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nature-based recreational therapy, outdoor therapy, veterans, post traumatic stress disorder, Hawkin’s Model

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A growing body of evidence highlights the benefits of recreational outdoor therapy for veterans experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder. We employed the Hawkins Model for “Nature as Strengths-based Recreational Therapy Intervention for Military Members” to assess the Swamp Apes/Volunteer Wilderness Alliance (SA/VWA) in South Florida, which has among its key objectives ridding the Everglades National Park of invasive species (e.g., Burmese python). Focus group and interviews with 10 veterans and seven non-veterans (i.e., family, health providers) were conducted to assess benefits, risks, and potential for developing SA/VWA activities into a formal therapy program for veterans rooted in the American Therapeutic Recreation Association’s standards. Data analysis via ATLAS. Ti yielded findings of: reduced trauma symptoms, improved family relationships, facilitation of transition to civilian life, experience of trust with team members, restored sense of purpose, and feeling unique and safe. SA/VWA activities are consonant with the Hawkins model’s essential components of successful recreational therapy programs (i.e., harnessing internal strengths and existing military assets, building on existing character strengths and skillsets of veterans). The SA/VWA appears to be a unique and promising alternative for veterans and others who have traumatogenic experiences, providing a meaningful escape that helps them regain their functioning while providing a service to communities.

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Cogent Psychology, v. 6, issue 1, art. 1584081

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