Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare
Launches Second Research Study
Russell, Ph.D., Graduate Program Coordinator
Outdoor Education, University of New Hampshire
603.862.3047, Fax: 603.862.0154
Eberle, M.A., Educational Consultant & Editor-in-Chief, Woodbury Reports, Inc.
Russell, Ph.D. is leader and principal investigator
of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research
Cooperative (OBHRC), which was established in
1999 as a collaboration between the Outdoor Behavioral
Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC) and the University
of Idaho. For more information
about the work of OBHRC, contact Dr. Keith Russell at the
above email or telephone, or write: Keith Russell, Ph.D.,
Graduate Program Coordinator, Outdoor Education, New Hampshire
Hall, 124 Main St., Durham, NH 03824].
L: Keith, what exactly is Outdoor
Behavioral Health (OBH)?
K: OBH is an emerging treatment modality in mental health
practice that is used with adolescents who have emotional,
behavioral, psychological, and substance use disorders. OBH
programs are becoming increasingly popular, as I described
in my article, “A nationwide survey of OBH Programs,” that
was published this year in the Journal of Experiential
Education, 25, 3, 322-331.
L: Why do you think OBH is becoming more popular?
K: Because it is an effective way to enhance existing treatment
approaches. OBH uses a wilderness challenge model that provides
an alternative for resistant adolescents who are unwilling
to commit to treatment due to the stigma associated with
L: So in other words, you are saying that for a teenager,
being challenged in the outdoors could seem somewhat more
exhilarating than sitting in an office on the “therapists’
couch”. But are people in the therapeutic community willing
to accept OBH, or what I’ve heard humorously called, “hoods
in the woods”, as a treatment modality?
K: Well, OBH is actually regarded more as a type of treatment
program, similar to outpatient treatment or residential treatment,
rather than a treatment approach, such as family therapy,
cognitive-behavioral therapy, wilderness therapy, or adventure
therapy. OBH is a relatively new term that grew out of the
formation of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council
(OBHIC) in 1996, in association with Professor John
The term was developed by practitioners to more accurately
depict the range of treatment programs for adolescents that
utilize wilderness and adventure therapy in their treatment
L: People are always asking me, “Do these wilderness programs
actually work?” In the past there was only anecdotal evidence
about their effectiveness, along with occasional outcome
studies that were essentially self-evaluations, where it
was difficult to avoid bias. Could you explain how OBHRC’s
research is different from these earlier, more informal studies?
K: The mission of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research
Cooperative (OBHRC) is to conduct rigorous evaluative research
for outdoor treatment programs to improve safety, delivery,
and outcomes from outdoor treatment. The OBHRC has a national
peer review committee that reviews proposals, research methods,
ethical conduct, and results. Information is disseminated
through research reports and peer-reviewed journal articles
in leading outdoor education and healthcare academic journals.
L: What was OBHRC’s first research study?
K: OBHRC conducted their first study as a pre-post, repeated
measure, research design to assess general treatment outcomes
on a census of clients at ten-participating OBH programs.
Using the Youth Outcome Questionnaire (Y-OQ) for assessment,
this study showed that that eighty-three percent (83%) of
parents perceived their children’s clinical symptoms as improved
as a result of OBH treatment. Also, adolescent client discharge
scores were on average close to scores obtained from normal
populations of adolescents. Perhaps more importantly, 12-month
follow-up scores showed that clients, on average, had maintained
their treatment outcomes and were doing well one-year later.
I think this study suggested that OBH treatment can be very
effective for this population of adolescents, but as with
all good evaluative research, it generated more questions
that hopefully our next study will help address.
L: When are you starting the next study, and what will be
K: Actually, OBHRC just started their second study on June
20, 2003. This 18-month study will examine the relationship
between treatment processes and specific outcomes associated
with levels of depression and substance use. Ten program
members of OBHRC are participating in the study: The Anasazi
Foundation (Mesa, AZ), Aspen Achievement Academy (Loa, UT),
Ascent (Naples, ID), Catherine Freer Wilderness Expeditions
(Albany, OR), OMNI Youth Services, (Buffalo Grove, IL), RedCliff
Ascent (Springvale, UT) SUWS (Gooding, ID) and Wilderness
Quest (Monticello, UT).
L: What treatment processes and specific outcomes will this
K: Important questions to be addressed in the current study
include: How do client stages of readiness to change affect
treatment outcomes? What specific aspects of treatment affect
outcomes for clients? How does OBH treatment affect levels
of depression? How does OBH treatment affect substance use
L: I understand that you will be moving from the University
of Idaho. Will this affect OBHRC’s viability?
K: As of August 1st, 2003, the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare
Research Cooperative will be moving to the University
of New Hampshire, where I will become the Graduate Coordinator
of the Outdoor Education Program in the College
of Health and Human Services. I think Dr. Rob
Cooley, Chairman of the
Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council has summarized
my feelings when he stated that “The move to the University
of New Hampshire will only increase the capacity of OBHRC.
It will allow OBHRC to work more closely with Dr. Mike
a leader in the field of outdoor education and treatment,
who will co-chair the OBHRC steering committee, and it will
allow for increased contact with other highly regarded faculty
in the College of Health and Human Services.”
L: Where can we learn more about OBHCR’s research?
soon will be providing information on our new website
addresses, which will be promoted through the Woodbury
newsletter, their www.strugglingteens.com website, as
well as through OBHIC’s
current website. Past research reports are currently