps people feel better, think more positively about life, and help manage stress more effectively.
  • There is self-realization – Spending time in the outdoors helps you reflect on your life. This also helps you figure out what you need to do and what you need to change in order to become a better person. Being more familiar with your needs and how you want to change can serve as a motivation to help you continue into the person that you want to be.
  • You acquire the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in sobriety – Outdoor therapy helps you improve your communication, personal, and interpersonal skills which can overall be beneficial towards your new life in sobriety. These are the skills you need to navigate any situation once the treatment is done. At the same time, it prepares you for the challenges that may come your way during long-term recovery.
  • Offers you a sense of purpose – This therapy will not only help you get over your addiction but will also give you a sense of purpose. Addiction can be crippling and often times leaves you feeling hopeless. With this treatment program, you can gain back your confidence by learning personal skills and applying them in your daily life, giving you that sense of purpose back.

If you are suffering from addiction or are struggling to stay sober, see if an outdoor therapy program is right for you. Not only will it help you recover from your addiction, but it will also help you develop valuable skills that can be useful throughout your daily life.

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