Just Another Approach: New Zealand Occupational Therapists' Use of Adventure Therapy

Helen Jeffery
2 December 2014


Jeffery, H. (2014). Just Another Approach: New Zealand Occupational Therapists' Use of Adventure Therapy (A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree Master of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand). [PDF 2.216MB]


Adventure therapy is an intervention increasingly used in facilities providing services for people wishing to make psychological change, most commonly adolescents and young adults. This research explores New Zealand occupational therapists' use of adventure therapy to ascertain the fit between occupational therapy as a profession and adventure therapy as it is known in New Zealand.

This was a qualitative descriptive study designed to capture the perspectives of New Zealand occupational therapists who utilise adventure therapy in their work. The practice and use of theory of seven therapists recruited through snowballing was explored through semi-structured interviews. Data analysis revealed therapists believe there are many features of adventure therapy theory and practice that are shared with occupational therapy as well as many differences. Occupational therapists can actively manage the differences between the two fields to ensure they are using adventure therapy appropriately in their occupational therapy work.

Adventure therapy's use of activity as therapeutic intervention is different from occupational therapy's broader holistic view of the individual as an occupational being. Participants' observations and the literature reviewed describe adventure therapy using prescribed and unfamiliar activities in novel environments to provide challenge with an element of perceived risk. The intent is to allow the client to develop insight into their usual, possibly maladaptive, responses to challenge and try new ways of responding. Occupational therapy in contrast generally focuses on the client's everyday activities in familiar environments, has a more pragmatic approach and works on real life problems. In occupational therapy intervention, engagement in the activity may be viewed as a therapy in itself, whereas in adventure therapy debriefing the activity is an essential component of the process. Adventure therapy is often directed at the group as a whole, whereas occupational therapy will have more of an emphasis on the individuals, even within settings where groups are facilitated.

Theoretical concepts and practice in the two fields are based on shared beliefs on the therapeutic use of activity and the influence of occupation and environment on health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists can use adventure therapy as an approach in similar ways that they use other approaches to occupational therapy intervention. Occupational therapists bring specialist knowledge and skills in activity analysis and adaption, and in understanding the individuals overall environment which increases potential for transfer of learning.

Occupational therapists are well positioned to use adventure therapy as it is known and practiced in New Zealand. It is recommended that occupational therapists be explicit to employing facilities about the similarities and differences between the two fields, and claim the additional expertise that occupational therapists have in using adventure therapy as an approach. Occupational therapists can consider adventure therapy as a legitimate approach to intervention or tool that they can use enhanced by additional theoretical knowledge about experiential learning and either training in the adventure activity skills or partnership with qualified adventure activity instructors.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution licence CC BY 4.0 International. 

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