As a therapist for wilderness therapy, I meet many teens with addictions, learning disabilities and low self-esteem. Recently, I was counseling a student who was admitted to Outback with a significant huffing addiction. As I got to know him better, I began to understand that beneath this addiction he was struggling with depression, anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. These feelings of inadequacy stemmed from a severe reading disability.
This student put so much energy into reading the words on a page that he was not able to understand their context. The group and I would hear him make self-denigrating comments relating to his intelligence. Through his wilderness therapy experience, he learned how to do many things he did not know he could do such as making a fire with a bow drill, build shelters sufficient for snow storms and be authentic among other adolescent boys. He discovered that he was actually very smart.
After about 7 weeks of wilderness therapy, he began reading of his own volition. The group had recently started to read a book together and he had the wise thought that if he understood the storyline then he might understand what he was reading as he picked through the words. Not only did he decide to read, but he was reading aloud to the group! By challenging himself to work on his weaknesses, this young man made himself a leader among his peers. He had taken what was once the source of crippling shame and made it a strength.
Trevor Allen, CMHC
Primary Therapist – Outback Therapeutic Expeditions