Counseling therapy takes a turn toward excitement

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By Katie Maloney

The Razorback Reporter

Adventure Based Therapy, with its outdoors activities, is all-around better for male adolescent mental and physical health than traditional group therapy, advocates say, and UA officials hope to build an ABT grad school curriculum.

“It’s kind of an umbrella term for experiential type of counseling, terms often associated are outward bound therapy, wilderness therapy and adventure based therapy,” said David Christian, a UA psychology assistant professor.

Adventure Based Therapy is designed to address behavioral and emotional issues, improve social relations, enhance levels of personal responsibility, and promote personal growth in clients. Counseling groups are convened “in a really fun, interactive, active way,” Christian said.

Anita Tucker, who teaches at the University of New Hampshire, conducted research that proved a connection to physical and mental health in adolescents. Along with physical improvement, the youths experienced significant improvements in their mental health functioning.

“Something we are looking at is to eventually offer classes,” Christian said. “That’s lacking in the field, is classes where you actually learn the activities and how to process the activities.”

Mental health problems have become a growing concern for adolescents, with 17 percent having one or more mental health or substance abuse disorders, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite that, less than 20 percent of children and adolescents receive the treatment they need.
The majority of mental health treatment for adolescent males focuses on behavioral health, and ignores the physical health conditions that are often interrelated, according to HHS.
Christian began as a high school teacher, and incorporated outdoor activity with his students. When he was in graduate school at the University of North Texas Christian began to work as a school counselor, where he began to incorporate his research with a group of ninth-grade, at-risk males.
“Typically in groups you see conflict increase as they become comfortable and then decrease as they learn to work together to accomplish goals,” Christian said. “That’s a big part of Adventure Based Therapy learning to work together to accomplish goals, relying on others to accomplish group and personal goals.
Students go hiking, camping. They negotiate ropes courses. They play games and engage in team-building activities.
“The feedback I got from my students was that it was fun,” Christian said. “As far as having a student that didn’t want to come, it was very rare.”
Christian was attracted to northwest Arkansas for its surroundings and the many opportunities to get students into nature.

Christian wants to build the program by recruiting graduate students, especially doctoral students, he said, who could get the training and run their own groups. Christian hopes to have the first classes available by summer 2016. The program information sheet is at: