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New Study: An Investigation into the Effects of a Wilderness Program on Veterans’ Psychosocial Functioning

Principal Investigator (PI) / Project Lead:


Funding Organization:

Sierra Club

Project Period:

1/1/2019 – 8/15/2021

Total Funding:


Project Status:



Project Description:

The purpose of this study is to assess the outcomes of veterans who participate in the expeditions as a part of Sierra Club Military Outdoors (SCMO) expeditions program. The dilemma between the need for effective mental health treatment for veterans and their reluctance to engage in traditional treatment modalities for fear of stigma warrants further investigation into alternative modes of reaching veterans. Though therapeutic adventure shows promise as a way to engage veterans and enact positive changes in functioning, little is known about how therapeutic adventure may impact mental health symptoms and psychological processes among veterans. Thus, this study aims to examine changes in mental health symptoms and related psychological processes over the course of an expedition-length SCMO program and at a one-month and one-year follow-up.



Mental illness among veterans is a significant issue. More than a third of veterans who entered Veterans Affairs (VA) services between 2002 and 2008 received a mental health diagnosis (Seal et al., 2009). In one study, 25.8% of all VA primary care clients screened positive for at least one mental health diagnosis (Trivedi et al., 2015). Depression was the most prevalent condition (13.5%), followed by PTSD (9.3%), substance abuse disorders (8.3%), anxiety disorders (4.8%), and other mental illnesses (3.7%) (Trivedi et al, 2015). Other studies place the rate of depression among veterans between 15%-20% (Mustillo et al., 2015; Seal et al., 2009).

In recent decades, the rise of nature-based interventions has provided an avenue of psychosocial support for veterans (Harper, Norris, & D’astous, 2014; Poulsen, Stigsdotter, & Refshage, 2015; Scheinfeld, Rochlen, & Russell, 2016). Receiving treatment in outdoor contexts may lessen the stigma associated with mental illness and promote open communication among veteran participants (Harper et al., 2014). Veterans may link the natural landscapes to those that they have encountered while deployed, eliciting emotions and facilitating extinction of traumatic memories associated with deployment experiences by allowing veterans to share and process those experiences safely (Duvall & Kaplan, 2014; Harper et al., 2014). SCMO serves an important population in need. Assessing its outcomes helps to cement its role as a critical player who assists veterans in need. This study aims to be the first randomized control design research ever completed on the SCMO program. Thus, the study could establish conclusively the impact of the program on its participants.

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Last Updated: 2/2/22