Family Adventure Therapy

Family adventure therapy has many parallels to group adventure therapy, as a family is a specialized type of group. Adventure therapy with families can be challenging due to the need to accommodate a wide diversity in age ranges and developmental levels, as well as personal needs of various members of a family. However, family adventure therapy has the potential to assist families with a variety of treatment goals. Most notably, it can be a powerful tool in helping struggling families to develop a working family structure. In addition, this type of treatment can allow families to develop improved communication or problem solving skills, mend damaged relationships, build trust, or develop appropriate boundaries and roles, among other things (Berman & Davis-Berman, 1994; Gass, 1994; Bandoroff & Parrish, 1998; Bandoroff & Scherer, 1994; Becvar & Becvar, 1988; Clapp & Rudolph, 1990; Gerstein, 1996; Gillis & Gass, 1993; Jacobsen, 1992; Mulholland & Williams; 1998).

Practitioner Guidelines

1. A thorough understanding of family structure, dynamics, and theories of healthy family functioning is required (Gass, 1994; Becvar & Becvar, 1988; Newes, 2000).

2. Practitioners maintain a respect for non-traditional family systems and cultural competence skills for dealing with diverse family systems (Gass, 1994; Schoel & Maizell, 2002).

3. Practitioners maintain an awareness of the internal and external risk and protective factors impacting the family system (Lung, Stauffer & Alvarez, 2008; Berg, 1994).

4. Consider the family roles, age ranges, and levels of human development represented by family members, as well as the relationship of the family members to the treatment goals in developing a strategy for the use of adventure activities as the catalyst for change (Lung, Stauffer & Alvarez, 2008; Newes, 2000).

5. Adventure therapy with families starts with a thorough assessment of family functioning, which guides the establishment of treatment goals, as well as choice of activities for the treatment process (Gass, 1994; Lung, Stauffer & Alvarez, 2008; Gerstein, 1996).

6. Attend to both emotional and physical safety issues vigilantly during family adventure therapy sessions. The active nature of the activities results in families revealing their natural way of responding that can include highly charged safety issues for family members
(Becvar & Becvar, 1988; Bandoroff & Scherer, 1988; Bandoroff & Parrish, 1998; Gass, 1994; Devault & Strong, 1986; Newes, 2000).

7. Facilitate the family’s engagement in an active, experiential process as the catalyst for change:

  • Use adventure activities to alter and enhance the family dynamics, structure, and patterns of interaction.
  • Introduce novel situations, which may offer the unique opportunity to teach families how to play and have fun together as a legitimate treatment goal.
  • Highlight new patterns of interaction within the family session that have the potential to improve family functioning.
  • Work to develop more appropriate relationships and boundaries within the family structure. Facilitate family member’s experience of positive feedback and support within the family session.
  • Attend to family members’ responses to positive changes in family functioning and facilitate their experience of healthier family functioning with an eye toward acceptance and celebration of their growth.
  • Facilitate the family’s response to participating in a functional family experience in which the family processes both successes and failures.
  • Facilitate family members’ experimentation with alternative modes of coping, making decisions, and communicating with one another that emerge during the activity or are required to complete the activity.
  • Help the family to integrate the shifts experienced during the intervention in establishing a new family identity that highlights their connection and competencies.

8. Make observation of family functioning that are demonstrated in the here and now of the therapy session. These issues are often revealed in a concrete manner and are potentially less defended and more available for therapeutic inquiry. The increased awareness of ineffective family behaviors can allow for clarification of family goals. The increased awareness of family strengths can allow for clarification of intervention strategies and identification of resources available to support change.

9. Attend to bonding issues within the family treatment context. Adventure family therapy has a strong potential to heal strained relationships between family members in the following ways:

  • Integrating family members back into their family system
  • Learning to relate to one another in a positive manner
  • Building positive alliance in the relationships
  • Experiencing one’s family function in a positive, supportive manner