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What Is Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness therapy is an experiential, adventure-based residential therapy program that takes place entirely outside -- typically in a vast, uninhabited region far removed from the rest of society.  

Unlike traditional residential treatment, wilderness therapy is a therapeutic treatment that takes place in nature, outdoors in a natural environment. 


Why Wilderness Programs are Successful in Treating Troubled Teen Girls

While every program is different, the majority of (top-tier) wilderness therapy programs implement very similar treatment models that include experiential, adventure-based, and cognitive behavior-based therapies. 

 What's more, wilderness therapy programs are evidence-based. More than a handful of studies conducted by the researchers at The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center conclude that wilderness therapy programs are clinically effective in treating the underlying issues of mentally ill, troubled teenage girls. 

There are many reasons for the treatment model's overwhelming success. According to researchers, wilderness therapies provide a natural healing environment, one that is secluded from society and generally located in beautiful scenic locations. 

Proponents of wilderness therapy also point to empirical evidence that suggests removing a teen from their comfort zone, away from the many distractions and negative influences of their past surroundings, allows troubled teens to contemplate and work on their underlying mental health-related issues fully.

Studies also indicate that living in the wild's naturally challenging environment effectively increases a teen's self-worth, confidence, mental, emotional toughness, which further enables teens to accept therapeutic guidance where they otherwise would be resistant.   

Smaller Groups Means Teens Get More One-on-One Time With Staff and Mental Health Professionals 

They are also relatively small in size and short in duration when compared to other, more mainstream residential treatment centers.

Like most treatment centers, there are varying styles and levels of treatment at a wilderness program. Depending on factors such as one's age and reasons for being treated, behavioral and mental health interventions may include individualized treatment, group and/or family therapy sessions, medication management, family-repair workshops, drug and alcohol detoxification, and one-on-one therapy sessions with a mental health professional - just to name a few.

Proponents of adventure-based therapy claim that wilderness is effective in modifying one’s behavioral patterns due to a combination of being immersed in the natural and wild environment (removing oneself from all distractions of the outside world) and implementing modern therapies.

Additionally, some behavioral experts suggest that due to its unique environment and usage of contemporary treatment strategies, wilderness therapy is most effective for those who have had little success with more conventional treatments, such as one-on-one therapy, traditional residential treatment, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

There are several types of wilderness therapy programs that offer adventure-based therapy to varying demographics. However, the industry’s most prevalent and widely targeted demographic is that of troubled teens.

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Choosing The Right Wilderness Therapy Program

There are several things to consider when selecting the best wilderness therapy program for your teenage daughter. 

The first factor is staff ratio numbers. If there isn’t a balanced staff to teen ratio, there is a chance your teen might get lost in the crowd.  

The second factor is definite therapy. The most effective wilderness therapy programs have specific goals related to treatment. You want to choose a program that meets your child’s individual therapeutic needs. 

Additional factors to consider, choosing a wilderness program that is confidence building, is located in a scenic environment that implements natural therapy. Finally, a program that has a reputation for creating long-term change in its troubled teen campers. 

What Kind of Issues do Wilderness Therapy Programs Treat? 

Due to its naturally therapeutically healing environment and dynamic mixture of traditional and cutting-edge therapeutic strategies, wilderness therapy is an evidence-based treatment option for troubled teenage girls. What’s more, these types of programs are often successful when other, more traditional means of outpatient and residential treatment have failed. 

Proponents of wilderness therapy also point to empirical evidence that suggests removing a teen from their comfort zone, away from the many distractions and negative influences of their past surroundings, allows troubled teens to contemplate and work on their underlying mental health-related issues fully.

While there are many types of wilderness therapy programs that vary in their duration, style of treatment, and functionality, many operate as supplemental treatment programs that work in conjunction with secondary forms of residential treatment. 

For instance, after completing student assessments of a teen, some residential treatment programs may suggest that a teenage girl complete a wilderness therapy program before enrolling in their treatment program. In fact, some residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools have their own form of wilderness therapy treatment incorporated or in partnership with their more traditional forms of treatment programs. 

Wilderness program teens find help for challenges such as:

  • Trauma
  • Defiance
  • Video Game Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Attachment Issues
  • Academic Failure
  • Family Conflict
  • Depression
  • School Refusal
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Low Self Esteem
  • Anger Issues
  • ADHD
  • OCD
  • Social isolation
  • Self-harm

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