Effects of the PCYC Catalyst Outdoor Adventure Intervention Program

Journal Article


This study used mixed methods to examine the effects of an Australian outdoor adventure intervention on youth-at-risks’ life effectiveness, mental health, and behavioural functioning. The sample consisted of 53 adolescents who completed a Catalyst program conducted by the Queensland Police-Citizens Youth Welfare Association, a non-profit organisation, in Queensland, Australia. The program involved 15 programming days over a 10–12-week period. There were small to moderate shortand longer-term improvements in life effectiveness, psychological well-being, and several aspects of behavioural conduct. There were no positive longer-term impacts on psychological distress and some aspects of behaviour. Thematic analysis of 14 participant interviews identified six major themes: overcoming challenging backgrounds, contending with adversity, personal development, social development, motivation to work for change, and a more optimistic outlook on the future. Further research utilising a comparison group, multiple sources of data, and a larger sample could help to qualify results and increase generalisability. 


Neill, J. T., & Bowen, D. J. (2014). Research evaluation of PCYC Bornhoffen Catalyst intervention programs for youth-at-risk [2012-2013]. Canberra, Australia: University of Canberra.

Executive Summary

This study reports on the short- and longer-term impacts of PCYC Bornhoffen Catalyst Programs on youth participants from multiple perspectives (self and observer) and multiple data sources (questionnaires and interviews). Catalyst is an adventure-based intervention program for adolescents who are at-risk of behavioural, psychological, and social problems. Catalyst aims to improve youths’ personal and social life effectiveness, mental health, and behavioural conduct. This evaluation focuses on the 56 participants in six Catalyst programs conducted in Queensland during 2012 and 2013.

There were notable short- and long-term improvements in life effectiveness, psychological well-being, and several aspects of behavioural conduct. There was no longer-term impact on psychological distress and some areas of behaviour. Overall, positive changes were evident for approximately two-thirds of participants. Observers (facilitators and teachers) tended to report greater positive change compared to youth participants’ self-reports. Although generally positive, the size of the outcomes from the Catalyst program was lower than for comparative benchmarks from Bowen and Neill’s (2013) meta-analysis of adventure therapy programs.