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How Wilderness Therapy Can Help Your Troubled Teen

What is Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness therapy is a restorative intervention for troubled adolescents. It “provides a secure, non-critical, and supportive environment for self-discovery.”

Wilderness therapy is beneficial for teens suffering from mental, emotional, and physical disorders. It also helps teens that are unresponsive to outpatient therapy. Wilderness therapy takes teens out of toxic environments. Adolescents have the opportunity to thrive in natural and holistic settings. Wilderness programs are free of cell phones, computers, and video games.

Wilderness therapy helps teens turn maladaptive behaviors into positive coping mechanisms. Nature offers a holistic and therapeutic setting for teens to flourish. Wilderness therapy “does three things very well: assess the issues, help the young person develop coping strategies, and emerge with a more positive sense of self and hope for the future.”

Who is Wilderness Therapy For?

Wilderness therapy programs are for teens struggling with various disorders. Issues include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Defiant disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Psychological issues
  • Behavioral issues
  • Psychiatric problems
  • Social issues
  • Addiction issues
How Does Wilderness Therapy Work?

Wilderness therapy helps teens change their negative behaviors. “Through the use of wilderness expeditions, primitive skills training, and team building exercises, disruptive or unproductive beliefs and views may be challenged and transformed.”

Wilderness therapy teaches teens to:

  • Develop healthy relationships.
  • Live within boundaries.
  • Accept and process feedback. Teens rely on a sense of inner wisdom and strength.
  • Work with other teens to complete tasks.
  • Build self-confidence.
  • Develop communication skills.
  • Develop cooperative skills.
  • Build trust.

By exposing patients to interpersonal problems, therapy and group activities in an unfamiliar context away from home, wilderness therapy encourages the development of healthy self-esteem and social skills. Encountering problems in an unfamiliar context may shed new light on existing problems. By solving the natural challenges posed by a wilderness environment, patients may build up courage to face real-world problems on their own.”

What Does a Wilderness Therapy Program Look Like?

Every wilderness therapy program is unique. Wilderness therapy is the, “prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by mental health professionals that kinetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels.” Wilderness therapy programs include professional staff members and round the clock care.

Wilderness therapy programs consist of:

  • Assessment: Clinical assessments by professional and licensed staff members. Mental health professionals work to build trusting and nurturing relationships with teens.
  • Daily exercise: Exercise helps to reduce anxiety and depression. Regular exercise also improves self-esteem.
  • Nutrition: Healthy diets improve self-care and a sense of identity.
  • Animal therapy: Teens work with and care for horses and farm animals. This creates a sense of purpose and self-worth.
  • Experiential Activities: nature hikes, backpacking, building a fire, survival skills, self-care skills, developing interpersonal relationships, and overcoming emotional and physical challenges. Teens gain a greater understanding of where they fit into the world.
  • Group Therapy: Teens listen to their peers. Adolescents challenge negative behaviors and create positive coping techniques.
  • Individual Therapy: In-depth sessions with licensed mental health professionals.
  • Family Therapy: Weekly phone calls and therapy sessions. All family members learn healthy coping techniques.
  • Certified Academics: Teens won’t fall behind in school. Wilderness programs offer a professional scholastic syllabus.
  • Mindfulness: Nature allows teens the opportunity to be introspective, meditate, and self-reflect.
Wilderness Therapy Outcomes

The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council has found that “significant improvements were made during wilderness program treatment and that clients maintained these positive changes 1 year after discharge.”

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