OBH Center Research Scientists are conducting research across North America in the field of outdoor behavioral healthcare. Research scientists are licensed clinicians who hold a faculty position at a university, possess a PhD, and have a minimum of two years of "mud on their boots" from experience working in outdoor behavioral healthcare.
OBH Center, Director
Michael Gass, PhD, LMFT
Michael Gass, PhD, LMFT, is a Professor and the Director of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Center (obhcenter.org) at the University of New Hampshire.
Dr. Gass received his PhD in educational research from the University of Colorado/Boulder and his postdoctoral work in clinical marriage and family therapy. With Drs. Gillis and Russell, he has published the leading textbook in the field (Adventure Therapy published by Routledge Press). Dr. Gass was the inaugural Chair of the AEE Accreditation Council for its first 10 years of existence as well as President of the Board of Directors of AEE in 1990. Some of his current research projects include: Risk management statistics of adventure therapy programs, adventure competencies for therapists, enhancement of NATSAP Practice Research Network database, researching adventure therapy programs with vulnerable populations, cost benefit analyses of outdoor behavioral healthcare programs, supporting emerging scholars/researchers in adventure therapy, and publishing and presenting in traditional mental health/psychology venues (e.g., APA). He is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
OBH Center, Associate Director
Anita R. Tucker, PhD, LICSW
Anita R. Tucker, PhD, LICSW is a Professor of Social Work at the University of New Hampshire where she is the Co-Coordinator of UNH’s Dual Master’s program in Social Work and Kinesiology: Outdoor Education. In addition, she is the Coordinator for UNH’s MSW program in Durham, NH.
Dr. Tucker received her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Michigan in 1997 and her PhD in Social Work from Boston College in 2006. She holds a clinical social work license in New Hampshire and has over 10 years of experience working with youth in clinical settings who use adventure and wilderness experiences for therapeutic purposes and currently serves as a clinical social work supervisor. Her ongoing research and many professional publications focus specifically on documenting the process and outcomes of these interventions on clinical populations. As the Associate Director of the OBH Center, she focuses on supporting both wilderness and community-based adventure therapy programs in evaluating the work they do with their clients. She is a Co-Investigator for the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs’ Practice Research Network and a member of the OBH and NATSAP Research Committees. She currently serves on the Association for Experiential Education’s (AEE) Board of Directors and is past Chair for AEE’s Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group (TAPG) with which she is actively still involved.
Dr. Tucker has been recognized for her contributions to the field of adventure therapy. She is the recipient of AEE’s 2016 Distinguished Researcher of the Year Award and the 2019 Recipient of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council’s Eagle Award. She currently serves as a member of the Editorial Boards for both the Journal of Experiential Education and the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. With over 40 professional publications, Dr. Tucker’s work is guided by her belief in the importance of the practitioner –researcher partnership and focuses much of her research on helping programs build strong research agendas.
Christine Lynn Norton, PhD, LCSW
Christine Lynn Norton, PhD, LCSW, is a Professor of Social Work at Texas State University. She received her Ph.D in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago. She has a Master of Arts in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Science in Experiential Education from Minnesota State University-Mankato. She has taught as adjunct faculty at The University of Denver, Prescott College, and Naropa University. Dr. Norton has over 25 years experience working with adolescents and families in a variety of practice settings including community and wilderness-based outdoor behavioral healthcare programs, juvenile justice, youth and family counseling, school social work, and youth mentoring and educational empowerment programs. Her areas of practice and research interest and expertise are in innovative, experiential interventions in child and adolescent mental health; outdoor behavioral healthcare; experiential education and adventure therapy; positive youth development; foster care support in higher education; and international social work. Dr. Norton is a Research Scientist with the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center and she helped launch Foster Care Alumni Creating Educational Success (FACES) at Texas State. She is the Foster Care Liaison Officer to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and is the founder of the Foster Care Adventure Therapy Network, an international group of programs and practitioners who utilize adventure therapy with current and former foster care youth and young adults. Dr. Norton has over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, has edited three books, and has authored over ten book chapters. She has secured over $3,179,154 in internal and external research funding as PI and co-investigator, and is a leading social work scholar who has presented her research nationally and internationally. Dr. Norton is active in study abroad and service learning on her campus, and is a Fulbright Scholar, having taught adventure therapy in the Department of Civic Education and Leadership at National Taiwan Normal University from January-June 2017. She also served as a delegate for Women4Peace, a U.S. State Department 100KStrong in the Americas grant, working to bring experiential peacebuilding strategies to rural women and girls in Columbia.
Before becoming a researcher and academic, Dr. Norton worked for Outward Bound (OB) as an instructor and a course director for Intercept, OB's youth-at-risk program. She also worked as a clinical social worker with the Journey program, OMNI Youth Services' outdoor experiential therapy program. She has also been active in the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) for over 20 years. She has helped to establish best practices in adventure therapy, and served as the Chair of the AEE Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group (TAPG). She is currently on the TAPG Advisory Council, has assisted with AEE/OBH accreditation site visits, is a member of the TAPG Certification Standards Committee, and is also an ActivatEE team member and speaking coach. For her service and research, Dr. Norton received both the 2014 AEE Servant Leader Award, as well as the 2017 AEE Distinguished Researcher of the Year Award. She also served as one of two U.S. delegates to the International Adventure Therapy Conference (IATC) from 2009-2015. In this role, Dr. Norton convene 7IATC in Denver, in partnership with Dr. Christian Itin, and was an Ambassador for 8IATC. Dr. Norton remains active with the international adventure therapy community, engaging in global research partnerships and trainings.
H.L. (Lee) Gillis, PhD
Dr. Gillis, Ph.D, has been a member of the faculty of the Department of Psychological Science at Georgia College since 1986 and the Chair of this Department since 2005.
He has taught a variety of group related courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level including interpersonal behavior, group dynamics, group leadership, group psychotherapy, family therapy, teamwork, and adventure therapy. Dr. Gillis’s research agenda is to understand the processes that help explain the well-documented behavioral changes that occur in outdoor behavioral healthcare. He and Keith Russell developed and freely share the Adventure Therapy Experience Scale (ATES).His practice agenda is exploring the transformative power of active (kinesthetic) metaphors in group and family therapy. Dr. Gillis first entered into the many fields of experiential education when he went to summer camp and later worked there all through college. He was fortunate to participate in an Outdoor Leadership Instructors course (Wolfcreek Wilderness, GA) in 1976 and later that summer to assist a psychologist taking male adolescent patients rock climbing at Table Rock (NC). That summer experience moved him to practice and study the impact of adventure in therapeutic settings. He subsequently taught at Glade Valley School (NC) and The Webb School (TN) running outdoor programs and serving as a counselor before finishing his PhD in Counseling Psychology at The University of Georgia. In 1978 he met Karl Rohnke while attending a Project Adventure training and that connection and involvement with Karl in many trainings since serves as a foundation for what he have accomplished. Dr. Gillis is past-president of Division 49: The Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association, where he is a fellow, and has previously served as a member of the board of directors of [the?]Association for Experiential Education (AEE).
Ellen Behrens, PhD
Ellen Behrens, Ph.D, is an Associate Professor in the Master’s degree Mental Health Counseling Program at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Dr. Behrens is a Utah licensed psychologist and Counselor Educator, who received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Michigan State University in 1998. She teaches the following courses: Ethics in Counseling, Psychopathology and the DSM, Group Therapy, Clinical Assessment, Statistics and Research, Counseling Roles, Tests & Measurement and provides Clinical Supervision of master's level trainees. Dr. Behrens has worked with teenagers and families as a psychologist, clinical director, and consultant, and is a grant reviewer for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. She is the chief editor for the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs and a board member of the Utah Mental Health Counselor's Association. Her clinical and research interests are in experiential learning, evidence-based practice, adventure therapy, residential treatment, group counseling, attachment, and adolescents.
Joanna Bettmann Schaefer, PhD, LCSW
Joanna E. Bettmann Schaefer is a Professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work.
She received her B.A. with honors from Dartmouth College in 1993, her MSW from the University of Utah in 1999, and her Ph.D from Smith College School for Social Work in 2005. Dr. Schaefer has received numerous honors, including the 2013 Dean’s Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2011 Psychoanalytic Psychodynamic Research Society Award, a fellowship with the American Psychoanalytic Association in 2006-2007, and the Lawrence Marx Jr. Award of Dartmouth College in 1993. She worked as a staff, therapist and director in wilderness therapy and residential treatment programs for troubled youth from 1994 to 2014. She has also worked as a clinical social worker in community mental health agencies, the University of Utah Counseling Center, and private practice. She is trained in disaster response and served as a social worker for the American Red Cross response to Hurricane Katrina in Utah and Mississippi.
Dr. Schaefer writes and researches on a range of topics, including adolescent attachment, wilderness therapy, residential treatment, and treatment outcomes. She serves on the Editorial Boards of the journals Smith College Studies in Social Work, Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, and the Journal of Therapeutic Schools & Programs. She has presented her research nationally and internationally at professional conferences over the last 20 years.
Keith C. Russell, PhD
Keith C. Russell, Ph.D., is a Professor and Director of the nationally accredited Recreation Degree Program at Western Washington University.
His research emphasis includes program evaluation, the study of human-nature relationships, the therapeutic value of natural environments, and international protected area management. He teaches courses in statistics, research methods, adventure education and therapy, and human relations. In a past life, he was a wilderness educator for more than fifteen years in the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. He is also a consultant who has worked with organizations in the US and internationally on the design, implementation and evaluation of wilderness and adventure programs for youth development. He is a co-author of the recent text titled Adventure Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice (Routledge Mental Health) with Michael Gass and Lee Gillis. His research has appeared in the Journal of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, Ecopsychology, the Journal of Groups in Addictions and Recovery, Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, the Journal of Child and Family Studies, Child and Youth Care Forum, the International Journal of Wilderness, the Journal of Experiential Education, and the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning. He is also the author of a chapter entitled “The Therapeutic Use of Nature” in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology (2012; Oxford University Press).