Turning the great outdoors into real therapy

Health | April 8, 2015

For the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, the outdoors is helping youth with mental illness recover.

At the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, teens between 16 and 18 are getting a taste of adventure in the form of outdoor recreation therapy. Project DARE is an innovative therapy program that uses a lifestyle approach to deliver recovery results. Our team is excited to be involved and see the benefits of taking therapy outside of the hospital. The program’s goal is to get youth struggling with mental illness out into the wilderness and provide therapy that will allow them to integrate back into their communities.

“A lot of kids don’t know their own strengths and weaknesses and don’t know what they do well and what they don’t do well. Creating confidence is a really big factor. Self-esteem is closely related to that. Self-awareness is another really big one,” said Stephan Clark, recreation therapist. “Our program highlights what they do well and their strengths, but it also allows them to work on areas of improvement without being too risky or too threatening to them.”

“It breaks down the barriers that we would regularly experience in an everyday social setting. There are no cliques when a group of kids get together and go whitewater rafting. There is just no time for that.”

Stephan Clark

In 2014, our Ottawa Community Board gave a $20,000 donation to the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. Supporting this program will have a positive impact, increase the likelihood of shorter hospital stays and empower youth struggling with mental illness. Our investment will fund a series of upcoming therapeutic trips for 80 to 100 youth.

The most important part of the rehabilitation process is ultimately moving you back to where you are from. That means getting more patients back to their schools, back to their work, back to their home life, and back to friends and family. It’s also about ensuring that the learned behavior found during the outdoors therapy translates into something that can carry on after the adventure is done. Once those skills are learned, like riding a bike, they can’t be forgotten.

“It’s a supportive environment, you can get better while you’re here but this isn’t where you live,” said Stephan. “Your life exists back in your different community – wherever you’re from, that is where your life is.”