Clinical social worker Brandon Spunar now works his craft outside of the office. Since last October, Spunar has spearheaded Get Out Adventure Therapy, allowing clients to explore their mental health in a more pragmatic way: with mind and body.

The 36-year-old former House of Friendship group counsellor and Ontario Certified Hike Leader provides clinical counselling whilst walking side-by-side on a hiking trail or 40-feet up on a rock-climbing wall — and clients are responding.

“It’s really powerful for people who felt they could never trust a counsellor,” said Spunar. “Something almost magical happens when we’re sharing this experience, needing to trust one another in different ways.”

Spunar has learned to embrace the power of an informal setting with his clinical work and has clients range from first responders struggling with addiction, to children and youth dealing with depression, anxiety and/or ADHD. For many of his clients, these mental health issues are interrelated with grieving-based difficulties, trauma and/or PTSD. 

Children and youth tend to be a group that really responds to the nature and adventure aspects of the therapeutic work and Spunar acknowledges that it can be nice to compliment the work of other mental health professionals as well as the work that families have already done. For many youth, it is the first time they have talked to someone outside of the family.

“I feel pretty honoured to be a part of it,” said Spunar.

The nature-adventure aspect has always been important for Spunar, as he struggled with his own mental health and addictions growing up. He admits that he is grateful for the opportunity to now utilize his informal, yet successful, therapy style and pay it forward.  

“I think, for a lot of people, we’ve kind of lost touch with how mental health is affecting our body,” said Spunar. “So by being able to focus on how these emotions are affecting the body, [and] where we hold stress, physical activity can be a really powerful step.”

Get Out Adventure Therapy has also created short-term inclusive projects called A4A, or Adventure for All. Spunar spends and utilizes a portion of his own profits and energy to help others who may not be able to access these opportunities in the community. This includes free or discounted clinical counselling. 

Spunar recently and successfully coordinated the first A4A venture called the Strong Women Project. This allowed women who were part of the climbing community in Waterloo Region to donate memberships to Grand River Rocks in order to provide opportunities at the climbing gym for women in the community who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. 

“For anyone who knows climbing culture, it’s a really supportive community and a pretty powerful experience,” said Spunar. “The adventure and nature piece sometimes allows us to build that trust far faster than maybe other situations could.”