Why Wilderness Works? This very question has led clinicians, guides, and researchers to seek answers. We have seen that Wilderness Therapy does indeed work as an effective clinical treatment option, positively changing clinical outcomes. Those who have witnessed this change may put more colorful language to describe the shift as a life altering and rich experience, unparalleled in any other type of treatment. More recently, the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council Research Center has continued to contribute to the research and data necessary to present ourselves as a viable treatment modality.
The question of WHY wilderness works could spring forth dozens of answers, depending on who you ask. Some may include: the novelty of the experience, mastery of skills, overcoming challenge daily, challenge in environment, challenge in the group dynamic, relationship with a mentor, full emersion in the experience, discipline in activities, emotional availability, and change by nature itself, to name a few. We must continue to sort out the components of change and where it is coming from. On that journey, I am compelled to think about the many ways I have been moved to the core in the wilderness that is difficult to put into words, data, or outcomes. It is of the soul, or inner dwelling.
Deep in the woods, in a far corner of the earth that you have never been…there is nothing. Nothing you seem to recognize, nothing familiar, nothing but the clothes on your back, nothing that reminds you of who you are. And in the nothing, there is also everything. There is quiet. There are desert plants, trees, dirt, animals, mountains and valleys, and a group of humans that seem to be in the same position as you. What is this? How do I do this? It is in this process that we can find the truest parts of who we are. Living close to the ground allows us to see how we affect the environment and it affects us. Living close to people has the same effect. In the wilderness, we are faced with ourselves and one another unlike we are much of the time in our lives. It is here that we have the space and time to decide who we want to be to the world, and recognize that we are very much a part of this world. We belong, we contribute, and it is important.
“We are animal. We are Earth. We are water. We are a community of human beings living on this planet together. And we forget that. We become disconnected, we lose our center point of gravity, that stillness that allows us to listen to life on a deeper level and to meet each other in a fully authentic and present way.” Terry Tempest Williams
Kendra Van Abbema, CSW, MS