The Difference Wilderness Therapy Makes

There are many types of therapy, so what makes wilderness therapy special? Wilderness therapy removes the patient from his or her comfort zone. It takes away all the modern conveniences that he or she has grown to take for granted. On the other hand, wilderness therapy takes the adolescent away from the roots of their problems. There are no drugs in a wilderness therapy program. There are no bullies. There are no destructive relationships or judgments. Instead, what teens find in a support program are counselors who are professionally trained to help them and peers who are going through the same difficulties as they are.

Just Being Outside…

There are certain therapeutic benefits inherent to the wilderness that talk therapy, outpatient therapy, and even traditional residential therapy programs simply can’t provide. According to studies, just being outside has positive effects on the psyche:

  • Natural stress reduction
  • Positive benefits to cognitive health (Wells 2000)
  • Reduction in ADHD symptoms (Kuo, PhD, Frances E., and Faber Taylor, PhD. 2004)
  • Enhances social interactions and makes teens “nicer” (Weinstein, Przybylski, & Ryan 2009)


Therapeutic group living helps teens build strong peer relationships and it helps them learn interpersonal communication skills. It also gives them a chance to learn from peers who are experiencing and overcoming similar hardships and anger issues.


Many students will “test” field guides and act out negatively to draw out a reaction. Field guides are trained to redirect conversations skillfully — in a way that doesn’t allow disruptive teens to justify their bad behavior. The adolescent isn’t forced to change behavior — they change their behavior voluntarily.


Wilderness therapy naturally demonstrates the futility of acting out of defiance or anger. When the teen builds their backpack frame poorly out of defiance, for example, it won’t carry weight properly and will cause them discomfort. The teen has no one to be angry with but themselves.


Wilderness therapy helps many teens who are struggling with emotional outbursts and anger issues feel more comfortable discussing their feelings, wilderness therapy helps to address this. Expressing what is troubling them helps teens get a handle on their emotions before they spin out of control.


Another aspect that sets wilderness therapy apart from other residential treatment programs is the strong sense of accomplishment it provides. Teens are empowered by individual tasks as well as the program as a whole. That strength will prove useful in overcoming future obstacles in your teen’s life.


Wilderness therapy helps boost self-confidence and self-efficacy, which are vital for teens who are exhibiting problematic anger due to low self-esteem or bullying. Higher levels of self-efficacy are linked to greater motivation, positive thinking skills, and lower vulnerability to stress and depression in teens.

Although sending your child away to residential treatment is difficult, it’s often the most effective way to help them make healthy choices. Of course, the program that you select is important. Choose a program that’s safe, reliable, and well-known. It’s also important to communicate with the treatment team before and during your child’s treatment. Make sure that you understand their recommendations and that you let them know about any concerns that you may have. Learn about your child’s issues and about how you can help. When appropriate, join your child’s therapy session to provide support. The more you know about the struggle they’re going through, the more your child will open up to you when they are hurt or afraid.


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