I have been working outside with children and young people therapeutically for seven years. Initially, this involved simply taking the therapy outside, sitting under or in trees or walking and talking. Since I became a qualified forest school leader and attained my bushcraft competency certificate, I have added these skills to my outdoor practice.
These qualifications allow me to use fire and tools during my sessions, which comes with increased risk, but also provides a more adventurous feel to the therapeutic process. During my studies for my master’s degree, I learnt about adventure therapy, which comes under the wider umbrella of nature-based therapy and is defined as ‘adventure’, due to its experiential nature, immersion in the outdoors and elements of risk.1
Risk in adventure therapy is broad but includes use of tools such as knives, axes and saws, fire-lighting and time in a wilderness setting. Benefits of adventure therapy have been noted by a variety of authors,2–4 and can include increased resiliency, reduced stress, improved confidence and enhanced emotional regulation. Those who engage in adventure therapy do so for help with anxiety, depression, loss, learning difficulties, emotional regulation, trauma and relationship difficulties, but this list is not exhaustive. As with any sort of therapy, children and young people must be assessed for their suitability to engage. Counsellors must ensure that they have considered the risks and have the relevant training, supervision and insurance to manage them.
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What is micro-adventure therapy?
‘Adventure’ is defined by the Oxford University Press as ‘An unusual and exciting or daring experience’.5 Yet it might mean different things to different people. For some, it involves journeying afar or engaging in extreme risk. For others, it can be a new experience closer to home. I have added ‘micro’ as the work takes place on a much smaller scale to that of a traditional adventure therapy approach, where there is often a focus on group experiences, greater wilderness to operate in and even camping opportunities.6
For me, working with children and young people using a micro-adventure framework, enables us to create an environment of therapeutic and adventurous activity. Together, we construct our own micro-adventure as part of the therapeutic process. Once a rhythm has been established to the sessions – which often follow a sequence such as meet and check in, set up camp, make a shelter, collect wood and light a fire – a therapeutic dialogue can begin. The use of tools and natural materials are ‘affordances’ used to stimulate therapeutic engagement and are important to the process of adventure and micro-adventure therapy. Gibson explored the benefits of affordances and how different objects in an environment present opportunity for growth and development.7 An example of an affordance is the fire, not only the process of lighting it, but the symbolism, imagery and comfort it offers. Sitting around the fire offers a focus, but it also lends itself to healing activities such as burning letters or drawings of events the client would like to forget, or providing a means of expression, where the counsellor can draw on the imagery of fire to discuss anger or safety. Fire can also become part of a mindfulness activity where the client stares into the flames while practising breathing techniques.
Space and place
The space used for micro-adventure therapy becomes part of the therapeutic process and takes on a meaning of its own, even if the space is already familiar. Kraft8 argues that spaces are not limited to static objects but are dynamic, interchangeable entities that derive meaning from human interaction and construction. The space and its meaning are co-constructed by therapist and client through the process they engage in together. From my own experience using school grounds, I have seen how the clients I work with begin to attach new meanings when using familiar spaces therapeutically.
Trees may become sacred or be given special names, areas are designated for specific activities, such as fire lighting or game playing, and new interests are developed in relation to the area and the work taking place within it. Cresswell9 states that space becomes a place when meaning is attached to it, over time. During weekly sessions, the co-constructed space is given meaning, and from this a sense of place is created. Space becomes symbolic of a shared place, one that is used for therapeutic means, and fosters a sense of connection between client, counsellor and the natural world. Nature as a co-therapist is discussed by Jordan10 and is considered as part of the therapeutic process,as the natural world offers opportunities for grounding, connection and emotional regulation through environmental opportunities that cannot be found in an office.
Why micro-adventure therapy?
Micro-adventure therapy can be used to facilitate an adventurous experience for a client, without the need to travel far. Adventures can be small, in dedicated sites which promote micro-adventures that can support wellbeing. In the context of counselling, a micro-adventure offers clients a unique opportunity to engage in a therapeutic approach that is attainable, accessible and close to home.
1 Bowen D, Niell JT. A meta-analysis of adventure therapy outcomes and moderators. The Open Psychology Journal 2013; 6: 28–53.
2 Richards K, Carpenter C, Harper N. Looking at the landscape of adventure therapy: making links to theory and practice. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning 2011; 11(2): 83–90.
3 Tracey D, Gray T, Truong S, Ward K. Combining acceptance and commitment therapy with adventure therapy to promote psychological wellbeing for children at risk. Frontiers in Psychology 2018; 9: 1565.
4 Harper N, Dobud WW. Outdoor therapies: an introduction to practices, possibilities and critical perspectives. New York: Routledge; 2021.
5 Oxford University Press. www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/adventure (accessed November 2021).
6 Newes S, Bandoroff S (eds). Coming of age: the evolving field of adventure therapy. Colorado: Association for Experiential Education; 2004.
7 Gibson JJ. The theory of affordances. In: Shaw R, Bransford J (eds). Perceiving, acting and knowing. New Jersey: Erlbaum; 1977 (pp67–82).
8 Kraftl P. Geographies of alternative education: diverse learning spaces for children and young people. Bristol: Policy Press; 2013.
9 Cresswell T. Place: an introduction. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell Publishing; 2015.
10 Jordan M. Nature and therapy: understanding counselling and psychotherapy in outdoor spaces. Brighton and Hove: Routledge; 2015.