Ethical Guidelines for the Therapeutic Adventure Professional 

Statement of Purpose

Since therapeutic adventure programs profoundly affect individual lives, it is the purpose of these guidelines to advocate for the education, empowerment, and safety of those who participate in these programs by establishing a minimum standard of ethical care and operation. Individuals who adhere to these guidelines will be considered as upholding, contributing to, and promoting a high standard of operation and service by the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group of the Association for Experiential Education.

A. Definition of Professionals 

The term "professional" that is used in these ethical principles represents individuals who are members of the AEE Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group. These guidelines may have application to other members of the AEE, but the items contained in these ethical principles only pertain to Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group members of the AEE.

B. Applicability 

The activity of professionals subject to these Ethics Principles may be reviewed under these Ethical Principles only if the professional is identified as a member of the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group of the Association for Experiential Education. Purely personal activities having no connection to or effect on these professional roles are not subject to the Ethics Code.

C. Related Ethical Principles 

Professionals subscribing to this ethical code must be aware of other ethical codes and laws that intersect with the statements in this Ethical Code.

D. Ethical Principles of the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group of the Association for Experiential Education

1. Competence 

Professionals strive to maintain high standards of competence in their work. They recognize the boundaries of their particular competencies and understand the potential limitations of adventure activities. Professionals exercise reasonable judgment and take appropriate precautions to promote the welfare of participants. They maintain knowledge of relevant professional information related to the use of adventure experiences and they recognize their need for ongoing education. Professionals make appropriate use of professional, technical, and administrative resources that serve the best interests of participants in their program. 

1.1. Boundaries of Competence 

(1) Professionals provide services only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervision, experience, and practice. (2) Professionals provide services involving specific practices after first undertaking appropriate study, training, supervision, and/or consultation from persons who are competent in those areas or practices. (3) In those areas where generally recognized standards for preparatory training do not yet exist, professionals take reasonable steps to ensure the competence of their work and to promote the welfare of participants. (4) Professionals seek appropriate assistance for their personal problems or conflicts that may impair their work performance or judgment.

1.2 Continuing Training 

Professionals are aware of current information in their fields of activity and undertake ongoing professional efforts to maintain the knowledge, practice, and skills they use at a competent level.

2. Integrity 

Professionals seek to promote integrity in the practice of adventure programming. In these experiences, they are honest, fair, and respect others. In describing or reporting their qualifications, services, products, fees, and research, professionals do not make statements that are false, misleading, or deceptive. Professionals strive to be aware of their own belief systems, values, needs, and limitations and the effect of these on their work.

2.1 Interaction with other Professionals 

In deciding whether to offer or provide services to those already receiving services elsewhere, professionals carefully consider the potential participant's welfare. Professionals discuss these issues with participants in order to minimize the risk of confusion and conflict, consult with other professionals when appropriate, and proceed with caution and sensitivity. Professionals do not engage, directly or through agents, in uninvited solicitation of services from actual or potential participants or others who, because of particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influences (e.g., respecting client relationships).

2.2 Supervision 

Professionals delegate to their employees, supervisees, or students only those professional responsibilities that such persons can perform competently. Within the limitations of their institution or other roles, professionals provide proper training or supervision to employees or supervisees. Professionals also take reasonable steps to see that such persons perform these services responsibly, competently, and ethically.

3. Professional Responsibility 

Professionals uphold ethical principles of conduct, clarify their roles and obligations, accept responsibility for their behavior and decisions, and adapt their methods to the needs of different populations. Professionals consult with, refer to, and cooperate with other professionals and institutions to the full extent needed to serve the best interests of participants. Professionals are concerned about the ethical professional conduct of their colleagues. When appropriate, they consult with colleagues order to avoid unethical conduct. Because of its direct negative influence on participants as well as the field, professionals are strongly urged to report alleged unethical behavior to appropriate and prescribed channels. Professionals are ethically bound to cooperate with professional associations' inquiries concerning ethical misconduct.

 3.1 Basis for Professional Judgments 

Professionals have an adequate basis for their professional judgments and actions that are derived from professional knowledge.

3.2 Initiation and Length of Services 

Professionals do not begin services for individuals where the constraints of limited contact will not benefit the participant. Professionals continue services only as long as it is reasonably clear that participants are benefiting from that service.

3.3 Concern for the Environment 

Professionals conduct adventure experiences in a manner that has minimal impact on the environment. Professionals do not conduct adventure experiences where permanent damage to wilderness environments will occur as a result of programming.

4. Respect for People's Rights and Dignity 

Professionals respect the fundamental rights, dignity, and worth of all people. They respect the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Professionals strive to be sensitive to cultural and individual differences, including those due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability, and socioeconomic status. Professionals do not engage in sexual or other harassment or exploitation of participants, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, research subjects, or actual or potential witnesses or complainants in investigations and ethical proceedings.

4.1 Policy Against Discrimination

Professionals do not discriminate against or refuse professional services to anyone on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability, and socioeconomic status. 

4.2 Ethic of Empowerment 

Professionals respect the rights of participants to make decisions and help them to understand the consequences of their choices. Professionals assist participants in charting the course of their own lives. They respect the rights of participants to make decisions affecting their lives that also demonstrate an equal concern for the rights of others.

4.3 Describing the Nature and Results of Adventure Programming 

When professionals provide services to individuals, groups, or organizations, they first provide the consumer of services with appropriate information about the nature of such services and their rights, risks, and responsibilities. Professionals also provide an opportunity to discuss the results, interpretations, and conclusions with participants.

4.4 Informed Consent

Professionals respect participants' rights to refuse or consent to services and activities. Participants must be well informed of the fees, confidentiality, benefits, risks, and responsibilities associated with these services and activities prior to participation. Professionals make reasonable efforts to answer participants' questions, avoid apparent misunderstanding about the service, and avoid creating unrealistic expectations in participants. Professionals inform participants of the relevant limitations of confidentiality as early as possible and the foreseeable uses of the information generated through their services. In the case of participants who are minors, parents and/or legal guardians must also give informed consent for participation. Professionals obtain informed consent from participants, parents, or guardians before videotaping, audio recording, or permitting third-party observation.

4.5 Fees 

Professionals charge appropriate fees for services. Fees are disclosed to participants at the beginning of services and are truthfully represented to participants and third-party payers. Professionals are not guided solely by a desire for monetary reimbursement. They are encouraged to contribute a portion of their professional time for little or no personal advantage.

4.6 Advertisement 

Professionals accurately represent their competence, training, education, and experience relevant to their practices. This practice includes using: (1) Titles that inform participants and the public about the true and accurate identity, responsibility, source, and status of those practicing under that title. (2) Professional identification (e.g., business card, office sign, letterhead, or listing) that does not include statements that are false, fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading.

4.7 Distortion of Information by Others 

Professionals make efforts to prevent the distortion or misuse of their clinical materials and research findings. Professionals correct, whenever possible, false, inaccurate, or misleading information and representations made by others concerning their qualifications, services, or products.

4.8 Public Opinions and Recommendations 

Professionals, because of their ability to influence and alter the lives of others and the field, exercise special care when making public their professional recommendations and opinions (e.g., public statements and testimony).

5. Concern for Welfare 

Professionals are sensitive to real and ascribed differences in power between themselves and their participants, and they avoid exploiting or misleading other people during or after professional relationships.

5.1 Professional Relationships 

Professionals provide services only in the context of a defined professional relationship or role.

5.2 Dual Relationships

Professionals are aware of their influential position with respect to participants and avoid exploiting the trust and dependency of such persons. Because of this, professionals make every effort to avoid dual relationships with participants that could impair professional judgment (e.g., business or close personal relationships with participants). When dual relationships exist, professionals take appropriate professional precautions to ensure that judgment is not impaired and no exploitation occurs.

5.3 Sexual Relationships 

Sexual intimacy with participants is prohibited during the time of the professional relationship. Professionals engaging in sexual intimacy with past participants bear the burden of proving that there is no form of exploitation occurring.

5.4 Physical Contact 

Adventure activities often include various forms of physical contact between professionals and participants or among participants (e.g., spotting, checking climbing harnesses, holding hands). Professionals are sensitive and respectful of the fact that participants experience varying degrees of comfort with physical contact, even when it is offered for safety, encouragement, or support. Whenever possible, professionals inform, explain, and gain consent for usual and customary forms of physical contact. Professionals are aware of individual needs when initiating physical contact, especially if the contact is meant to communicate support (e.g., hugs, pats) and is otherwise not required for a particular activity. Except when safety is a factor, participants have the right to limit or refuse physical contact with professionals and participants.

5.5 Behavior Management 

Each program and professional will approach the topic of managing behavior with a concern for dignity and safety for both participants and professionals. Definitions of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors of participants should be made clear to participants before any adventure programming commences. Professional responses to inappropriate behaviors should be clearly understood by both professionals and participants and carried out in an appropriate manner. There should be clear documentation of staff training and awareness about program policies concerning the management of unsafe behavior. Policies should never advocate the use of restraint unless participant(s) impose a threat to themselves or others. Restraint should never be used as a punishment or as a means to frighten, humiliate, or threaten a participant. Whenever possible, restraint should be avoided and as passive as possible. All behavior management should be accurately documented.

5.6 Physical Needs of Participants 

Participants will be provided with the necessary water, nutrition, clothing, shelter, or other essential needs they require for the environment they are living in, unless there is a prior mutual consent between participants and professionals and it is recognized that this will serve a valid purpose (e.g., solo). At no time during any program will the withholding of these needs be used as a punitive measure.

5.7 Physical Treatment of Participants 

At no time will participants be asked to perform excessive physical activity as a means of punishment. There should be a direct relationship between the amount of participants' physical activity levels and the objective of the experience.

5.8 Appropriate Use of Risk 

The amount of actual emotional and physical risk participants experience in adventure activities will be appropriate for the objectives and competence level of participants. Professionals use appropriate judgment when choosing activities that expose participants to actual or perceived physical and emotional risks.

5.9 Assisting Participants in Obtaining Alternative Services 

Professionals assist participants in obtaining other services if they are unwilling or unable, for appropriate reasons, to provide professional help. Professionals will not unilaterally terminate services to participants without making reasonable attempts to arrange for the continuation of such services (e.g., referral). Experiences are planned with the intent that decisions made during and after the experience are in accordance with the best interest of participants.

5.10 Confidentiality 

Professionals respect the right of participants to decide the extent to which confidential material is made public. Professionals may not disclose participant confidences except: (a) as mandated by law; (b) to prevent a clear and immediate danger to a person or persons; (c) where the professional is a defendant in civil, criminal, or disciplinary action arising from services (in which case participant confidences may be disclosed only in the course of that action); or (d) if there is a waiver previously obtained in writing, and then such information may be revealed only in accordance with the terms of the waiver. Unless it is contraindicated or not feasible, the discussion of confidentiality occurs at the onset of the professional relationship.

5.11 Use of Case Materials with Teaching or Professional Presentations 

Professionals only use participant or clinical materials in teaching, writing, and public presentations if a written waiver has been obtained in accordance with guideline 5.10 or when appropriate steps have been taken to disguise participant identity and assure confidentiality.

5.12 Storage and Disposal of Participant Materials 

Professionals store and dispose of participant records in ways that maintain confidentiality. Records should be maintained for a minimum of seven (7) years.

6. Social Responsibility 

Professionals are aware of their professional responsibilities to the community and society in which they work and live. Within the limitations of their roles, professionals avoid the misuse of their work. Professionals comply with the standards stated in the AEE Safety Practices in Adventure Programs book as well as with the particular laws in their particular geographical and professional area. Professionals also encourage the development of standards and policies that serve the interests of participants and the public.

Footnotes

1. Background of Ethical Guidelines 

At the 19th Annual Conference for the Association for Experiential Education in St. Paul, MN, one of the critical needs identified by the Therapeutic Adventure Professional group was the establishment of a set of ethical guidelines for adventure therapy. At that time, a committee was formed to: 1) examine the feasibility of such a development, 2) help to research ethical guidelines used by other professionals, and 3) serve as a "conduit" to help synthesize the input of others. Input for the initial creation of these documents was from a number of sources, which included: 1) the 1991 draft of the American Psychological Association (APA) ethics code, 2) the 1991 revised code of ethics of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), 3) the 1986 ethics code for therapeutic recreation specialists, 4) Jasper Hunt's work in the second edition of "Ethical Issues in Experiential Education" (1990), and 5) Tim Marshall's work on these guidelines from the Aspen Achievement Academy guidelines (1991), which have become part of the licensing standards for the State of Utah under the "Outdoor Youth Programs" section. The work of this committee was presented at a Pre-Conference session of the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group at the 1991 AEE Conference at Lake Junaluska. During this session, these guidelines were revised by a group of 27 invested professionals. During the Conference, the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group voted to accept these guidelines given that we notify organizations like the APA and AAMFT that we were using portions of their ethical codes and that we would recognize their input into our work. The AAMFT and the APA after consultation with their legal counsel, have given the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group permission to use portions of their ethical code. Since their approval at the Conference, the guidelines have been reviewed and commented on by more professionals. Most of these comments have been extremely positive, a number of individuals thinking that the entire Association should establish such guidelines. Some of the perplexing issues (i.e., areas where we could make these guidelines even better) that have been brought up include:

(1) A. Definition of Professionals - "This raises interesting issues. Does paying $35 to the AEE make one a professional?" "Who is going to police programs that are unethical? Is this 'policing' this part of being a professional?"

(2) C. Related Ethical Codes - "This section is too vague to be useful. What do I have to know about the Islamic Fundamentalist codes? It would be better if it was more explicit."

(3) 3.3 Concern for the Environment - Some people felt this section was too vague to be helpful. "Do you mean 'legal wilderness only?" "How about bolts in rocks?"

(4) 4.1 Policy against Discrimination - (Note: this section has drawn the most attention.) Some people challenged this statement as an effort to be "politically correct" and it was "troublesome." Specific questions in this policy were: (a) with gender, does this imply that "women" or "men" only groups would be discriminatory?, (b) with ethnicity, does this mean that not choosing to provide services for a Ku Klux Klan group would be discrimination?, (c) with religion, does this mean that Christian programs must include satanists? Some of these arguments may be for exceptional circumstances, but they do raise attention to areas that need to be addressed.

(5) 4.4 - Clarify the "limitations of confidentiality" - one person thought this should be clearer.

(6) 6 - Social responsibility - One person stated that something needs to be said about a professional's primary responsibility being the welfare of the client before the institution. Other ideas that have been raised include: -the need for specific negative rights that clients possess -something about the importance of empirical research to undergrid the practice and implications for scanty or non-existent research for practice -something about marketing materials accurately reflecting the practice (e.g., the pictures used to show only smiling facesrarely crying, hurt, or enraged faces). -something about separation of powers (i.e., some form of court of appeals for clients to turn to for aid against an organization or specific practitioner). Ideas like these will serve to further the evolution of these guidelines. Other future areas of development include a clearer definition of particular principles, the establishment of a collection of ethical dilemmas and scenarios in adventure therapy that help to further define these practices, and a decision on how such guidelines will be regulated and monitored.

2. Acknowledgments 

The Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group acknowledges the use of the ethical guidelines from the American Psychological Association (APA) and American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. It also greatly appreciates the support of the American Psychological Association (APA) and American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) in the development of these ethical standards and their current evolutionary process.