We commit ourselves individually and collectively to work continuously and sincerely to improve outdoor treatment in our own programs and to share information with our colleagues and to help them with their improvement efforts.

Defining Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare

Outdoor behavioral healthcare (OBH) evolved from wilderness therapy (WT) and offers an integrative wilderness experience with therapeutic techniques and interventions that are delivered by not just clinical staff, but also those who are trained to support clients on a daily basis and bridge care.

In their article, The value of outdoor behavioral healthcare for adolescent substance users with comorbid conditions, Gass et al. define outdoor behavioral healthcare (OBH) as “a 24-hour intermediate outdoor group living environment that includes group, individual, and family therapy. These therapies are designed to address behavioral and emotional issues by utilizing treatment modalities centered on nature, challenging experiences combined with reflection/mindfulness, interpersonal development, and intrapersonal growth” (Gass, et. al., 2019).

Roberts et al. explains that OBH is a “unique specialty treatment modality” and it often refers to wilderness or adventure therapy and “utilized the inherent value of contact with nature to promote health combined with therapeutic programming, group living and trained staff” (Roberts et al., 2016). These definitions show the growth the field has had in the past few decades as research scientists in the early 2000s acknowledged a lack of consistency in defining this modality (Russell, 2000).

While most of the OBH Council's member programs are wilderness programs, we recognize that OBH isn't just wilderness. Our geography plays a role, and OBH may be done in urban areas through community-based programs too.

There can be confusion between OBH, experiential education, adventure and challenge courses because all take place outdoors and utilize nature in some capacity. However, OBH may include experiential learning, taking calculated risks and implementing adventure or excursions, but not all experiential learning, adventure or excursions incorporates clinical therapy.

To learn more about experiential education, please check out the Association for Experiential Education (AEE), who also manages the dual AEE-OBH accreditation.


Gass, M., Wilson, T., Talbot, B., Tucker, A., Ugianskis, M., & Brennan, N. (2019). The Value of Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare for Adolescent Substance Users with Comorbid Conditions. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 1-8.

Roberts, S. D., Stroud, D., Hoag, M. J., & Combs, K. M. (2016). Outdoor Behavioral Health Care: Client and Treatment Characteristics Effects on Young Adult Outcomes. Journal of Experiential Education, 288-302.

Russell, K. C. (2001). What is Wilderness Therapy? The Journal of Experiential Education, 70-79.

The modality of outdoor behavioral healthcare, more commonly known as OBH, has evolved greatly. Even in the past decade, we've seen changes to legislation and practice.

The OBH Council members believe outdoor treatment is a highly effective form of treatment for most adolescent and young adult behavioral and emotional health conditions.