Success in Learning

Using Wilderness Therapy for Troubled Teens

teens-995273-mAre you the parent of a teenager that is getting into trouble too often, using drugs, defying you, trying to deal with excessive anger and other behavioral problems? A wilderness therapy program may be the answer you are seeking.

These programs can intervene in powerful and effective ways for teenagers, teaching them assertiveness, independence, maturity and self-reliance. The out-of-doors are used to help them develop self-confidence by learning basic survival skills, gaining important hands-on experiences in a natural, but unpredictable environment.

The best programs provide assessment, diagnosis, treatment and education services at a base camp with a professional treatment team and support staff. By combining medication management directed by trained doctors, regular family, group and individual therapy and an ongoing personalized academic program, teens are given the structure for successful growth.

If, after reading this article, you feel this is something that could help your troubled teen, find out more by contacting Elk River Treatment Program.

Wilderness Therapy – What Exactly Is It?

Developed as an alternative to residential or inpatient care, wilderness therapy has two meanings:
the use of the wilderness as “the therapist”, or
activities that are therapeutic carried out in the wilderness.

Teens are not simply thrown into the hardships of living in the wilderness, however the purpose of these programs is to removed them from their usual negative influences and put them into a safe place, one in which they can actually learn and grow.

Through well-planned, reasonable and necessary activities in the wilderness, they will be challenged and encouraged to succeed. The adversity the teens encounter will help form bonds and teach them to work as a team to overcome the challenges set for them. Wilderness therapy is based on action methods, is experiential and includes both individual and group therapy sessions.


Since behavior changes involve both social and environmental reinforcement, becoming leaders and/or part of a team, in often difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions, will provide opportunities to make choices and have to deal with the consequences. Members of staff are trained to provide authority figures but without any kind of authoritarianism. Therapists provide the assessment and monitoring of problems and progress as well as provide reinforcement for growth and development.

Among the activities most programs offer are:
living in primitive conditions
skills training for living outdoors
leadership training and team building
daily structured activities
courses and expeditions to challenge participants
having to deal with the consequences of one’s choices and actions
academic education classes.

There are major differences among the various treatment programs available so the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has developed a list of questions that parents can ask to help them ascertain if a particular program is right for their teenager. Not every program is are right for every teenager, choose carefully.

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