Happiness capacity

Adventure therapists are helping young people move from surviving to thriving.

Positive psychology focuses on what makes people flourish and thrive. One of the founders of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, has developed a five element model of psychological wellbeing and happiness, called PERMA:

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishments

Helen Jeffery, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy and an adventure therapy expert, has applied the PERMA model to adventure therapy. Adventure therapists often work with young people whose start in life has been unfortunate and possibly even traumatic, with implications for their ability to concentrate, to trust, to manage their emotions, and to feel positive. Working with a group of young people in the outdoors over several hours or even days, for example, provides an opportunity for therapists to model, discuss and promote the five elements of the PERMA model naturally. 

For example, building a raft together has meaning if the objective is to carry everyone in the group across a river, and once successfully achieved that creates a sense of accomplishment. Relationships form and are strengthened between both therapist and group members, and between group members. By facilitating reflection on the group's experiences, the therapist can help young people identify other times and activities that make them feel like this, and encourage them to do more of what works for them to feel successful and positive.

Helen has introduced the PERMA model to adventure therapy practitioners at a conference. It is a useful evidence-based framework to enhance their practice and fits well with adventure therapy practitioners' strengths-based focus and ethos around developing resilience through successful healthful experiences.

November 2020