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Brain Food: Recovery and Wild Places


Being in nature can be therapeutic. It can clear your mind, soothe your soul, and even help you stay sober. Adventure therapy is at the heart of many addiction recovery programs in Arizona. It’s a unique form of psychotherapy that draws people from all over the world to heal in beautiful landscapes of the Southwest. 

Kelly McGrath is the Outdoor Director at Back2Basics in Flagstaff. Today, she’s on a hike in Sedona’s red rocks with a group of clients. McGrath reflects on the power of wild places in relation to her own recovery.

“The wilderness and being outdoors saved my life, Grand Canyon specifically and has allowed me to be more comfortable in my own skin. I think there’s always work to be done on being a better person and figuring things out, but it’s allowed me to gain confidence and a better understanding of people and I think of myself more than anything,” she says.

Credit Back2Basics
A Back2Basics group hikes the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon.

McGrath says the openness of nature complements the feelings involved in recovery: being honest, centered and meditative. Twenty-five-year-old Mike from Maryland tried multiple detox centers before coming to Arizona for treatment. He says the outdoor component is making all the difference this time.

“I get to hike in the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Phoenix, wherever it may be and it’s like relaxing. It shows me that there’s more to life than drugs and alcohol. It pushes me to new limits to do something that I didn’t think I could do before, but I know I’m capable of. So it’s kind of like a mental and physical, like, pushing myself to do something better,” he says.

A growing body of research indicates positive long-term outcomes for recovering addicts in Adventure therapy programs, including increased self-esteem, decreased depression, positive behavioral changes and healthier relationships.

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