Many people have yet to hear of Wilderness Therapy or may need help understanding it. Trails Carolina provides an innovative wilderness therapy program. Today, they explain what wilderness therapy is.
What is Wilderness Therapy?
Wilderness therapy is residential treatment for youth struggling with mental or behavioral health concerns. As the name suggests, it involves spending time in the wilderness as a part of the therapeutic environment.
Wilderness therapy combines the natural therapeutic qualities and growth-focused challenges of outdoor activities with clinically proven therapy modalities. This environment is drastically different from the client’s typical surroundings.
Time in nature is scientifically proven to have cognitive benefits, improving mental and emotional well-being. Negative associations from their lives are removed, along with the distractions of modern life.
What Do Teens Do in Wilderness Therapy
Teens will receive counseling from licensed therapists during their time in wilderness therapy. Programming is developed to help participants practice therapeutic skills with their peers and field staff during everyday activities.
Some wilderness therapy programs involve spending the duration of the stay in the wilderness, typically in tents. Other programs, like Trails Carolina, have a traditional residential “base camp” but go on regular outdoor outings and camping trips.
This allows the client to get the benefits of standard residential treatment, including therapy and academic work, alongside wilderness therapy.
The Benefits of Wilderness Therapy
Wilderness therapy has many benefits. Perhaps the most important is that it helps prepare teens for life after treatment.
Wilderness therapy inspires confidence by putting the clients in challenging situations. Communication and teamwork are essential in the wilderness, so clients strengthen these skills significantly.
Naturally, team-building exercises and group activities inspire youth to empathize and collaborate with one another. The adventures experienced in wilderness therapy also help teens learn to form secure bonds with staff and each other.
Lastly, Trails Carolina states that wilderness therapy teaches kids hard skills, like making a campfire and cooking. All skills, both hard and soft, are reinforced at base camp.
Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Program
Trails Carolina has been offering wilderness therapy since 2008. They provide a structured environment at base camp, along with wilderness adventures.
Effectiveness of Wilderness Therapy
Wildness therapy sounds like an enjoyable adventure, but is it effective? According to the Outdoor Behavioral Health Council, yes.
They used a Youth Outcome Questionnaire (YOQ) to interview 853 families across 7 different wilderness programs.
The average score for teens admitted to mental health facilities is 100. Teens who enter outpatient typically score around 78.
A teen without behavioral issues can be expected to score 23. If a teen scores over 46, they are above the threshold for the community youth.
When the teens were admitted to the program, they scored 100, according to their parents. Within 1 to 2 months of discharge, they scored 49, close to the community threshold.
Three months after discharge, they scored 56, and at six months, they scored 57. This was a slight increase. However, at the one-year mark, the scores were back at 49. This means wilderness programs provide long-term improvements.
It’s also important to note that wilderness therapy programs are typically shorter than other residential treatment programs, which makes the improvement even more impressive.