Getting a Little Dirty to Get Clean: Experiential and Adventure Therapy in Rehab

You’ve always been a city person–never one for roughing it. Sure, the scenery is great, but is it worth all the bugs, dirt, sweat and tears? Not to mention the wild animals, cliffs to fall from, landslides, avalanches, and rushing rivers. It’s just too far out of your comfort zone. You’ve always been more partial to a pint of beer in a cozy pub, rather than defying death in the rugged outdoors; but that pint turned to pints after your accident, and nearly destroyed your life. You began self-medicating to deal with your post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)–now you’re seeking out treatment, and it looks like outdoor adventure therapy is on the schedule. You don’t see the point, but one of the therapists assures you that experiential activities, including wilderness therapy, can help with your PTSD and addiction.

Washing Away PTSD


“It frees you up. It’s freedom for those two or three hours, kind of like a bit of respite. It takes your mind off it. Just leave all that away somewhere on the beach and then, we’ll deal with that later. But for now, when we’re surfing, we’re going to have a laugh. And there’s not a lot you can do to not have a laugh; it’s kind of the antidote to PTSD in a way. You know, get your wetsuit on, go for a paddle, ride a wave, and it’s like PTSD doesn’t exist for that short time, which is all good in my book.”

Surfing washed away the flashbacks, anxiety, sadness, and suffering of everyday life for this veteran. He was part of a study looking into the benefits of surfing in combat veterans suffering with PTSD. But much more was going on than simply riding a wave–all the study participants were vets who were suffering from PTSD, and the camaraderie helped them build positive relationships. Strapping on the board, duck diving, and finding his wave helped this vet manage his well-being while he was back on land. His lows were not as low, in the knowledge that he would be returning to the ocean and his friends, and his PTSD will once again be washed away for a while. Surfing, like other outdoor activities, can be an effective complement to a treatment program for a variety of mental health and addiction disorders.

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Change in Nature


Exploring the great outdoors as a part of therapy can be beneficial for many. In a review of nature-assisted therapies, researchers found significant improvements in people with mood and anxiety disorders, behavioral disorders, and substance abuse disorders. Problem-solving and overcoming challenges were directly related to improvements in participants’ lives–it helped them build trusting relationships and promoted individual change and growth.

“I didn’t want to trust my partner at first but I finally did. […] You can’t do everything on your own. That’s how we got here. I’ve tried to be Superwoman, and I just can’t do it. I have to rely on my mom and my sister for help sometimes too.”

Completing an outdoor challenge course for this recovering addict provided her with insight into the importance of helping others and receiving help. She was a participant in a study looking at the effects of challenge courses on alcoholics pursuing abstinence. Supporting each other and developing strategies to overcome the climbs, traverses, and descents of a challenge course contributed to participants’ ability to remain abstinent. It provided them with skills crucial to their recovery, such as learning to build and maintain relationships with people who will support them and, through completion of difficult challenges, to have confidence in their inner strength to resist temptation and relapse.

Get a Little Dirty to get Clean


At Alta Mira you will have the opportunity to engage in wilderness therapy. The experiences are wide-ranging–from a walk on the beach to ziplining in the Redwood forest. These programs are designed to encourage you to learn new skills, overcome challenges, and expand your problem-solving abilities. Experiential therapy is an overall important part of your recovery process that will expose you to healthy, lifelong activities. If the pub was your comfort zone, maybe it’s time to explore your limits and discover the benefits of getting out in the wild. You might grow to love the great outdoors, and discover a few new skills that will help you cope with your addiction and co-occurring disorders, and aid in your recovery.

Exposing yourself to new activities is an important part of your recovery process. At Alta Mira, we have a team of compassionate, reputable addiction treatment experts in various disciplines who are dedicated to helping people break free from substance abuse. Please contact us today at 844-707-7952.