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, building resilience through understanding our personal strengths and weaknesses allows them to overcome potential stressors, learning to thrive despite or even because of obstacles. 

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, also known as Nature-Based Therapy (NBT), is a therapeutic approach that helps struggling teens heal and overcome cognitive and emotional difficulties through interacting with the basic elements of nature.

Frequently featuring multi-day guided explorations of nature preserves or wilderness, Nature-based therapy is based on learning self-reliance and community cohesion through competency, resilience and teamwork.

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

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

There are numerous benefits to nature-based 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 with structured professional support 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outdated methods that only suppress the surface symptoms, nature-based therapy offers a comprehensive approach – that is, one that simultaneously targets the body, mind, and interpersonal relationships.

By addressing the underlying causes of the issues that a child may be struggling with, nature-based therapy can help youth overcome difficulties they encounter after transitioning back into their new everyday routines.

Nature-based therapy also builds family and community. Small groups work together and form true friendships and memories that last a lifetime.

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. Nature-based therapy offers all of the above, without the distractions of electronics or institutional social systems.

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 strong interpersonal relationships, even seemingly difficult obstacles can be overcome.

Ultimately, each child isn’t a “patient”; they are a unique person with their own interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Through positive reinforcement, relational therapy, and constant staff support, wilderness therapy helps a child believe in their own power and push themselves to accomplish goals they would not have felt capable of achieving before the start of the program.

Family Help & Wellness supports several nature-based therapy programs including BlueFire Wilderness and Momentum Young Adult. While each program has unique aspects that support diverse individuals, all share a philosophy of respect, professionalism, and high-quality, experienced care that supports youth to lead a fulfilling, healthy life.


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, [he] 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.


Allan JF, McKenna J. Outdoor Adventure Builds Resilient Learners for Higher Education: A Quantitative Analysis of the Active Components of Positive ChangeSports. 2019; 7(5):122.

Research article discussing the multifaceted benefits of outdoor adventure on establishing resilience in young adults. Resiliency builds through learning new skills and acquiring a felt sense of competency, building new relationships, and learning to exercise healthy control over personal choices.

DeAngelis, T. (2013, September 1). Therapy gone wildMonitor on Psychology44(8).

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.

Mitten, Denise & Itin, Christian. (2006). Connecting with the essence: 4th International Adventure Therapy (IATC4) Proceedings.

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.


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National Institute of Mental Health > Statistics: Major Depression