A Better Alternative To Scared Straight Programs & Boot Camps For Kids

Scared straight programs and boot camps for kids can do more harm than good. Wilderness therapy programs like Outback Therapeutic Expeditions are a better alternative and ARE NOT the same as a scared straight program or a boot camp for kids.

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is located in Lehi, Utah. Parents in Washington looking for a different kind of therapy program for their troubled teen need to consider Outback’s successful track record. For wilderness therapy programs to work, they must be built on the idea of pulling teens out of their comfort zones. Removing kids from their homes in Washington and putting them in the wilderness in Utah is a great first step toward an efficient treatment program.

Wilderness therapy programs have been shown to provide better treatment and help to participants than compared with juvenile detention, scared straight programs, or boot camps in Washington and elsewhere.

What are Scared Straight Programs
and Boot Camps For Troubled Youth?

There are several differences between boot camps and scared straight programs for troubled youth and wilderness therapy programs. These differences highlight why wilderness therapy is a more effective treatment.

Boot camps and scared straight programs focus on exhausting, punishing, and putting the participants through hard labor as the way to change bad behavior. They believe that harsh punishments will scare the teens into changing their behavior to avoid returning to the camp.


While these camps endeavor to end bad behavior, they fall short because they don’t replace the bad behavior with anything positive. In order to achieve results, you must replace bad behavior with positive behavior and actions. Without this change, teens and their families find themselves struggling to find ways to resolve personal conflict and modify behavior and are in the same place as before the boot camp. Wilderness therapy camps have therapists who are trained to promote and encourage this positive change.

Boot camps and scared straight programs have other unintended consequences. Because they rely on punishment, participants often choose to hide or mask their bad behavior to avoid being punished. Hiding bad behavior instead of changing behavior means that participants learn nothing, and when the camp is over, teens and their families must figure out what to do next, without external support. Boot camps and scared straight programs use fear as a motivator for their participants. They teach that attending their program is the only solution to bad behavior.

A Look at Wilderness Therapy Programs For Teens in Washington

The main goal of wilderness therapy programs is to give the participants life skills that enable them to solve problems as individuals and in groups. Wilderness therapy camp are structured to focus on positive reinforcement, not punishment. The trained therapists in wilderness therapy camps help teens think for themselves and work on making big life changes. These teens are able to change their behaviors after learning how to work through their problems and replace bad attitudes and behavior with good. This creates a measurable positive change and teaches teens that hiding bad behaviors to escape punishment isn’t the way to go.

Research comparing wilderness therapy camps and boot camps, shows that wilderness therapy camps provide teens with better tools and a greater ability to live a positive life.

One of the key principles of wilderness therapy is to take teens out of spaces they are comfortable in, placing them in an unfamiliar environment, and providing them opportunities to learn life lessons through survival skills and object lessons. Kids from Washington who attend a wilderness therapy program in Utah are on a good track toward positive change.

Each person who attends a wilderness therapy programs is able to start the camp not knowing anything about their peers, and allows them a fresh start as well. This unknown atmosphere allows them to be themselves without having to worry about the preconceived notions of others.

Wilderness therapy camps teach individual and group survival lessons to the participants. These lessons let camp counselors teach problem-solving and teach participants to work together. The wilderness therapy environment gives counselors the ability to be mentors and friends. These survival problem-solving lessons are applicable to the teen’s lives in and out of the camp. When they return home, teens will be better able to recognize good and bad behaviors, how they can develop positive relationships, and how to effectively solve problems.

Who Can Benefit From Wilderness Therapy Programs For Teens

Wilderness therapy is great for anyone. Outback’s Therapeutic Expedition programs have allowed troubled teens from all over the United States to flourish and grow. Outback’s programs work with teens and kids struggling academically, anyone with mental health problems, those involved in unsafe behaviors, and more.

Outback successfully teaches teens important life skills, and helps them develop other tools they previously lacked. Outside of the camp, they can use these tools to reconstruct broken trust, become more social, develop positive relationships, and elevate their life’s purpose.

A big myth surrounding wilderness therapy programs is that only court-ordered teens are able to attend. This isn’t true. The goal of wilderness therapy is to help anyone struggling to make positive life changes. It can also help those who are learning how to deal with balancing negative and positive behaviors. Wilderness therapy gives teens dealing with addictions (drugs and alcohol, video games, etc.), poor academic performance, mental health issues, and even those struggling to make friends, a second chance to improve their lives.

Outback’s primary goal is to help teens before they hit rock bottom and get them back on their feet. Anyone concerned about helping their teen learn how to make good choices should contact Outback today.

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Wilderness Therapy?

Outback created a comprehensive assessment survey to help parents understand what benefits wilderness therapy can have for their child. It also provides Outback a base of understanding, and place the teen in the best program for their needs.

The survey has 13 comprehensive questions for parents that are designed to help Outback understand what each child needs help with. After parents complete the survey, an Outback representative will contact the parents, answers their questions, and helps them move forward with the application.

The teenage years are full of making big decisions. Teenagers all deal with intense outside pressure, and this sometimes leads to poor decision-making. Things like abuse, hormones, friends, unsanitary living conditions, and school create extreme pressure on teens. If not handled correctly, these stressful situations can lead to poor decision-making. These decisions can have major and lasting consequences. Giving teens tools to make the best decisions in these situations is really important.

Occasionally recurring bad behavior in teens can become criminal. Parents, teachers, and law enforcement in Washington struggle to break the cycle because they lack the ability and know-how to help these struggling teens. It’s difficult for parents that feels like they don’t know how to help their children, but Outback is here to help.


Outback’s wilderness therapy programs create an ideal setting that encourages teens to make changes in their lives. Juvenile detention, scared straight programs, and boot camps all lack the ability to effect positive change in the lives of these teens. Outback’s proven methods enable teens to live a balanced and happy life.

Don’t lose hope. Outback Therapeutic Expeditions are here to help your troubled teen. Outback’s proven methods bring hope to parents and teens that the past can be fixed, that future bad behavior can be avoided, and give them skills to create a more positive and productive path forward.


While Outback is physically located in the beautiful state of Utah, students come to us from all over Washington state, the country, and the world, including (but not limited to) the following:










About the Author

McKay Deveraux, MSW, LCSW, is the executive director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions

McKay has over 17 years of experience working with troubled teens in wilderness therapy. Before becoming the executive director at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, McKay received his Masters of Social Work from Brigham Young University, worked as a field staff, field director, program director, and as a primary therapist at Outback.

He is honored to have served as Battalion Operations Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

COVID-19 Update

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.