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It didn’t make much sense to her: whitewater rafting with her family didn’t seem like it was going to solve any of their problems. At the end of the trip, her father was still going to be a problem drinker, her mother would still be a passive-aggressive enabler, her brother would still be a drug addict, and Ali would still be the glue, the strong one who never lets her weaknesses show. What is adventure based counseling and what good could a little adventure trip do to mend such a broken family?

But then it happened. The waves started crashing over the raft, violently tossed back and forth, narrowly avoiding rocks that were coming out of nowhere. For the first time in many years, Ali felt like she couldn’t keep it all together. Her fear paralyzed her, and she clutched her oar so tight that it made indents in the foam handles.

Then she saw something incredible: her brother, the apathetic, anti-social, pot-smoking high school drop-out was taking control, reminding her to breathe and push away from the rocks as they go by. Her father, for the first time since she was a little girl, gently told her “It’s going to be ok, sweetie.” She had never seen her family work together like this before.

After the rafting trip, the counselor debriefed with her family, and Ali realized something that would change her life forever: she doesn’t always have to be the glue. She learned, through individual sessions, what some of her fears were, and that there are people out there with whom she can share and be vulnerable. She learned, among other things, to trust. As it turns out, going whitewater rafting with her family actually did make an impact on Ali’s family. 

What is Adventure Based Counseling?

adventure based counseling

Learn what is adventure based counseling with Pacific Quest.

The above story is an example of an experience a family might go through in Adventure Based Counseling (ABC). According to Bradford Woods (, Adventure Based Counseling is “a group-based, adventure-based approach to personal development and therapeutic activity [which] relies on people exposing themselves to perceived physical, emotional and social risks.”

Ways Adventure Based Counseling Works:

  • Metaphor: Adventure based counseling “emphasizes metaphor, and seeks to transfer insights gained through experiential activities to participant’s everyday life” (Flethcer & Hinkle, 2002).
  • Full Value Contract (FVC): “basic, agreed principles of engagement are shared by the group” (
  • Briefing and Debriefing: A group facilitator introduces the activity and then debriefs and points out pertinent things that he or she noticed during the activity that might have deeper application.
  • Challenge by Choice: “participants are invited to participate voluntarily in each of the various activities and challenges of an ABC program.” (
  • Outdoors: Generally, Adventure Based Counseling is based in an outdoor wilderness therapy setting, such as Pacific Quest’s organic garden in Hawaii.

Yes, What is Adventure Based Counseling…But here is what it is NOT:

  • A fun adventure: Although ABC might include fun activities, the purpose is to use these experiences to bring about psychological healing.
  • Vacation: Because of the nature (pun intended) of adventure based counseling, many programs that incorporate these principles are located in beautiful vacation destinations. However, they are designed to use metaphors found in nature to gain insight into clients’ personal lives. They are not meant to be an escape from normal life.
  • Boot Camp: Adventure Based Counseling is designed to push participants to certain limits; however, it is not intended to intimidate or coerce them into doing something out of fear.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything to help your struggling adolescent to no avail, research and experience has shown that a program which incorporates adventure based counseling could be the answer. According to Bradford Woods, several bodies of research have shown that adventure based activities increase self-esteem, improve behavior, and affect attitudes of young people in a positive way.

One study even found that changes made in adventure based counseling programs were more “stable over time than the changes generated in more traditional educational programs” (Elliott & Pieper, 2012). This lasting change comes partially from students being allowed the space and time to discover their place in the world.

What is Adventure Based Counseling at Pacific Quest?

At Pacific Quest, our extremely dedicated staff gently lead students to self discovery that will result in lasting changes in their lives through meaningful outdoor wilderness activities. Pacific Quest was created as a program that “resonates with students” in a way that is very different from traditional therapy methods. One of the unique aspects of our program is the intentional wilderness activities using adventure based counseling principles.

Like Ali, who discovered life-changing revelations through her adventure with her family, your struggling adolescent could begin to find his or her place in the world in the peaceful wilderness of Pacific Quest.

Feel free to contact us with any of your questions and to set up a consultation on our office line, 808-937-5806, or email us.

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