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Denise Mitten, PhD

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Denise Mitten, PhD, MS (counseling with a specialization in clinical mental health counseling) is internationally recognized for her innovative scholarship in outdoor and environmental pedagogy, ethics, and gender. A widely experienced adventure guide, from SCUBA to mountaineering (Swiss Alps, Himalayas, and USA, including Denali), she has developed ecopsychology, nature-based programs and leadership programs for people recovering from substance misuse, women felons, and economically disadvantaged women and children to strengthen relationships between humans and more-than-human worlds.

Professor Mitten initiated trauma informed leadership highlighting the relevance of social, emotional, and spiritual safety in group dynamics and risk management, first working with women recovering from abuse in the 1980s.

Dr. Mitten also developed an award-winning leadership training and apprenticing program for women, opening the door to outdoor leadership to many women.


Along with over 100 articles and book chapters, books Professor Mitten has authored or edited include Health and natural landscapes: Concepts and applications; Experiential education theory and practice; Maternal thinking: Gifts, the mother’s body, and Earth; and the Palgrave international handbook on women and outdoor learning.

Promise of adventure therapy 4.0: Gifts and reciprocal relationships

   As a therapy (clinical) or therapeutic approach, adventure therapy has huge potential to help people and communities. Practitioners make promises to clients or participants and their families and regulators, either implicitly or explicitly about the efficacy and safety of this approach. Through creating reciprocal relationships and sharing information members of ATE and the global adventure therapy community can create sustainable systems of support to help ensure promises are kept. How we forge networks of trainers, educators, youth workers, mental health professionals and therapists to share knowledge, experiences, and resources regarding adventure therapy creates the systems. As importantly, how might our cooperation and gifting to each other as professionals influence our clinical and therapeutic work with participants? Do we value cooperation, mutual aid, and the well-being of the collective over individual gain? Through gifting and reciprocity, we might foster cooperation and sharing of resources, which may create systems that can adapt to challenges and provide ongoing support to members.

Language About the Natural Environment

Language about nature helps shape how people think about and relate to nature. Language can encourage or discourage healthy relationships with the more-than-human worlds (another way to refer to nature or natural environments). Much of the common language used to describe natural environments and humans’ relationships to them in adventure therapy outdoor programs comes from Eurocentric approaches to understanding human connections to nature. I encourage practitioners to explore repairing estranged human relationships with more-than-human worlds in part by changing the language used from Eurocentric approaches and attitudes to a more relational and reciprocal ideology. This includes understanding how Eurocentric ideology has caused many people to have power over and estranged relationships with the natural worlds and ways to change this.

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