4 Ways Wilderness Therapy Offers Help for Troubled Teens

Over the past ten years, wilderness therapy has become one of the leading interventions offering help for troubled teens because of how effective it is. As an alternative to punitive measures like boot camps, and a happy medium between outpatient talk therapy and residential treatment, wilderness therapy provides a profound experience and has much to offer.

1. Experiential Intervention

By removing troubled teens from the environment in which they are struggling, wilderness therapy achieves a comprehensive experiential intervention. Providing this distance from the social and academic stressors of everyday life allows young people to recalibrate on many levels. The peace found in the wilderness setting contributes greatly to the therapeutic process. These types of programs involve group expeditions, camp chores, and daily tasks which provide help for troubled teens to develop work ethic and coping skills for normal life challenges, but in a protected, low-risk environment. Teens are able to bring these skills and tools back with them when they complete the therapy program.

2. Clinical Intervention

In addition to the general skill-building that wilderness therapy programs offer, any true wilderness therapy program will offer sophisticated clinical assessment and support. The programs are often designed to offer help for troubled teens who are suffering from a psychological disorder (depression, anxiety), learning difference, addiction, or behavioral or emotional challenges. These medical and mental health issues require specific interventions and each child’s treatment plan is individualized to meet his or her needs..

3. Wilderness Has a Positive Effect on Self-Confidence, Autonomy

Wilderness therapy programs necessarily involve some level of physical activity. This is therapeutic in itself; teens often accomplish objectives they have never had to deal with before. For example, they may scale a nearby mountain or build a personal shelter. This hands-on skill building leads to increased self-confidence and autonomy, as well as improvements in physical health as cortisol (stress) levels decrease, they go to bed with the sun and rise with the sun, and learn to prepare healthy, balanced meals.

4. Natural Consequences in the Wilderness

Interacting with the wilderness has inherent consequences – cause and effect. Many troubled teens have spent most of their lives resisting consequences imposed by authority figures or blame-shifting them on to others. This is not a healthy way to move through life, as troubled teens grow into adults who will ultimately have to deal with the ramifications of their choices. The wilderness therapy environment teaches this lesson in a gentle way; if a participant chooses to set up their sleeping shelter in a haphazard manner, for example, they may find that they get rained on and have to fix it in the middle of the night. These kinds of daily choices provide immediate and direct consequences, which can then be compared to ways that the participant may have enacted similar behaviors while at home.


While there are a plethora of treatment options that offer help for troubled teens who are facing behavioral, psychological, and emotional difficulties, and need intervention, the power of wilderness therapy changes lives and reunites families.

Download our How to Help Your Troubled Teen White Paper to learn more about how to help your troubled teen. 


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Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is continuing to support families through this unprecedented time. We are closely monitoring information related to COVID-19, adhering to recommendations set forth by CDC, and have implemented additional safety precautions to mitigate risks. To learn more, contact us at 800-817-1899.