Wilderness Therapy Research

Outdoor Behavior Health Industry Council (OBHIC)

As a member of the Outdoor Behavior Health Industry Council (OBHIC), The Journey, along with several other top wilderness programs in the industry, participates in on-going wilderness research projects. Outcome studies have shown that wilderness therapy is an effective treatment modality for adolescents.

The following article is one of the most recent research studies:





Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative
Accident Rates/Trends in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC) programs
November 1, 2012


Public perception of outdoor behavioral healthcare programs can be misconstrued as dangerous and unsafe. This perception can often be linked to a lack of knowledge regarding this innovative method of treatment, unfamiliarity with the extensive risk management techniques used in such programs, the inappropriate practices of less developed yet seemingly similar programs, and the vulnerable and problematic states of many of its clients. While no treatment can guarantee the total safety of any child, adolescents participating in OBHIC programs are actually at less risk than adolescents not participating in these programs. (Gass, Gillis, & Russell, 2012). In fact, in 2011 OBHIC program clients were three times less likely to go to a medical emergency room for an injury than if they were at home. Risk management data has been collected on OBHIC programs for the past 11 years, the longest operating multi-program database in the fields of behavioral healthcare or adventure programming.

The following graph illustrates the comparison of OBHIC injury rates to those of other common activities. One example comparison is that injuries during high school football games are over 140 times greater than injuries experienced in OBHIC programs:


OBHIC Client Injury Data

Organizational members of OBHIC served 1,230 clients in 2011, resulting in 70,028 annual client field days and 30,001 annual guide field days in 2011. When injuries requiring OBHIC clients be removed from regular programming for 24 hours or more were counted (including some treated in the field as well as those who were evacuated to emergency rooms/medical attention), the OBHIC injury rate was 0.11 per 1000 days in 2011, or one injury requiring medical attention for every 9,091 client days. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the national average rate of injuries for adolescents treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms was 0.38 per 1000 days in 2010 (WISQARS, 2011). Therefore, in 2011, OBHIC program clients were about three times less likely to go to a medical emergency room for an injury than if they were at home.

Further information on OBHIC Client Illnesses, Therapeutic Holds, and Restraints

The total client illness rate for OBHIC programs was the lowest it has been since data collection began in 2001, at 0.26 illnesses per 1000 client field days, or one illness for every 3846 client days of programming. On average, illness rates have shown a downward trend since 2001, suggesting that OBHRC member programs continue to be on the forefront of improving healthy living and sanitation practices with clients in the field each year.

The OBHRC therapeutic hold and restraint rate continued to decrease for the fifth consecutive year in 2011, dropping to 1.31 per 1000 client field days, or 1 hold for every 763 client days of programming. For comparison, the average adolescent in US inpatient mental health services was about four and a half times as likely to be restrained as an OBHRC client in 2010 (NASMHPDRI, 2010), while adolescents in inpatient treatment in Ohio were 26 times as likely to be restrained as OBHRC clients in 2010.

Gass, M. A., Gillis, H. L., & Russell, K. (2012). Adventure therapy: Theory, research, & practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
WISQARS. (2011). Overall all injury causes nonfatal injuries and rates per 100,000: 2010, United States, all races, both sexes, ages 13-21. Washington, D.C.: Office of Statistics and Programming, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.
NASMHPDRI. (2010). National Public Rates – Age stratification report restraint hours. National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute.

OBHIC programs include the following organizations: Anasazi Foundation, Legacy Outdoor Adventures, Mountain Homes Youth Ranch, OMNI Youth Services, Open Sky Wilderness Therapy, Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, Redcliff Ascent, Second Nature Cascades, Second Nature Entrada, Soltreks, Summit Achievement, and Wendigo Lake Expeditions.

For further information go to: www.obhrc.org/risk-management

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