Abstract: Practices of Adventure Therapy Facilitators: Unpacking the Blackbox (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

106P Practices of Adventure Therapy Facilitators: Unpacking the Blackbox

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Tarkington Newman, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
Kendra Bostick, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of New Hampshire
Benjamin Jefka, MSW Student, University of New Hampshire, Durham
Nicholas Brennan, MSW, Adventure Therapist, University of New Hampshire
Anita Tucker, PhD, Professor, University of New Hampshire, Durham, Durham, NH
Antonio Alvarez, MSW, Adventure Therapist, Adventures in Training, MI

Adventure therapy (AT) is recognized as any intentional, facilitated use of adventure tools and techniques to guide personal change toward desired therapeutic goals. AT settings are as diverse as the populations they serve, ranging from school social work to wilderness therapy. However, due to the dynamic nature of AT, the facilitative practices can be unclear and are often referred to as a blackbox. One model that theorizes the critical practices of AT facilitators is the Facilitated Wave Model. The model involves five distinct, yet interconnected processes that guide AT facilitator practices: 1) Assess Point A (e.g., client history) and Point B (therapeutic goals); 2) Match interventions with client needs; 3) Shape environmental conditions; 4) Facilitate experience; and 5) Evaluate the process. The current study utilizes the Facilitated Wave Model as a guiding framework to unpack the blackbox and explore the intentional practices of AT facilitators.


Participants were recruited through the Therapeutic Adventure Professionals Group and Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center email listservs and social media. Participants met the inclusion criteria: 1) Trained to use adventure- and/or wilderness-based therapeutic skills; 2) Provided direct therapeutic care to individuals and/or groups; and 3) Worked in an adventure and/or wilderness therapy setting. Sixteen AT facilitators participated in the study, including 11 males and 5 females (average age of 40.7 years). The majority were white, however they practiced in eight different countries (e.g., United States, Israel, Australia).

Participants engaged in one semi-structured interview, consisting of 10 questions designed to explore the processes outlined in the Facilitated Wave Model. Questions included, “How do you assess an individual/group you work with?” and “How do you match activities to achieve therapeutic goals of clients?” A hybrid (i.e., inductive and deductive) thematic analysis was used to analyze the data. Trustworthiness was enhanced through constant memo writing, member checks, and peer debriefs.


Findings illustrate the range of practices used by AT facilitators when working with a diversity of clients. Related to assessment, findings reveal facilitators both actively assess their own clients and use external assessments from outside evaluations. Data also highlighted the importance of matching client needs (e.g., safety) with their plan for individual activities (e.g., sequencing). The ability to shape the environment consisted of being cognizant of the physical environment, developing group norms, and establishing therapeutic relationships. Additionally, participants discussed strategies and approaches to facilitate, including flexibility in the moment, specific techniques (i.e., metaphors), and processing the experience (i.e., reflection in the moment, debriefing at the end). Finally, facilitators evaluate not only the clinical goals of clients, but also the effectiveness of their own facilitation.


To unpack the blackbox, findings identify and describe the intentional practices of AT facilitators. Findings have the potential to inform the education and training of AT facilitators so that they can be more intentional and effective as they support the therapeutic goals of their clients. Further, by understanding not only what but also how AT facilitators facilitate, research is better positioned to examine the relationships between specific practices and client outcomes.