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Finding Courage and Resilience through Adventure Therapy at The Guest House

Nature and physical activity have a long history of supporting physical and psychological well-being. As noted in “Nurtured by Nature” by Kristen Weir, spending time in nature helps you feel more connected to yourself and the natural world. Through movement, expending energy, and structured activities, you can engage the mind-body connection to foster self-awareness and self-understanding. Thus, activities in nature, especially in group settings, can support you in finding courage and resilience to heal.

At The Guest House, we know unaddressed substance use disorder (SUD) and or other mental health disorders can contribute to a lack of awareness of trauma’s impact on the mind and body. The presence of self-defeating behaviors like substance abuse and negative thinking patterns rooted in trauma showcase the erosion of well-being and resilience. When you are overwhelmed by trauma, it becomes more difficult to connect with and understand yourself. Moreover, the pain of trauma steals your courage to confront and overcome life stressors using adaptive strategies. Thus, the natural ease of connecting in nature provides an access point for finding courage again. With courage, you can rediscover yourself and build resilience to healing as a whole person.

Providing access to treatment options like adventure therapy allows you to engage in therapeutic physical activities like rope courses for personal growth and development. Yet, you may question how activities in nature like rope courses can support trauma healing. Finding courage and resilience from trauma is a whole-person process. Thus, finding courage must be fostered not just in treating the disorder, but in every aspect of the self. You are more than the sum of your parts, so you deserve treatment that supports the whole of you. Expanding your awareness of adventure therapy can help you better understand the relationship between finding courage from trauma and spending time in nature.

What Is Adventure Therapy?

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adventure therapy (AT) is a set of programs or services that use outdoor activities and experiential learning exercises to facilitate healing. Specifically, outdoor activities and experiential learning are used to cope with psychological distress in AT. Three major types of adventure therapy can support finding courage:

  • Adventure-based therapy: Utilizes a variety of activities and tools like rock climbing walls to support therapeutic purposes rather than the wild aspect of outdoor therapies
    • Typically found near or at the same location as the treatment program
    • Members change as people enter and exit treatment from a residential or intensive outpatient program (IOP)
    • Supports finding courage and connection through team-building activities that challenge negative self-beliefs
  • Wilderness therapy: Focuses on engaging in activities that integrate the wilderness
    • Typically takes place in remote or near remote wilderness settings
    • Normally the program takes place over multiple days with the same small group
    • Supports overcoming self-limiting beliefs by learning through experience with collaborative problem-solving activities
  • Long-term residential camping: Focuses on developing positive peer relationships, coping tools, and accountability
    • Typically takes place in outdoor camps or other mobile settings like sailing for an extended period
    • Supports learning how to effectively respond to life challenges and deal with the consequences of your actions

While each form of adventure therapy may have different activities and methods, at their core, they share the same goal. The main goal of AT is to empower you to regain self-efficacy, support finding courage, and rebuild connection to self and others. Finding courage, connection, and resilience in AT through fun and engaging activities is rooted in its foundation. The roots of AT were born in experiential education as the process of learning by doing with reflection.

Experiential learning is based on the belief that learning stems from direct experience. Moreover, experiential learning also believes learning is most effective when you actively use multiple senses. Therefore, multisensory processing results in a higher level of cognitive activity and increased memory. In AT, the use of a multisensory therapeutic experience in AT activities supports a high degree of change in thinking and behavior.

Yet, what kinds of multisensory activities can be found in AT? What activities in AT can support you in finding courage again to overcome trauma? Looking at the variety of activities that can be utilized in AT will give you insight into nature as a therapeutic tool for change.

Activities in Adventure Therapy

Finding courage again and dismantling negative thinking and behavior patterns are made possible with AT. Outdoor therapies like AT are place-based, provide active bodily engagement, and recognize the connection between people and nature. As a result, fun and engaging activities encourage self-efficacy and mastery over obstacles you thought were impossible. Through the therapeutic process of nature-based activities, every domain of wellness –  like social, emotional, and physical wellness – can be enhanced.

Listed below are some of the activities you can explore in AT to support your journey to healing trauma:

  • Problem-solving activities
  • Rope courses
  • Challenge courses
  • Canyoneering
  • Caving or spelunking
  • Rock climbing and rock climbing walls
  • Mountain biking
  • Backpacking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Rafting
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Ski touring
  • Snowshoeing
  • Nature walk
  • Camping

Looking at some of the activities found in AT highlights the commitment to skill building and team elements necessary to overcome obstacles. The activities of AT are versatile in their ability to address multiple domains of well-being with physical challenges.

Finding Courage in Nature: Understanding Physical Challenges and Wellness

Together, skill-based physical challenges and nature work to decrease distress, improve coping, and break down resistance to change. Now looking closer at specific activities in AT can showcase the value of physical challenges in trauma recovery. Through activities like ropes courses, hiking, and wilderness experiences, you can see how finding courage in physical challenges supports physical well-being and emotional and psychological growth:

Ropes Courses

There are various kinds of ropes courses found in AT. However, the main goal of every ropes challenge course is to help you learn adaptive coping skills to address difficulties with trauma, SUD, and or other mental health disorders. Moreover as noted by Iredell County’s Parks and Recreation, ropes courses or a ropes challenge course is a unique experience that gives you space to form more effective teams. Through ropes courses, you can find a safe and supportive space where you can explore success and failure while uncovering your true potential.

Every ropes course can be different depending on the program. However, many ropes courses are a collection of various elements made from cables and wood. The different elements of the ropes courses typically include ground, high, and low ropes. Furthermore, the different element levels of ropes courses can all open up different paths for personal growth and healing. Whether you are exploring ground, high, or low ropes, each element can help you build stronger communication and cooperation skills. In addition to these skills, ropes courses also strengthen other skills and provide unique mental health benefits.

Some of the skills, mental health, and other well-being benefits that come with ropes courses include:

  • Increased group effort to work through and overcome obstacles
  • Enhanced teamwork
  • Nurtured group cohesion
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Empowered boundary-setting
  • Increased trust in yourself and others
  • Encouraged accountability for your choices
  • Increased understanding of the value of encouragement and empowerment
  • Supported personal enrichment for intellectual, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness
  • Increased celebration of individual accomplishments
  • Increased understanding of the power of peer support
  • Improved self-esteem
  • A more positive outlook on life
  • Improved coping skills
    • Stress management skills
  • Reduced fear and anxiety
    • Expands your comfort zone
  • Boosted confidence
  • Increased motivation
  • Deeper self-awareness

The benefits of ropes courses give you foundational tools to uncover your capabilities and potential to meet and overcome challenges. With the support of your instructor and your peers, you can process and overcome challenges with SUD and other mental health disorders. While ropes courses do not require significant physical fitness, their strategic physical challenge directly correlates to mental challenges. Similarly, hiking offers an opportunity to engage the mind-body connection through movement and the natural attunement with nature.


While ropes courses often focus on the mental fortitude fostered by physical challenges, hiking looks to the power of movement. As noted in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, hiking is the act of walking for a substantial distance in nature. Typically, hiking involves moving over natural and often uneven terrain with natural obstacles. Many natural obstacles on trails that can enhance attention, concentration, and problem-solving include rocks and tree roots to navigate around.

Going on a well-worn path or off the beaten path in hiking therapy provides an opportunity to engage in multiple domains of wellness for physical and psychological healing. During a hiking session, you may reflect on your challenges and goals for healing to deepen self-awareness. You may also engage in mindful activities to foster connection and awareness of your body and mind as they work together to unravel the pains of trauma. Listed below are some of the physical health and mental health benefits of hiking:

  • Physical health:
    • Builds strength and endurance
      • Increase muscle and bone strength
    • Supports heart health
    • Decreases blood pressure
    • Helps with weight loss
    • Improves your sense of balance
    • Enhances immune system functioning
  • Mental health:
    • Reduces stress
    • Improves depression symptoms
    • Reduces anxiety symptoms
    • Decreases anger, tension, and irritation
    • Improves mood and energy
    • Increases positive thinking patterns
    • Decreases negative thinking patterns
    • Improves problem-solving skills
    • Reduces hopelessness
    • Empowers you to reconnect with yourself
    • Improves sensory perception to deepen awareness of your external and internal self

Working as a whole-body treatment, hiking creates an environment in which finding courage is built into your movements. Further, as a group activity, hiking can support building and strengthening positive healthy relationships. With the support of your clinician and peers in treatment, you can find courage and resilience in the act of shared experiences.

Wilderness Experiences

The value of shared experiences is particularly evident in wilderness experiences as they dig into the experiential and nature-driven roots of AT. As stated in an article from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), wilderness and therefore wilderness experiences are something that must be explored with all the senses. When you are present in nature with all your senses, you become open to all that nature has to offer for healing. Spending time in the great wilderness creates space for reflection and mental and physical challenge.

With reflection  challenges comes the realization of goals and the renewal of a self you thought was lost to trauma. In many ways, wilderness experiences embody the key tenets of AT and its commitment to effecting positive change. Despite a history associated with therapy for at-risk adolescents, wilderness experiences are well-suited to support the healing needs of a wide range of people. With wilderness experiences, you have access to a diverse array of activities including expeditions and adventure-based activities.

Wilderness experiences immerse you in a transformational environment built on the guidance of individual and group desire for change. Engaging in wilderness experiences supports an environment where finding courage and resilience is made possible through the process of learning to live with yourself and others in the face of challenges. Through group effort, wilderness experiences equip you to grow and effectively respond to and heal from the challenges of life.

Listed below are some of the ways wilderness experiences can support learning and growth for healing:

  • Helps process and dismantle negative thinking patterns and behaviors
  • Challenges negative self-beliefs and replaces them with positive self-beliefs
  • Group expeditions
    • Support building survival skills
      • Increase your sense of responsibility
    • Encourages teamwork
      • Strengthens relationships in and outside of treatment
    • Improves trust and cooperation
  • Problem-solving activities
    • Boost confidence
    • Increase self-esteem
    • Fosters leadership skills
  • Improves physical and emotional well-being
  • Supports emotional regulation
  • Encourages self-discovery for self-awareness and self-understanding
    • Experience and process difficult-to-reach thoughts and emotions
  • Empowers managing life stressors with healthy coping skills and adaptive strategies
  • Supports healing difficulties with mental health disorders
    • Anxiety and depression
    • Trauma
    • Substance misuse and SUD

The benefits of wilderness experiences highlight the importance of self-awareness and community for healing. Connection and the sharing of responsibility, accountability, and compassion are key parts of peer support in recovery. Thus, AT activities like ropes courses, hiking, and wilderness experiences are immersed in the knowledge and growth that can be gained from supportive group work. Further, activities in AT speak to the power of nature and community as tools for addressing trauma and co-occurring SUD and other mental health disorders.

Finding Courage to Heal at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we believe group-oriented therapies are invaluable to healing trauma and building long-term recovery. The overwhelming nature of trauma often leaves you feeling isolated and alone. You become convinced that you are alone, unsafe, and misunderstood by everyone around you. Moreover, trauma often leaves you feeling guilt, shame, and a deep sense of self-blame for your trauma. All of the negative self-beliefs and thinking and behavior patterns born out of trauma drive you toward withdrawal, avoidance, and self-isolation.

However, access to a supportive community with shared experiences allows you to make meaningful connections and bond in recovery. Being surrounded by a community of supportive peers gives you a place to voice and dismantle those negative self-beliefs. AT becomes a key support tool in a trauma recovery treatment plan because it is built on a foundation of discovery. When trauma erodes your sense of trust in yourself and others, AT can give you the necessary tools and space to rediscover that trust.

In addition, the nature component of AT is invaluable to trauma recovery for its reflective nature. Spending time in nature opens the door to mindful and meditative self-reflection for deeper self-awareness and self-understanding. With a deeper awareness and understanding of your inner world, you can uncover the roots of your distress. Thus, AT presents an alternative mind-body way to process difficult thoughts and emotions.

Rather than only relying on talking in traditional therapies for support, AT can be another valuable tool in your toolbox to support your specific needs. Through adventure-based experiences, you can access stuck points in processing your distress with specialized activities. Therefore, we are committed to providing a safe and loving space for self-discovery and healing. With a wide range of therapies and therapeutic modalities, you can deepen connections, set healthy boundaries, and rediscover trust and courage to lead a fulfilling life in recovery.

Trauma can manifest as self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns that impair functioning and well-being. Moreover, unaddressed trauma can make it difficult to recognize unhealthy behaviors like SUD and other mental health disorders. However, engaging in outdoor activities with physical and mental challenges found in AT can support greater self-awareness and understanding of trauma recovery. AT activities like ropes courses, hiking, and wilderness experiences can support finding courage and resilience again after trauma through the mind-body connection and teamwork. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of group-oriented therapies and therapeutic modalities to build a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific experiences and needs. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more today.