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Extreme sports therapy

They burst on the scene in the 1990s — brash, risky new sports and older activities done with a high-octane twist. Snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX riding, wakeboarding and similar pursuits became infused with a counterculture credo of making up rules and pushing the limits. But soon big business came courting the outlaw athletes. CBC Archives looks back at the recreation revolution and how savvy marketers helped push the extreme into the mainstream.

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Six women suffering from severe depression are seeking relief in an unusual place - on a steel cable six metres above the forest floor. In what may be a Canadian first, the Calgary Health Region is using adventure sports as a tool to treat people who often can't get out of bed. Therapist Allen Rees says the high-wire obstacle course is helping the women challenge their distorted views of themselves.

The women, all wearing safety harnesses, are realizing they have the power to change their lives and have new experiences, Rees says. Up on the cable, one woman cries with fear as she walks through the treetops clinging to a chest-high wire for stability. Below, the other women holler encouragement. Later, on the ground, the once-suicidal woman says her new friends' support buoyed her spirits. "If they think I'm worth saving," she says, "maybe I really am." 
• The adventure therapy program featured in this clip was developed by the University of Calgary and the Pacific Centre for Leadership. The concept grew from a single mental health patient who started using a climbing wall as part of his therapy in 1997.
. In this pilot project for the Calgary Health Region the women aged 30 to 56 hiked, trekked in the mountains and kayaked on a river for nine days over a three-week period.

• The second phase of the project, with six more women doing similar activities, finished in June 2005. The Calgary Health Region plans to offer the three-part program twice per year. Rees told the CBC in June 2005 that, so far, the results for the women involved have been "overwhelmingly positive."
• The project has only female subjects because researchers need a homogenous sample. In the area, more women than men are available with a diagnosis of depression.

• The invention of adventure therapy - the use of challenging experiences in natural environments to improve people's overall well-being - is credited to Kurt Hahn. In Wales in 1941 he founded the first Outward Bound school, combining education, wilderness skills, rescue training and social co-operation. Outward Bound later spread to six continents. The program is aimed mainly at young people.

• In the 1970s, health professionals began looking at how to use adventure or wilderness therapy in other ways. Variations of the program have been used to treat the mentally ill, cancer survivors, people with eating disorders and people with physical disabilities. An adventure therapy conference in Victoria in 2003 attracted about 300 delegates from around the world.

• Some health professionals argue that there can be an unhealthy link between extreme sports and mental health. So-called adrenaline junkies can become addicted to chemical reactions triggered in the brain by death-defying experiences, they say.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Sept. 8, 2004
Guest(s): Lorelei Hicks, Allen Rees, Janice Tunbridge
Reporter: Mike Vernon
Duration: 2:15

Last updated: May 15, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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