Wilderness Therapy

Why Choose Wilderness Therapy?

Teens push boundaries. Although this is entirely natural, it is hardly any consolation for parents. In most cases, even though puberty is rarely a pleasant experience, it doesn’t leave any lasting scars. In fact, to a certain degree, it is a necessary part of developing a personality. As difficult as it is to watch a teen stumble and make mistakes, letting them discover their own strengths and weaknesses allows them to become independent. 

Unfortunately, however, sometimes a teen will go too far in testing the limits. Whether due to mental illness, peer pressure, stress, substance experimentation – or any other number of factors – there are times a teen can stray off a healthy path. If this happens, wilderness therapy may be able to help.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

Closely tied to adventure-based therapy, wilderness therapy is a therapeutic approach that helps struggling teens by removing them from the familiar surroundings of daily life and teaches them to reconnect with the most basic elements of nature.

Frequently featuring multi-day guided explorations of (as the name suggests) the wilderness, wilderness therapy is based on learning survival tactics, teamwork, and self-reliance.

While the experience is overseen by professionals – that is to say, no real danger can come to the children – there is a degree of perceived risk and a sense of very real accomplishment.

yellowstone-national-park-1589616_1280Activities such as rock-climbing or rafting down a rapid are common during these beautiful exercises. In a way, wilderness therapy is akin to baseball in the sense that, at any point, it requires a combination of deeply individual effort and working together as a group.

There are numerous benefits to wilderness therapy, from helping children form a primal bond with the outdoors to allowing them the time to consider and reevaluate their lives. Oftentimes, removing a child from an unhealthy environment allows them the distance necessary to see its flaws. A radical change allows a child to see the world in a new light.

Where most therapy has traditionally been focused on putting a label on a child’s issue and treating it with old,
outdated methods that only suppress the surface symptoms, wilderness therapy offers a holistic approach – that is, one that simultaneously targets the body, mind, and soul.

By addressing the underlying causes of the issues that a child may be struggling with, wilderness therapy can help prevent the symptoms from returning once the experience is over. Going deeper than other forms of therapy makes wilderness therapy more complete in its healing journey.

Wilderness therapy also builds family and community. Small groups work together and form true friendships and memories that last a lifetime. There are few experiences in life more enjoyable than going into the wild with a group of friends.

There is no issue too small to be addressed by wilderness therapy. Many struggles – including a variety of mental illnesses – can be bettered or altogether eradicated with the aid of wilderness therapy.

Depression and bipolar disorder, for example, have been shown to require plentiful exercise, routine, and a healthy lifestyle. Wilderness therapy offers all of the above, without the distractions of electronics.

Finding a Wilderness Therapy Program

Blue Fire, Gooding, Idaho, September 12, 2016.

While most wilderness therapy programs offer similar core services, finding the right program can make all the difference in a child’s well-being. For instance, there may be variation in the student profile of particular programs – and choosing a program that is the best fit for a child will guarantee them the most valuable experience possible. With a group of like-minded friends, even the most demanding of adventures are easy to overcome.

Several programs offering wilderness therapy include Trails Carolina, BlueFire Wilderness, Trails Momentum and WinGate Wilderness. Regardless of program, all share the same professionalism, respect, and experience that is required to take good care of a child on their journey away from home.

Ultimately, the child isn’t a “patient”; they are a unique person with their own interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Through positive reinforcement, wilderness therapy helps a child believe in their own power and push themselves to do things that they would not have imagined possible before the start of the program.

Family Help and Wellness has several wilderness therapy programs. These include:

Trails Carolina

BlueFire Wilderness

Trails Momentum

WinGate Wilderness

Contemporary Articles

There are many wilderness therapy success stories in the media. “After […] traversing canyons, ridges, rivers and hills, there were changes in most of the kids — they began to address the underlying issues that brought them to this crossroads in their lives,” one article writes. “For the first time in a long time, [a troubled teen] and his parents began to communicate”. Many children who enter wilderness therapy believe themselves to be beyond hope. By the time the program is over, they come out happy, healthy, and ready to live the rest of their lives.


Therapy Gone Wild  DeAngelis, Tori

An article by the American Psychological Association shows that, “youth in [wilderness therapy] programs improved significantly in mood and behavior during treatment, and that those improvements continued when they returned home.” The ultimate goal of wilderness therapy is to help families, once again, be together. The journey is never easy but, at the end of the day, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to communicate once again.

Connecting with the Essence  Denise Mitten, Ph.D., Christian Itin, Ph.D., Editors

A compilation of works on adventure therapy and wilderness therapy discusses the various applications of the therapy. “Some use nature as the clinic; others see nature as a co‐therapist, and as having equal influence in the ‘treatment’ process” (51). Overall, the work highlights that while adventure therapy is young, it has already shown high effectiveness and promise.