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Wilderness Therapy

Two girls laughing during wilderness therapy

At-risk teens and young adults dealing with wide-ranging emotional and behavioral issues may benefit from a wilderness therapy treatment program. Typically a short- to medium-length program, wilderness therapy uses Mother Nature as the setting for a therapeutic process . Wilderness therapy programs are a great way to help stabilize a client by helping them and the family get out of a crisis mode. During a wilderness therapy expedition, participants learn new ways of thinking and coping that can help them end a pattern of poor choices. Therapists will also assess a client’s need for further treatment. Although wilderness programs may vary in the methods they use, most pair a clinically sophisticated model with a series of tasks that challenge participants and promote teamwork. Therapeutic techniques, such as journaling and learning techniques to combat negative thinking, are typically used on a daily basis.

When considering wilderness therapy programs, look for the following:

  • State licensure
  • Clients have regular contact with a licensed therapist
  • Clients have individualized treatment plans that a licensed therapist oversees
  • Therapists work with families to keep them informed on best treatment practices
  • The wilderness therapy takes place in a group setting to foster teamwork and respect for others
  • Trained field guides are present
  • Formal evaluations are conducted to determine treatment effectiveness

Common Questions

Q: What is the average cost of a wilderness therapy program?

A: Wilderness programs range in price from $300-$500+ per day with an average length of stay being between 30 and 90 days. Some programs will also have an enrollment fee to help cover the initial cost of equipment.

Q: Is wilderness therapy like boot camp?

A: No. While boot camp uses aggressive methods to change behavior, wilderness therapy takes a compassionate approach. Wilderness therapy techniques involve using the harsh lessons of nature to create therapeutic opportunities, but in a safe way that promotes healing.

Q: What happens at the end of treatment?

A: For many clients, wilderness is a first step in their treatment path, and they will continue on to another setting such as a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center. For other clients, they will return home. In these situations, they will make the transition with an aftercare plan, and the client and family should continue working with their therapist at home to make sure the client’s progress during treatment is maintained.