A Meta-Analysis of Adventure Therapy Outcomes and Moderators

Daniel J. Bowen*, James T. Neill
Centre for Applied Psychology, University of Canberra, Australia

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© 2013 Bowen and Neill et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Centre for Applied Psychology, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Allawoona St, Bruce, ACT, 2601, Australia; Tel: + 61 2 6201 5513; Fax: + 61 2 6201 5753; E-mails:,


This study reports on a meta-analytic review of 197 studies of adventure therapy participant outcomes (2,908 effect sizes, 206 unique samples). The short-term effect size for adventure therapy was moderate (g = .47) and larger than for alternative (.14) and no treatment (.08) comparison groups. There was little change during the lead-up (.09) and follow- up periods (.03) for adventure therapy, indicating long-term maintenance of the short-term gains. The short-term adventure therapy outcomes were significant for seven out of the eight outcome categories, with the strongest effects for clinical and self-concept measures, and the smallest effects for spirituality/morality. The only significant moderator of outcomes was a positive relationship with participant age. There was also evidence that adventure therapy studies have reported larger effects over time since the 1960s. Publication bias analyses indicated that the study may slightly underestimate true effects. Overall, the findings provide the most robust meta-analysis of the effects of adventure therapy to date. Thus, an effect size of approximately .5 is suggested as a benchmark for adventure therapy programs, although this should be adjusted according to the age group.

Keywords: Adventure therapy, meta-analysis, program evaluation, treatment effectiveness.