The story of our name

Adventure Therapy is a term that is used internationally that represents using outdoor activities as part of therapeutic interventions… As such, it’s been a name that we adopted and used as our networking association.  However, during the 2023 leadership retreat we had some kōrero about our name – Is it the right name?  Do our members identify with ‘Adventure Therapy’? Does it exclude some people that we would consider part of our whānau? Is it culturally inclusive of the practice here in Aotearoa?  and so on…. 🙂

From the perspective of our leadership group member Vicky Totoro, who some of you will have had the pleasure of meeting or listening to online – she likes our name as the acronym spells ĀTA – defined by Te Aka as  ‘1. (modifier) gently, slowly, carefully, clearly, deliberately, purposefully, intentionally, openly, thoroughly, cautiously, intently, quite – stands before verbs to indicate care, deliberation or thoroughness in carrying out the activity’.  Which of course describes beautifully the way in which we like to do our mahi!

So whilst we ponder the consideration long term of our name – for now we also embrace using our acronym as the word ĀTA instead of A – T – A or Adventure Therapy Aotearoa.  Both work 🙂


Our Association

ĀTA plays a key leadership role by connecting professionals and contributing to the development of professionalism, as well as the standard of the delivery of services nationwide. Through fostering strong connections among professionals we support the reduction in duplicate services by encouraging collaboration in the work we do.

Though, as an organisation, we are not working on the ground and are one step removed from the mahi that is happening, we are the key organisation who are overarching many organisations and professionals within the industry.


Our History

It is important to acknowledge that intentionally engaging in the outdoors in a meaningful way is not a new idea in Aotearoa. As we were all humbly reminded at our conference in Auckland (2019) by Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr; ”Adventure Therapy?! Taking people outdoors to get well and see their part in nature? We’ve been doing this for years.” The Māori people, along with other Indigenous peoples, have been working with the healing powers of te taiao (the natural world) and activity in the outdoors long before the term ‘Adventure Therapy’ was used.   


However, around the world ‘Adventure Therapy’ became a term that people used to describe their work of including outdoor adventure activities as part of a therapeutic intervention.  The first International Adventure Therapy Conference was held in Perth in 1997. Though small, a Kiwi contingent was present and made a splash in the International waters of Adventure Therapy. Around Aotearoa, some organisations started to offer Adventure therapy programmes and training providers offered papers, or some formal training in how to facilitate meaningful experiences outdoors. 


ĀTA was first founded in 2006 by a small core of passionate practitioners (including Blair Gilbert, Paddy Pawson, Chris Jansen and Julie ) as a source of networking for professionals in Aotearoa  working within the adventure therapy field.  At that time New Zealand hosted the 5th International Adventure Therapy Conference in 2006 in Rotorua. In the decade following this event key players moved on with careers going in different directions and the Christchurch Earthquakes taking a lot of energy and ĀTA became somewhat of a dormant association. 


In 2015 Amy Horn joined the 7th International AT Conference in Denver and was inspired to get ĀTA  back on its feet.  A small group started getting together in Ōtautahi/Christchurch and in 2016 we had our first get together at Orton Bradley Park.  Over the next few years a leadership group was formed and in 2019, ATA officially became an association (Incorporated Society) and we have seen steady growth in our membership numbers since. 

 For more details on the history of ĀTA check out the link to Timeline of significant dates for ĀTA