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OSH patients find hope through nature-based therapy


Outdoor specialist Todd Trautner (left) walks through Washington Park in Portland with Oregon State Hospital patients Joel Searls (middle) and Jessie Bratcher. Trautner heads up the hospital's Outdoor Experiential Therapy Program, which provides patients with nature-based recovery services.

People have long recognized the benefits from being outdoors, and Oregon offers an abundance of opportunities. With its great natural beauty and scenic landscapes people can find inspiration, adventure, and, for a group of Oregon State Hospital patients, hope.

"When you're walking along a trail and it's two people just talking, you tend to let your defenses down," Todd Trautner, an outdoor specialist at OSH says. "It's like a window opens to all the things you'd really like to say — especially your dreams and goals. It can make a big difference in how you see your future."

Trautner's Outdoor Experiential Therapy Program (OETP), provides patients with nature-based recovery services, using activities such as day hiking, bike riding, snowshoeing, fishing, crabbing and navigating a ropes course as a means of facilitating therapy.

Not only do these types of experiences help break down individuals' personal barriers, making it possible for them to be more honest and open with others, but the outings help patients move toward community reintegration, improve their fitness, and learn to replace negative lifestyle choices with new, healthy ones.


Staff and patients from Oregon State Hospital's Outdoor Experiential Therapy Program hike the Wildwood Trail in Portland's Washington Park. OETP is designed to help patients with community reintegration, practice team-building skills, improve their fitness level, and learn to replace negative lifestyle choices with new, healthy ones.

"It's given me more options of things I can do when I get out of here," patient Jacob Spears says. "Now I can go hiking or biking instead of wasting my time using drugs and getting in trouble."

The group is designed to promote a team concept. Patients and staff work together to plan their activities, destinations and goals for the outings. Trautner said the idea is to provide a safe environment where patients can practice the life skills they've learned during their treatment at the hospital.

Patient Jessie Bratcher said the program allowed him to demonstrate personal responsibility and to show he can be trusted.

"The staff facilitating this group are really supportive," Bratcher said. "They give us room to make decisions and they're there to help us in our recovery. It's one of the best groups I've been part of."


Robert Minor, a patient at Oregon State Hospital, talks with Outdoor Specialist Todd Trautner while hiking in Portland's Washington Park. According to Trautner, patients tend to lower their guard while in a natural environment, making hikes such as this an ideal time for open and honest communication.

To sign up for OETP, patients must pass security and risk reviews and meet physical fitness requirements. Also, a doctor must recommend the program as part of the patient's treatment care plan. Each outing is supervised by two to four hospital staff depending on the size of the group. Trautner said the mental, emotional and physical benefits they receive from the outdoor experience often significantly affect their outlook and attitude.

"Some people might say, 'oh, they're just going hiking,' but it's much, much more than that," he says. "It's a therapeutic tool that reconnects people to nature, their base feeling, and ultimately, helps them in their recovery."