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FREE Eating Disorder Support Group!

FREE weekly eating disorder support group for adults struggling with food issues, staffed by therapists from Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers. For more information, call 520-546-3200 or email Ann at

photo of women backpacking in Aravaipa Canyon

Adventure-Based Therapy for Eating Disorders

Wilderness therapy — also known as adventure-based therapy or ABT — is a well-established intervention for a variety of psychological disorders including substance abuse, adjudicated youth, PTSD, depression and anxiety disorder. For the treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, the "gold standard" is generally cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). However, research conducted by Mirasol over the last four years has demonstrated that adventure-based therapy (ABT) is also highly effective in the treatment of eating disorders.

Women with eating disorders tend to be overly analytical, self-critical and completely dissociated from their bodies.

The goal of adventure-based therapy is to create unusual, physically and emotionally challenging circumstances that stimulate problem-solving and coping strategies. By requiring clients to work together to solve common problems, ABT also promotes the development of social skills and self-confidence.

"Women with eating disorders tend to be overly analytical, self-critical and completely dissociated from their bodies," says Mirasol Clinical Director Diane Ryan. "Wilderness puts them in a situation that requires risk-taking and problem-solving. And that's really what recovery is all about — getting out of your comfort zone."

Challenge courses, hiking hand other outdoor activities* have always been part of Mirasol's eating disorder treatment program. But in 2006, Ryan began adding wilderness experiences including camping, hiking and even caving. The response from clients and staff was overwhelmingly positive. More importantly, EEG brain maps and standard psychological tests demonstrated significant decreases in symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"There was a significant improvement in brain functioning for most participants, especially in the theta waves that are generally associated with anxiety," says Ryan. Most clients also reported a decrease in symptoms of depression and an increase in their ability to cope with stress, as measured by a Children's Depression Inventory (CDI) and Coping Skills Inventory (CSI) administered before and after the camping trips.

Experience the healing power of the desert on a winter camping trip »

*We provide each patient with an individualized treatment plan, carefully factoring in the nature of the eating disorder and the age and overall health of the client. Different forms of therapy will be combined concurrently or in sequence to achieve the desired goals. Clients may or may not experience all of the different therapies that Mirasol offers based on their individual needs and treatment goals.