Research on Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH)

Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council

Over the last 20 years, research in wilderness therapy (often referred to as Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, or OBH) has grown considerably in numbers and professionalism. While a number of programs and institutions have contributed to this promising research base, the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC), formed in 1997, has been a driving force for research and evaluation. PROGRAM joined the OBH Council in YEAR.

The OBH Council works with Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC), whose purpose is to carry out comprehensive independent research and provide credible, objective information to the field. OBHRC has grown to include 12 full and affiliate research scientists with over 200 studies conducted in the field about the behavioral healthcare. Below is a summary of a few of OBHRC’s specific research areas. Follow the links to learn more about the research and work of the OBHC and the OBHRC.

The actual safety of participants in OBH Programs

Public perception of outdoor behavioral healthcare programs often misconstrues “wilderness therapy” as potentially dangerous and unsafe. This perception can often be linked to a lack of knowledge regarding this innovative method of treatment, unfamiliarity with the extensive risk management techniques used in such programs, the inappropriate practices of less developed yet seemingly similar programs, and the vulnerable and problematic states of many clients.

While no treatment can guarantee the total safety of any child, adolescents participating in OBHC programs are actually at less risk than adolescents not participating in these programs. In 2012, the average American adolescent was two times more likely to visit an emergency room than their counterparts in OBH programs.

Continue reading at: OBH is Safer than Being at Home for the Average Teen or OBHRC Risk Management

Effectiveness of OBH

Recent research produced by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC) supports that OBH is effective at improving overall functioning of youth, reducing the use of abusive substances, and engaging resistant clients. A few outcomes with demonstrated statistical, clinical, and practical significance in the research are highlighted below.

  • Clients enter OBH programs with high clinical dysfunction.
  • Clients make dramatic improvements in emotional and behavioral functioning while in OBH treatment.
  • Clients maintain improvements up to six and 12 months post-OBH treatment.

Ongoing research of OBH’s impact on youth well-being affirms these findings and is discovering more about how and why OBH works. For more information, read more on the OBHC research page here, or on the OBHRC page here.

Accreditation

In partnership with the Association of Experiential Education (AEE), OBH Council is engaged in the most stringent accreditation process in the field. This accreditation program helps to identify programs of high quality. AEE has 25 years of experience in adventure-program accreditation and has invested over $1 million in refining the process. Programs holding OBH Accreditation have been rigorously evaluated by an independent review body and have successfully demonstrated that they maintain the industry’s highest standards of quality, safety and effectiveness. More information can be found here in the coming months.

 

 

 

 


Wilderness Therapy Programs Less Risky Than Daily Life, UNH Research Finds

March 28, 2012

Wilderness Therapy Programs Less Risky Than Daily Life, UNH Research Finds

DURHAM, N.H. – Adolescents participating in wilderness and adventure therapy programs are at significantly less risk of injury than those playing football and are three times less likely to visit the emergency room for an injury than if they were at home, a new study by University of New Hampshire researchers finds. These findings, based on an analysis of risk management data from 12 programs providing outdoor behavioral healthcare in 2011, were reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.

“After ‘does this program work?’, the question most asked by people considering adventure therapy is ‘will my child be safe?’” says Michael Gass, professor of outdoor education in the kinesiology department at UNH, who wrote the article with lead author Stephen Javorski, a UNH doctoral student. “While no one can guarantee the unconditional safety of any child, we can now show the relative risk levels for adolescents. This study shows there is actually less risk to participants on wilderness therapy programs, when they are conducted correctly, than to adolescents in their normal everyday activities.”

Adventure therapy, described as the prescriptive use of wilderness adventure experiences to improve the mental health of clients, primarily serves adolescents and is often seen as a treatment of “last resort” for these youth, who typically present with three or more dysfunctional behaviors such as depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideologies. Gass, a leading expert in the field, estimates that there are more than 200 such programs nationwide ranging from multimillion dollar programs to individual counselors who might informally take a group or class into the woods.

For this study, Gass and Javorski looked at incident and illness data collected by the 12 adventure therapy programs that comprise the Outdoor Behavioral Health Industry Council for 2011. Analyzing injuries that required a client be removed from regular programming for more than 24 hours – including injuries treated in the field as well as those that required evacuation to a medical facility — the adventure therapy programs had an injury rate of .11 injuries per 1,000 days in 2011, or one injury for every 9,091 client-days. The estimated national average rate of injuries for adolescents treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms was three times that rate (.38 per 1,000 days).

Adventure therapy programs boast even stronger safety records when compared to other common activities of adolescents. Injuries during high school football games are more than 140 times greater than those in adventure therapy programs, which boast lower injury rates than snowboarding, downhill skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, and football practice.

“I’m hoping that this research will counter the public perception that these programs are dangerous,” says Javorski. “Well-managed programs are not dangerous, they’re not exposing kids to undue risk, and they’re not overusing physical restraints.”

The researchers offer several reasons for the dramatic relative safety of these programs. As the field has developed, says Gass, risk management standards have improved; he notes that the programs in the OBHIC are among the leaders in the field. And our perception of risk colors how we view the risk of “everyday” activities.

“Driving a car is more dangerous than hiking in the wilderness, particularly with trained staff,” Gass says. “These programs remove adolescents from other accepted yet higher-risk situations like driving.”

What’s more, the effectiveness of these programs makes them not just safe but saviors to parents of the very troubled adolescent clients. “Many parents say, ‘this is the one thing that can save my child,’” Gass says. He and his colleagues are researching how and why adventure therapy works, but he is confident that their potency is at the intersection of adventure programming and therapy.

“The pill that we’re offering is the positive use of stress coated by appropriate levels of care and support,” says Gass, co-author of the leading academic and training text in the field, “Adventure Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice” (Routledge, 2012).

In response to the growth in the wilderness therapy field, UNH launched the nation’s first dual social work-outdoor education degree in 2009; the two-and-a-half-year program awards both a master’s in social work and a master’s in kinesiology. Graduates of the program, administered by Gass and Anita Tucker, assistant professor of social work, are all working in the expanding field of adventure therapy.

The member-programs of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council that provided incident data to this study are the Anasazi Foundation (Ariz.), Mountain Homes Youth Ranch (Utah), OMNI Youth Services (Ill.), Open Sky Wilderness Therapy (Colo.), Redcliff Ascent (Utah), Second Nature Cascades (Ore.), Second Nature Entrada (Ore.), Soltreks (Minn.), Summit Achievement (Maine), Legacy Outdoor Adventures (Utah), Outback Therapeutic Expeditions (Utah), and Wendigo Lake Expeditions: REACH (Ontario). This study was funded by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC).


Ten Years after; Gary Ferguson Interviews Former Wilderness Clients

Gary Ferguson’s Keynote speech given at the NATSAP 2008 conference in Savannah, Georgia.  In this address Gary shares the journey of the students who he wrote about in Shouting at the Sky, 10 years after they finished the program.

Gary Ferguson – Interviews Students From the Book 10 Years After AAA from Troy Faddis on Vimeo.