Ethical Considerations

The focus of this section is to highlight ethical considerations that are distinct to AT, as well as some of the unique situations encountered as part of the adventure component that could impair professional judgment.

A number of these issues are due to AT as both a developing and multi-disciplinary field. Additionally, the wide range of environmental contexts in which AT is commonly practiced, as well as the unique circumstances associated with an AT intervention, necessitate that AT practitioners concurrently attend to safety and risk management issues (LINK, CITE) not typically encountered in traditional therapeutic settings. While a number of these are also applicable to the broader field of experiential education (Hunt, 1994), attending to the interplay between ethics, safety, therapeutic issues, and associated legalities requires ongoing attention to a number of considerations unique to AT.

Multiple Ethical Codes

Individual Practitioner Issues
One such consideration is that many AT practitioners find themselves bound to multiple codes of ethics (Newes, 2000), largely based on their having participated in formal post-graduate training or having received certifications in other recognized professional areas (e.g. social work, psychology, education). While it is widely accepted that a practitioner is bound first to the code of ethics associated with the field in which they received their formal training (e.g., American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers), in 1991 the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group of AEE also created a code of ethics specific to AT; recognizing that the unique set of circumstances encountered in AT warrant additional ethical guidance.

The TAPG ethical code (1991) was developed in direct consultation with the ethics codes of recognized clinical organizations (e.g., APA, NASW), as well as the ethics code of therapeutic recreation specialists and other foundational writing in the field (Gass, 1993); and clear consideration was given to the overlap. Links to the professional ethical codes of commonly related fields that are applicable to AT can be found here. Despite this essential effort, this situation nevertheless creates complexities for many AT practitioners; who may find themselves bound to both a primary and a secondary ethics code.

There are many potential issues associated with this, but of primary import is the fact that these differing ethical codes may at times appear to be in conflict. This will be further addressed throughout this section, and a more complete discussion of some of the issues that these dual ethical responsibilities can create and relevant examples is found in Newes (2000).

Practitioner team-related issues
Issues can also arise when the staff team also includes practitioners without formal post-graduate training, for whom either the TAPG ethics code or other independent organizational tenets might be considered as primary ethical guides. Although common practice in many AT settings (LINK), this can lead to complications as practitioners on the same treatment team may be guided by differing sets of primary ethical standards. Furthermore, practitioners face potential further complexities in also attempting to maintain awareness of the intricacies of the differing laws and community standards that exist in the region in which they practice. Additonal issues are raised with regards to issues of applicability of ethical standards (e.g., who needs to follow or consider these ethical guidelines).

Enforcement of Ethical Codes

Also of concern is that the TAPG guidelines have no mechanism for enforcement, which is notably counter to the previously mentioned ethical codes. While the codes of other professional organizations apply to all of those in the professional (whether or not they are members of the organization), the TAPG code is stated as being applicable only to TAPG members. This creates a situation where staff working in the AT field who are not TAPG members are lacking any applicable ethical guidelines, and in actuality may be unaware any exist.

Scope of Ethical Codes

Finally, it is important to raise the issue of whether the existingethical codes (TAPG and others) provide the necesary guidance to support the broader concerns currently faced by the field. These might include pressures from legislative measures (e.g., the Miller Bill) or potential misuse or misassumptions about the work itself (e.g. confusing AT with "boot camps," which are very different in both philosophy and method).

Issues such as these tend to be largely related to misconceptions about the field overall, which AT professionals are obviously uniquely situated to be able to correct. Given that, the question also arises as to the degree to which an AT professional's ethical responsibility might also extend to accurately representing current best practices in the AT field overall.


Given the complexity of this matter, there are a number of ethical considerations (Newes, 2000; Hunt, 1994). Although it is challenging to develop clear answers, what is most important is that practitioners maintain a general awareness of the potential contradictions and conflicts these complexities can create.

A number of more specific issues to consider are reviewed in subsequent pages (see associated links), but it is essential to highlight two overarching considerations of central relevance. First, it is essential for AT practitioners to be aware that when being held to more than one ethical standard (e.g., confidentiality), a practitioner is required to adhere to their primary ethical code (e.g. APA, NASW); while maintaining the option to voluntarily choose to adhere to more than one set of ethical standards (e.g., TAPG).

Second, an AT practitioner may regularly encounter a situation when a theoretically-based intervention strategy may conflict with AT Best Practices; potentially in such a way as to lead to safety issues. For example, a boundaries-related activity may theoretically suggest that a distinct physical boundary be held, while the safety-related issues of the chosen activity itself requires spotting.

Under such circumstances, it is essential that a practitioner be aware that primary to each of the applicable ethical guidelines is the core tenet of "Do no harm." Given that, physical safety considerations may warrant some type of physical touch (to protect the client); despite the fact that strict adherence to a theoretically-based view might suggest that any level of touch would be counter to the assumed goals of the activity.

It is these types of instances that require the additional level of thought encouraged throughout this section. It may be that after consideration, the necessary touch is determined to not be as deterimental to the process as was first assumed. However, if in fact it is deemed theoretically inappropriate, then the practioner is encouraged to consider choosing a different activity/intervention. It then follows that an overarching characteristic of an AT practitioner who is both effective and ethical is the flexibility to view situations from multiple perspectives.

As a final note, this discussion overall raises additional questions for the future of whether there is a need for an association or other governing body that more adequately addresses these issues.