Graduate Programs in Outdoor Therapy

Outdoor therapy utilizes experiences in wilderness settings to explore and address behavioral and mental health issues. This specialized field may appeal to psychology majors, mental health care professionals, and those interested in the human connection to the natural world. Keep reading to learn more details about graduate programs in this sphere. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Introduction to Outdoor Therapy

Also known as outdoor behavioral healthcare, outdoor therapy incorporates activities in nature to improve mental health and correct negative behaviors, while helping participants learn to build trust, foster healthy relationships, have confidence, and gain intrapersonal skills. Graduate programs in this field are commonly offered as a 2-3 year master's degree or as a graduate certificate, in which students often complete the following types of classes.

Psychology Courses

Psychology is a broad field and courses may encompass abnormal psychology and child psychology. Such a foundation is crucial for outdoor therapists as they often work with adolescent clients who have mental health issues. Specialized courses specific to outdoor therapy may include ecopsychology, which concerns the human connection to the environment.

Social Work Courses

Social work courses are designed to prepare students to practice social work, emphasizing treatment models that help individuals, their families, organizations, and communities. Subjects include health/mental health and substance abuse/addictions. Some social work programs provide students with clinical licensure, which may be preferred or required for certain occupations.

Outdoor/Nature Education

Teaching about nature and outdoor activities is crucial for clients' safety, comfort, enjoyment, and the effectiveness of outdoor therapy treatment. These courses may include skills courses in specific activities (like ropes courses), or courses about wildlife, plants, and the wilderness environment. Outdoor education courses may lead students to seek related certifications, such as Wilderness First Aid, to further benefit them while seeking employment.

Internships

Internships allow students to gain real-life, hands-on experience in community and professional settings to prepare them for the workplace. Internships vary in length and may be paid or unpaid (credit only). They may be offered through university programs and partnerships or by outside businesses and organizations.

Wilderness Immersion Experiences

In order to effectively practice outdoor therapy, students must spend extended time in the outdoors. These experiences often take place in remote locations such as the backwoods of Colorado, teaching survival skills, camping, hiking, and more. Such programs can build the strengths needed to lead such programs in the future and provide a model for the treatment modality.

Outdoor Therapy Versus Similar Fields

While outdoor therapy sounds fun and exciting, there are very important differences between outdoor therapy, wilderness experience programs, and adventure therapy. It is vital for prospective outdoor therapy students to understand how these programs differ to ensure education is received in the appropriate subjects.

Outdoor Therapy Programs

Outdoor therapy programs are licensed by a state agency. A licensed mental health professional must be present, who supervises the program and works directly with participants. Ultimately, an outdoor therapy program must be able to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and offer personalized treatment plans for participants that are overseen by mental health professionals.

Wilderness Experience Programs

Wilderness experience programs are designed to build positive traits and create a special immersive experience for participants. Though the activities offered are similar to those in outdoor therapy, wilderness experience programs offer a more reflective, character-building format rather than a clinical focus. Unfortunately, some wilderness experience programs may advertise themselves as therapy, but do not possess the professional licensure and clinical supervision of actual outdoor/wilderness therapy programs.

Adventure Therapy

'Adventure therapy' is often used interchangeably with wilderness or outdoor therapy, but there are a few differences. Adventure therapy focuses on active physical pursuits such as cycling, rock climbing, kayaking, and ropes courses, and undertaking risk is considered a major part of the therapeutic process. While activities like expeditions and honing survival skills are crucial to outdoor therapy, risk is not a determining factor in program treatment outcomes.

Admissions Requirements for Graduate Programs in Outdoor Therapy

Outdoor therapy graduate programs may require a high GPA, GRE scores, and additional application items. A bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, or counseling might help to qualify students for outdoor therapy graduate programs. Those applicants may be permitted to enroll in advanced standing or accelerated programs. If you don't have a relevant bachelor's degree, you may likely have to take additional classes in psychology, statistics, and other prerequisite subjects.

Graduate programs in outdoor therapy may appeal to psychology majors, current or aspiring mental healthcare professionals, and those with a love for the outdoors. The admissions requirements and courses differ between universities, but the well-rounded curricula may prepare students for a career in psychology, social work, counseling, environmental work, education, or leadership.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Walden University

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  • Grand Canyon University

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  • Colorado Christian University

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  • Southern New Hampshire University

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  • Regent University

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  • Capella University

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  • Liberty University

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  • The Chicago School

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