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Adventure Programming as a Therapeutic Intervention

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November 15-21, 2015 is National Addictions Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Addiction Matters,” drawing attention to substance abuse as a chronic health issue that impacts individuals, families and communities across Canada. BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS) is sharing stories of the amazing people who provide excellent care and support to clients, and growing awareness of BCMHSUS prevention, treatment and recovery programs and services.

Have you ever considered adventure-based programming as a therapeutic intervention? This is what one study out of the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (BCMHA) hopes to bring some light to.

BCMHA is a tertiary treatment facility for adults from across British Columbia living with concurrent mental illness and addiction. Since 2013, BCMHA and the Power To Be Adventure Therapy Society have been working in partnership to provide clients with the opportunity to participate in programs such as kayaking, snow shoeing, indoor rock climbing and hiking.

Power To Be is an innovative organization that provides nature-based adventure programs to youth and families in need of support in the greater Vancouver and Victoria areas.  Their caring staff, specialized equipment and network of community partners assist people living with a barrier or disability by strengthening connections with nature and finding inspiration through the discovery of limitless ability.

These adventure programs are offered to BCMHA clients who are showing great commitment to recovery and engagement in treatment. They provide an opportunity to empower and celebrate clients’ hard work and dedication to their recovery. One client spoke about his experience and reported, "It was an incredible day, I enjoyed everything about it. It was the best day I have in months and months.” This is one of many affirming and positive testimonials thus far.

Tiffany Stahle, a recreation therapist from BCMHA, and her team have been collecting data on these outings since Spring 2015 as part of a research study they received funding for through the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. With only a sample size of 11, they’ve already been able to detect some statistically significant findings on several key measures. In summary, clients are reporting they feel better about themselves and have less anxiety after participating in these outings.  One client reported, "I had anxiety before, on our way there, but since I jumped in and got on the water [kayaking], I just got calm.”

The study will be continued into the New Year, and hopes to demonstrate efficacy of adventure programming in improving the lives of individuals living with mental illness and addiction.
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