wilderness therapy adventure therapy difference

Wilderness Therapy vs Adventure Therapy: Is There A Difference?

Pure-Life fav icon - Wilderness Adventure Therapy in Costa Rica

At Pure Life, we add adventure into therapy. Pure Life Adventure therapy is not your traditional wilderness therapy. Historically, wilderness therapy programs are sought out by parents of adolescents with more serious behavioral issues along with mental health issues. While Pure Life Adventure Therapy involves the healing properties of nature we also include challenging and fun activities such as surfing and whitewater rafting to build confidence, raise self-esteem and teach young adults how to be self-sufficient. We also believe teaching our students how to have fun in healthy, exciting, and positive ways is very important to their long-term mental health.  If you’re considering outdoor therapy for your young adult, it is important to understand the differences between wilderness therapy and adventure therapy.

What Is Wilderness Therapy?

When you hear the term wilderness therapy, more often than not you are picturing a group of troubled teens backpacking in the wilds of nature for weeks. This can be an incredibly valuable behavioral therapy for very specific needs. Those seeking an intensive wilderness therapy program that secludes students with their therapy group may have serious behavioral issues that need to be addressed along with their mental health. Removing the students from any confines of society, the public, or social patterns they are accustomed to can make a positive impact on their specific needs. 

At Pure Life, we share some of these practices but altered our adventure therapy program for a wider range of mental health issues that do not focus on severe behavioral needs.  We believe in taking our students into nature, which is incredibly healing. We share the healing concepts of being outdoors and teaching self-sufficiency, but we chose to add additional concepts and practices for our unique set of students.

Another major difference between traditional wilderness therapy and Pure Life Adventure’s model is that our students are always involved in the decision to attend.  More traditional wilderness therapy programs may accept students who have been forced to attend for a variety of reasons, even if they don’t want to be there. It’s not uncommon for a young person struggling with depression and anxiety to experience avoidant behavior and so resistance or reluctance towards change and anything uncomfortable is very normal. At Pure Life, our students are involved in the application process and must want to attend the program for themselves.

Adventure Therapy: An Outdoor Adventure Therapy Model

At our founding, Pure Life Adventure partnered with an adventure therapy program because we wanted to take young adults into the front-country (natural areas easily accessible and often used for day use).  During their time in the front country, we wanted to include adventure activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing, rafting, and more.  One main difference between our program being in the front country versus backcountry or nomadic programs that stay in the backcountry is that our program requires a higher level of trust from our students.  Our students will be working with local Costa Rican families and interacting with the community and the public. Because of this, they must have the ability to manage inappropriate behaviors and be emotionally stable. This is one important difference between our adventure therapy program and traditional wilderness therapy. Pure Life’s adventure therapy model tends to promote a more bought-in and engaged milieu with higher functioning adults.

Another benefit of our adventure therapy programs is the ability to still have some comforts of normal life. Pure Life offers beds three nights a week at our base camp.  We also have students harvest fruits and vegetables from our garden and we are fortunate to have access to delicious fruits and vegetables on many of our itineraries. 

The Pure Life Outdoor Adventure Therapy Model

  • Part of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC) and Association for Experiential Education AEE Accredited. 
  • Front Country Experience—students are not isolated from the outside world, they are interacting with the Costa Rican culture at times during their stay.  
  • Adventure Elements to Build Confidence—activities are created to challenge and build up students.
  • Base Camp 3-Nights a Week—our students are at base camp and sleeping in beds three nights a week. Other nights involve camping and homestay experiences.
  • Healthy Foods—our program includes resetting student habits with healthy food and includes student participation in preparing fresh meals. 
  • Access to Showers and the Outdoors—students spend the majority of their time outside, but still have regular access to showers and personal comforts. This isn’t boot camp. 
  • Engaging with High Standards—our program is fun and engaging and we are a mental health program with high standards for safety so that means we’ve got rules and structure to keep everyone physically and emotionally safe.  
  • Collaborative Admissions Process—our Program Director speaks with every student before they commit to joining us in Costa Rica. We use trauma-informed practices in our admissions process and the student has to agree to come fully informed and without coercion. 

What You Won’t Find At Pure Life Adventure Therapy

  • “Traditional Wilderness Therapy ” involves a total immersive backcountry experience, this is also called a nomadic model where the student is completely immersed in the backcountry wilderness the entire time.
  • Forced or Unexpected Admission for the student. 
  • Aggressive or defiant behaviors within the milieu.
  • Strong addictive behaviors with respect to substance abuse.

Pure Life Adventure Therapy For Young Adults

Our outdoor adventure therapy will use tools such as surfing, rappelling, and whitewater rafting to help break down walls and challenge students, while also giving our licensed therapists a unique look into the individual struggles of each student.

Students can expect to engage in individual therapy as well as group therapy on a weekly basis. In our adventure therapy program, we use a hands-on, strengths-based, student-integrated clinical model through which participants quickly learn new, healthy coping strategies, behavioral and emotional regulation skills, leadership skills, and life skills that lead to future success.

The goal of our adventure therapy programs is to facilitate the development of the student’s ability to and belief in themselves to complete tasks. Our students will leave our adventure therapy with the knowledge and the ability to use their strengths to continue to progress in life and build a strong foundation for their future. We use the latest research and data to continue to refine our treatment program and our approach with young adults.

If your young adult is struggling with mental health issues such as depression, low self-esteem, low motivation, and anxiety or struggling to progress into adulthood, please reach out to Pure Life Adventure today. We would love to speak with you about your child, their needs, and how we can help.

More On Adventure Therapy From Pure Life Adventure…

The Pure Life Program
Adventure Therapy and Young Adults Mental Health
What Is Adventure Therapy and Who Can It Help?

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