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Posted July 22, 2003 

Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare
Research Cooperative (OBHRC)

Launches Second Research Study

Keith Russell, Ph.D., Graduate Program Coordinator
Outdoor Education, University of New Hampshire
603.862.3047, Fax: 603.862.0154

Interviewed Loi Eberle, M.A., Educational Consultant & Editor-in-Chief, Woodbury Reports, Inc.

[Keith 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 traditional approaches.

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 Hendee. 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 approaches.

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 its focus?

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 study examine?

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 patterns?

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 Gass, 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?

K: We soon will be providing information on our new website addresses, which will be promoted through the Woodbury Reports newsletter, their website, as well as through OBHIC’s current website. Past research reports are currently available ONLINE.

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