Log in

18+ Wilderness Therapy Applicants? Ask these 28 Questions

All Kinds of Therapy is an online directory that asks its advertisers to answer facts about their treatment programs. Additionally, All Kinds of Therapy has content that supports the many, typical questions that families and young adults have about enrolling in treatment of all types. However, when it comes to Wilderness Therapy, the questions are VAST and they may involve several phone calls to the admissions contact to understand what the program does and how they work with their young adult clients.

There is a lot of misinformation on the web about wilderness therapy; like all the other communities online, a lot of former wilderness clients are embittered about their struggles (some, quite rightly so)  posting their experiences on the web. And the good news is that wilderness therapy is safer than it has ever been (that is a blog for another day) and research consistently reinforces evidence of its efficacy and safety. Hopefully, you are a young adult looking for treatment or a parent thinking about a wilderness intervention as an option for your young adult. Take the time to read this blog, learn some useful concepts to investigate, and ask the admissions and marketing professionals for details. Feel free to call the admissions line more than once – you are making a big decision, a large investment of time, money and emotional capital, too. It is ok to be a little scattered about your enrollment process. I promise the person on the other end of the phone has heard all these questions before.


  1. How often will students wash bodies and clothes, shower, etc? Ask about protocols ensuring young adult’s hygiene.
  2. What are the meals like? How does program manage X type of meal (Kosher, Halal, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, food allergies, etc)?
  3. What or how will you deal with the young adult when he is struggling? 
  4. (How) will your model work with my child? (Explain what the person enrolling is like on your worst day.)
  5. What is the process for a student who walks away from the program, or a young adult who no longer wants to participate? How often have you had a student run from or be discharged from a program? 
  6. Do you ever have to restrain a participant? If so, what would be a circumstance?
  7. What happens in extreme temperatures?
  8. What happens over holidays?
  9. What programming changes happen over the winter?
  10. If the program owns a teen wilderness therapy program and a young adult wilderness therapy track, what are the differences? 
  11. Do you specialize in a particular diagnosis or type of trauma or attachment? 
  12. Does the wilderness therapy program exclude any applicants? What are the reasons someone is not going to be admitted or ruled out for admission to their program?


When a client is 18+ years old, states that license adolescent programs often do not have adult program licenses; also, some states do not have any wilderness therapy regulations(!). YUP! My jaw dropped too. However, except for minor distinctions, the reputable wilderness therapy programs follow state licensing requirements anyway. Ask about this (the Admissions folks should know the state licensing regulations for an equivalent adolescent program).

Field staff are out in the field with the students 24/7, usually for 8 days while therapists typically visit the field or base camp only 2 days a week. You do the majority of therapeutic work outside therapist hours. This is something that your family member might not understand at first, because the parent or guardian is communicating with the therapist weekly and he/she is your parent’s contact to your child.

To understand the milieu, include these pointers in your research:

  1. Where does the program find or hire program staff?
  2. How long do field instructors (aka staff) remain at the program? 
  3. Read any Training information on the website, because the program is looking for employees to live out the model – therefore, you may discover different perspectives on day-to-day expectations for running a field group. 
  4. In the summer, wilderness therapy programs expand their censuses tremendously, potentially meaning newer instructors and larger group size. As necessary, how do they staff the larger groups?
  5. What is the schedule for the staff exchanges? To manage this changeover, how does the routine shift?
  6. What is the process for weeding out staff who cannot hold boundaries or are not supporting the process?


Wilderness Therapy Programs for young adults often have extremely different models to effect or support change in their students; really understanding the model and the inherent types of intervention is as important as the clinician who is working with your student.

Some of the different types of therapies that are used are DBT Skills, CBT, Brainspotting, equine therapy, motivational interviewing, all compounded by the stressors, amazements and cogent metaphors that come from the natural environment.

  1. Do the clinicians share groups with other therapists or does each therapist have their own group? Why or why not? (This will get at the program’s philosophy on therapists, how seasoned the therapists might be and a snapshot into how the clinical department functions, or doesn’t, as a team.)
  2. What if I do not like or connect with the therapist?
  3. What do you do for clients who have had little success with therapists before?
  4. How much time per week will the therapist be having individual sessions with me or the group as a whole?
  5. Which therapist is right for my young adult? Why?
  6. What would this therapist typically do when a student is “stuck” or apprehensive or combative?
  7. What will the wilderness program do if the young adult walks away from the program?
  8. What are the expectations of me as a parent or family member? There is more detail and direction listed on each young adult advertisement. Check what is required or optional for each program — Workshops, Separate Calls with a therapist, Bibliotherapy assignments, webinar participation, etc.
  9. What are the exclusionary criteria for young adults?
  10. If the wilderness therapy specializes in a particular type of client, modality or treatment type, ask the admissions person to PROVE how. 
    1. If they deal with addiction, do they expose to 12 steps? Why or Why Not, specifically.
    2. If they specialize in anxiety, how do they meet the client where they are?
    3. If they specialize in autism, what is different about the group or program? 
    4. Is there evidence-based treatment being used? If so, have wilderness therapy program explain the research and treatment plans.

About the Author
Jenney Wilder M.S.Ed launched All Kinds of Therapy in 2015, as the only independent online directory for the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry. With an impressive case of ADHD and her starter career in the 90’s in Silicon Valley, the dream for creating a website with features like side-by-side comparison and an integrated newsletter was born. Jenney stopped counting treatment centers and all types of schools that she has visited when she hit 500 many years ago. She was the sponsoring author of the only Economic Impact Study of the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry, which revealed the only true financial figures about this industry (in Utah). Jenney has a Masters in Special Education from Bank Street College (NY) and a Bachelor of Arts focused on History from Wheaton College (MA).