What is Wilderness Therapy and How Does It Help Teens with Video Game and Internet Addiction/Abuse?

For more severe cases of video game, social media, and internet addiction or abuse, residential treatment is usually the most effective form of intervention available. One option that many parents turn to for electronics abuse is wilderness therapy. The wilderness plays a very powerful role in rewiring the neuropathways of someone who has struggled with excessive digital media use.hiking-960x370

What exactly is wilderness therapy? According to Keith C. Russell, a leading researcher of wilderness therapy, “Wilderness therapy utilizes outdoor adventure pursuits and other activities, such as primitive skills and reflection, to enhance personal and interpersonal growth.” Wilderness therapy utilizes the following aspects to help teens with problematic video game or internet use:

Wilderness Setting

What sets wilderness therapy apart from other residential treatment programs, is that it utilizes the benefits of outdoor living. Studies show that simply being outdoors has mental health benefits. Benefits of the therapeutic wilderness setting include:

  • Reduces stress
  • 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)

In addition to these mental health benefits, wilderness therapy gets teens out of a “toxic” environment where the temptation to use electronics is present. This is Because the wilderness is so peaceful and free from distractions. In addition, wilderness therapy helps to realign circadian rhythms in teens who have been sleep deprived due to excessive electronics use. Unfortunately, however, many of today’s teens have very limited exposure to nature.  

Therapeutic Group Living

The therapeutic group living experienced during wilderness therapy helps teens with their interpersonal communication skills and building strong peer relationships. The group living situation provides teens a chance to learn from others who are experiencing similar hardships and overcoming video game or internet addiction/abuse through wilderness therapy. This is especially helpful for teens who are escaping to video games and the internet due to social skill deficits and a difficulty forming meaningful relationships with others.

Provides a Strong Sense of Accomplishment for Teens

Another aspect that sets wilderness therapy apart from other residential treatment programs is the strong sense of accomplishment upon completion. Russell states that “completing a wilderness therapy program represents a sense of accomplishment for the client that is concrete and real, and can be used to draw strength from in the future.” (Russell 2001) That strength will prove useful in overcoming the obstacle of video game or internet addiction.

Instills Self Confidence and Self Efficacy

The sense of accomplishment and strength that many teens gain from completing wilderness therapy is key in helping boost his or her self confidence and self efficacy. According to Russell, “Clients believe that if they completed wilderness therapy, they can also complete other formidable tasks.” Self confidence is especially vital for teens who are escaping into the digital world 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.

Download our free white paper, WIRED: Helping Your Teen Unplug from the Digital World, to learn more about video game and internet addiction or abuse treatment.

Download the WIRED: Helping Your Teen Unplug from the Digital World White Paper Now


Frances E. Kuo, PhD and  Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD. A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study

Russell, Keith C., (2001) “What is Wilderness Therapy?” The Journal of Experiential Education, Vol. 24, 70-79

Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009).” Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1315-1329.

Wells, N.M. (2000). At Home with Nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior (32), 6, pp 775-795.


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