Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare

What is Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare?

Also known as Adventure Therapy or Wilderness Therapy

This is a mental health treatment modality that combines ecotherapy, experiential education, outdoor recreation, and mental health counseling to meet client treatment goals. Wilderness/adventure therapy programs are accredited by the OBHC and the adventure therapists who work in these programs are mental health practitioners (social workers, addiction counselors, marriage/family counselors, psychologists) who have received specialized training in experiential outdoor education.

Is there a certification for Adventure therapists?

For mental health practitioners eligible for a state mental health license, there is the AEE Adventure Therapy Certification

Are there any professional organizations?

Adventure Therapy Collective
AEE Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group
International Adventure Therapy
National Association of Therapeutic Schools & Programs

Who accredits outdoor behavioral healthcare programs?

Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council

Which research journals and organizations are associated with this field?

Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning
Journal of Experiential Education
Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership
Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center

Where can I earn a degree in OBHC?

University of New Hampshire– Dual degree MSW+Outdoor Education
University of St. Francis– BS in Adventure-Based Recreation Therapy

Looking for employment?

Backdoor Jobs


Becker, S. P. (2010). Wilderness Therapy: Ethical Considerations for Mental Health Professionals. Child & Youth Care Forum, 39(1), 47–61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-009-9085-7

Bettmann, J. E., Gillis, H. L., Speelman, E. A., Parry, K. J., & Case, J. M. (2016). A Meta-analysis of Wilderness Therapy Outcomes for Private Pay Clients. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(9), 2659–2673. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-016-0439-0

Bettmann, J. E., Tucker, A., Behrens, E., & Vanderloo, M. (2017). Changes in Late Adolescents and Young Adults’ Attachment, Separation, and Mental Health During Wilderness Therapy. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(2), 511–522. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-016-0577-4

Bolt, K. L. (2016). Descending from the Summit: Aftercare Planning for Adolescents in Wilderness Therapy. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(1), 62–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-016-9375-9

Bowen, D. J., Neill, J. T., & Crisp, S. J. R. (2016). Wilderness adventure therapy effects on the mental health of youth participants. Evaluation and Program Planning, 58, 49–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.05.005

Coll, PhD, K. M., Sass, EdD, M., Freeman, PhD, B. J., Thobro, MS, P., & Hauser, MSW, N. (2017). The value of therapeutic outdoor programs with adolescents in a rural residential treatment center: A pilot study. American Journal of Recreation Therapy, 12(4), 25. https://doi.org/10.5055/ajrt.2013.0055

Dobud, W. W., & Harper, N. J. (2018). Of Dodo birds and common factors: A scoping review of direct comparison trials in adventure therapy. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 31, 16–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.01.005

Fernee, C. R., Gabrielsen, L. E., Andersen, A. J. W., & Mesel, T. (2017). Unpacking the Black Box of Wilderness Therapy. Qualitative Health Research, 27(1), 114–129. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732316655776

Fernee, C. R., Mesel, T., Andersen, A. J. W., & Gabrielsen, L. E. (2019). Therapy the Natural Way: A Realist Exploration of the Wilderness Therapy Treatment Process in Adolescent Mental Health Care in Norway. Qualitative Health Research, 29(9), 1358–1377. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732318816301

Gabrielsen, L. E., Fernee, C. R., Aasen, G. O., & Eskedal, L. T. (2016). Why Randomized Trials Are Challenging Within Adventure Therapy Research. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(1), 5–14. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825915607535

Gabrielsen, L. E., Harper, N. J., & Fernee, C. R. (2019). What are constructive anxiety levels in wilderness therapy? An exploratory pilot study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 37(August), 51–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2019.08.007

Gillis, H. L., Speelman, E., Linville, N., Bailey, E., Kalle, A., Oglesbee, N., … Jensen, J. (2016). Meta-analysis of Treatment Outcomes Measured by the Y-OQ and Y-OQ-SR Comparing Wilderness and Non-wilderness Treatment Programs. Child & Youth Care Forum, 45(6), 851–863. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-016-9360-3

Harper, N. J., Mott, A. J., & Obee, P. (2019). Client perspectives on wilderness therapy as a component of adolescent residential treatment for problematic substance use and mental health issues. Children and Youth Services Review, 105(August), 104450. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.104450

Hoag, M. J., Massey, K. E., & Roberts, S. D. (2014). Dissecting the Wilderness Therapy Client. Journal of Experiential Education, 37(4), 382–396. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825914540837

Jong, M. C., Lown, A., Schats, W., Otto, H. R., & Jong, M. (2019). Mapping the concept, content and outcome of wilderness therapy for childhood cancer survivors: protocol for a scoping review. BMJ Open, 9(8), e030544. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2019-030544

Magle-Haberek, N. A., Tucker, A. R., & Gass, M. A. (2012). Effects of Program Differences With Wilderness Therapy and Residential Treatment Center (RTC) Programs. Residential Treatment For Children & Youth, 29(3), 202–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/0886571X.2012.697433

Russell, K., & Gillis, H. L. (Lee). (2017). The Adventure Therapy Experience Scale: The Psychometric Properties of a Scale to Measure the Unique Factors Moderating an Adventure Therapy Experience. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(2), 135–152. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825917690541

Steele, E., Wood, D. S., J Usadi, E., & Applegarth, D. M. (2018). TRR’s Warrior Camp: An Intensive Treatment Program for Combat Trauma in Active Military and Veterans of All Eras. Military Medicine, 183(suppl_1), 403–407. https://doi.org/10.1093/milmed/usx153

Tucker, A., Norton, C. L., DeMille, S. M., & Hobson, J. (2016). The Impact of Wilderness Therapy. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(1), 15–30. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825915607536

Tucker, A. R. (2009). Adventure-based group therapy to promote social skills in adolescents. Social Work with Groups, 32(4), 315–329. https://doi.org/10.1080/01609510902874594

Tucker, A. R., Combs, K. M., Bettmann, J. E., Chang, T.-H., Graham, S., Hoag, M., & Tatum, C. (2018). Longitudinal Outcomes for Youth Transported to Wilderness Therapy Programs. Research on Social Work Practice, 28(4), 438–451. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049731516647486

Tucker, A. R., Javorski, S., Tracy, J., & Beale, B. (2013). The Use of Adventure Therapy in Community-Based Mental Health: Decreases in Problem Severity Among Youth Clients. Child & Youth Care Forum, 42(2), 155–179. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-012-9190-x

Tucker, A. R., Norton, C. L., Itin, C., Hobson, J., & Alvarez, M. A. (2016). Adventure Therapy: Nondeliberative Group Work in Action. Social Work with Groups, 39(2–3), 194–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/01609513.2015.1048416

Tucker, A. R., Widmer, M. A., Faddis, T., Randolph, B., & Gass, M. (2016). Family Therapy in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare: Current Practices and Future Possibilities. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-015-9370-6

Vankanegan, C., Tucker, A. R., Mcmillion, P., Gass, M., & Spencer, L. (2019). Adventure therapy and its impact on the functioning of youth in a community setting. Social Work with Groups, 42(2), 127–141. https://doi.org/10.1080/01609513.2018.1478761

Woodford, K. M., Fenton, L., & Connors, J. (2017). A Change of Scenery: Wilderness Therapy Treatment for Inpatients in Acute Care. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 51(4), 258–273. https://doi.org/10.18666/TRJ-2017-V51-I4-7374