If your teen is displaying troubling signs of anger, depression, promiscuity, self-harm, addiction, or the like, you’re probably searching for a solution. You want to know what you can do to help them change their behavior. Sometimes the best thing to do is find a program designed to guide, support, and teach your child a new and better way of living, like a wilderness therapy program. But does wilderness therapy work? Depending on the severity of your teen’s issues, a wilderness therapy program may be the right next step in their healing. Keep reading to discover the benefits of wilderness therapy and learn whether or not adventure therapy really works.
What is the Purpose of Adventure Therapy for Troubled Teens?
When most people think of therapy, they picture a couch and a therapist in a stuffy office. But therapy doesn't have to be like that. Wilderness therapy is an increasingly popular form of treatment that takes advantage of the healing power of nature. It’s a mental and behavioral health treatment strategy that combines therapy with outdoor activities to engage and support adolescents cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally. Activities can include hiking, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, and more. While adventure therapy can be beneficial for all teens, it can be especially helpful for those struggling with mental health issues.
Adventure-based therapy aims to help teens build confidence, overcome challenges, and develop social and problem-solving skills. For many teens, spending time in nature and away from technology can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Adventure therapy can also help teens bond with their peers and build positive relationships. Ultimately, wilderness therapy is about helping teens grow, overcome their unique challenges, and heal in a safe and supportive environment.
What Happens During Adventure-Based Therapy Programs?
Every wilderness therapy program differs in its duration, activities, and requirements. They can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, with many offering 10-week immersion programs. Most recommend some aspect of family participation, and many require the family to speak with their child’s therapist weekly. Everything from the location to the weather to the treatment program length impacts what activities teens will participate in during their stay. It’s essential to research wilderness therapy programs and talk with the staff and clinicians to learn more about the specifics of each program before selecting one for your child.
5 Benefits of Wilderness Therapy for Troubled Teens
Nature has a way of healing the soul–scientific studies have shown that being in nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and increase happiness and creativity. Some doctors are even starting to prescribe time in nature as part of their treatment plans for various health ailments. So, sending your teen to an adventure therapy program is already a good start. But do wilderness therapy programs work for troubled youth? And what are the tangible wilderness therapy benefits you and your child can expect? Although every person will have a different experience resulting in a different outcome, here are some common benefits of wilderness therapy for troubled teens.
1. Wilderness Therapy Helps Teens Grow Their Self Awareness
One of the hardest things about being a teenager is that everything feels like it's happening for the first time. You're constantly bombarded with new emotions and experiences, and it can be tough to figure out who you are and what you want in life. That's where wilderness therapy comes in. By spending time in nature, away from the distractions and pressures of everyday life, teens have an opportunity to quiet their minds and really reflect on themselves. They can explore their emotions without judgment and gain a better understanding of their thoughts and behaviors. As they learn to understand and accept themselves, they also learn to respect and care for others. Ultimately, wilderness therapy can help troubled teens to grow into self-aware, compassionate adults.
2. Wilderness Therapy Helps Teens Build Independence and Confidence
Independence and confidence are two important traits teens need to succeed in life. However, these qualities don't always come naturally. Sometimes, teens need a little extra help to build these skills. By participating in outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and rock climbing, teens begin to develop independence and confidence and learn how to set goals, overcome obstacles, and work together as a team. As they progress, they begin to see themselves in a new light–as capable, strong, and resilient individuals.
3. Wilderness Therapy Helps Teens Gain Respect for Others
Wilderness therapy provides an opportunity for teenagers to step away from the pressures of society and connect with something larger than themselves. Through nature-based activities, they can learn how to appreciate the natural world and develop a greater sense of respect for all living beings. In turn, this can help them build healthier relationships with those around them.
4. Wilderness Therapy Helps Teens Learn Leadership and Communication Skills
Wilderness therapy can help teens develop leadership and communication skills by encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones and take on new challenges. This can help them build confidence and learn how to better cooperate with others. In addition, the close working relationships formed during wilderness therapy can teach teens how to communicate with others and work together as a team. As a result, wilderness therapy can be an excellent way for teens to develop the leadership and communication skills they need to succeed in life.
5. Wilderness Therapy Helps Teens Find New Life Skills and Passions
The experience can be challenging, but it also provides an opportunity for teens to develop new life skills and explore their passions. Through wilderness therapy, teens can learn how to navigate difficult situations, build confidence, and create a deeper appreciation for the natural world. For many teens, wilderness therapy is a transformative experience that helps them put their old behaviors behind them and find a new direction in life.
What is the Success Rate for Wilderness Therapy?
While all the benefits of wilderness therapy sound great, you might still wonder, “Does wilderness therapy work for troubled teens?” Multiple programs have conducted studies on the success rate of adventure therapy, and the results are positive. One study followed up with participants two years after treatment, and over 80% of parents and 90% of teens stated it was effective. Of course, everyone’s experience is different, and some teens might not leave the program having experienced all the wilderness therapy benefits listed.
What are the Negatives of Going to Wilderness Therapy?
Not all residential treatment programs are ethical, transparent, or equal. It’s essential to thoroughly research programs before sending your teen to ensure they can have a positive and supportive experience. Adventure-based therapy programs are “tier one” residential programs, meaning they are low-intensity and short-term. If your teen struggles with severe suicidal thoughts, criminal behavior, or drug addiction, a wilderness therapy program won’t provide the necessary supervision to keep them safe. It’s essential to consult with your child’s medical team to develop a treatment plan tailored to your teen’s needs.
Let Your Teen Experience the Wilderness Therapy Benefits By Finding a Program Today
If you think adventure therapy might be the best next step in your teen's road to healing, you can use our directory to start your search. All of the listed programs are thoroughly vetted to help ensure a positive experience for your family. Find a wilderness therapy program for your teen today!