History of Adventure Therapy in the United States

Camping Movement

Before 1800, the Friends Hospital opened in Philadelphia and incorporated the use of the natural environment as a major component of treatment for the mentally ill. Then, in 1901, Manhattan State Hospital East introduced "tent therapy" to isolate TB patients from other patients and found unexpected health benefits for patients related to being outside. This was the first documented case of utilizing the outdoors as a healing factor in the United States. In 1906, the San Francisco Psychiatric Hospital moved patients into tents after an earthquake and again noted dramatic improvements, indicating that the patients demonstrated improved social interactions. These events mark historic beginnings of the idea that there is a mental health benefit to being in natural environments. (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; leegillis.com).
The camping movement identified the use of camping as a therapeutic milieu, making initial attempts at integrating outdoor experience with therapeutic intent. This form of intervention was first seen through Camp Ahmek in 1929. This program identified socialization of the camper's behaviors as one of its primary goals, indicating the beginning of a therapeutic approach to camping (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; Russell & Hendee, 2000). The second program emerged in 1946, created by Campbell Loughmiller, as part of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas. This program represents the beginning of the therapeutic camping movement. (Loughmiller, 1965; Russell, 2005; Davis-Berman & Berman, 2008; Russell & Hendee, 2000; Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; Schoel & Maizell, 2002).

Progressive Education Movement

The Progressive Education Movement also had significant impact on the development of AT. This movement was largely championed by John Dewey, considered to be one of the founders of experiential education. This philosophy holds that experience is a central means to broaden a student's knowledge and, thus, experience must form the basis of a student's curriculum (Mitten & ?, 2008). In the view of the Progressive Education Movement, the learner is also a participant and more can be learned by struggling with a problem than by being provided with a solution. Experiential learning is active and may encourage the learner to become intrinsically motivated. The learner has the freedom to make choices and take responsibility. The philosophy of experiential education highlights the use of natural and logical consequences to provide feedback to the learner and incorporates reflection on the experience as a critical component of the learning process. (Gass, ; Stanchfield, ).

Adventure Movement

The catalyst for the development of the adventure education movement was the development of Outward Bound by Kurt Hahn. The Hahnian approach to education included concepts such as journey, expedition, and challenge. This approach was not only experience-centered but also value-centered. Learning through doing was not developed to facilitate the mastery of academic content alone, but was oriented toward development of character and maturity (Russell & Hendee, 2000). Bacon (1983) published The Conscious Use of Metaphor in Outward Bound integrating outdoor expeditions, personal change, and the conscious use of metaphor, which advanced the concept of intentional use of outdoor experience to foster personal growth and change.

Kurt Hahn opened the first Outward Bound program in 1941 in Aberdovey, Wales with Lawrence Holt and Jim Hogan (Miles & Priest, 1999). In 1950, the second Outward Bound school opened in England. In 1962, the first American Outward Bound school opened in Colorado. By 1984, Colorado Outward Bound had opened a treatment program. The influence of Outward Bound can be seen in the practices of the National Outdoor Leadership School, the Teton Science School, and Project Adventure.

A number of theoretical perspectives influenced Outward Bound in the development of their mental health curriculum. These include humanism, T-group movements, structural therapy, and strategic therapy. This was an important point in the history of AT because it was the first concrete shift from the camping movement to adventure therapy. These theories were applied alongside the adventure education movement's philosophies related to challenge and stress. Early approaches to AT viewed risk and stress as a pre-requisite for growth and held to the idea that people grow by getting out of their "comfort zone." These concepts are controversial today, as there is a movement away from the use of intentional risk and stress by many practitioners who prefer an approach based on individual assessment of client needs rather than assumptions regarding the value of stress.

The adventure movement was also influenced by individuals previously serving in the British and American military. While these perspectives aided in the evolution of adventure work, they have also led to the development of coercive models that utilize a philosophy of "breaking someone down to build them back up." This approach is not consistent with current ethical guidelines or best practice in AT.

Project Adventure, begun in 1971, had a significant impact in developing the use of experiential programs to effect positive growth and change for clients. Key constructs in the adventure movement were promoted by PA including challenge by choice and the use of full value contracts.

To view a timeline and detailed synopsis of the Significant Events in Adventure Therapy, visit Lee Gillis's website at http://leegillis.com/AT/2IATC/advthe.htm.