HomeHome & FamilyWhat is Wilderness Therapy and How Does it Help Troubled Teens?

What is Wilderness Therapy and How Does it Help Troubled Teens?


Over the last few decades, several pioneers have been pushing an innovative new form of therapy that is commonly known as wilderness therapy. Some view it as an offshoot of adventure-based therapy, while others feel that it draws its roots from even older traditions – but it essentially involves using wilderness expeditions for therapeutic intervention in the lives of troubled teens.

Wilderness Therapy

The exact form in which a wilderness therapy program takes can vary considerably. Some are structured as survival approach, while others are more adventure or activity centric. On the whole, the philosophies that underlie each specific wilderness therapy program will affect what it encompasses.

“How Does it Help Troubled Teens?”

On a very basic level, the focus of wilderness therapy is to help troubled teens to overcome personal challenges, regain control of their lives, allow them to ponder the path that they’re on and take steps to put themselves back on the right track.

Although there are differences adopted by different programs, most tend to focus on nurturing troubled teens as opposed to inflicting punitive punishment. The idea is that by helping young people to discover themselves and the seeds of greatness that are within them, they can affect a more permanent behavioral change on their lives.

To that end, the wilderness serves as an ideal setting: Peaceful and serene – where teens can take the opportunity to reflect, ponder, and build. The staff play an important role in most programs too – and are there to guide, nurture, and help.

It is worth noting that there are some programs that advertise themselves as wilderness therapy but are actually more akin to ‘boot camps’ – and do not use the same approach.

“Does it Work?”

Overall the success rate of actual wilderness therapy programs has been positive. Research has shown that for the better programs out there, the majority of participants experience a marked improvement in their lives.

Needless to say, all teens are different – so the exact effects vary from one participant to the next. Most tend to report an increase in patience, maturity, self-reliance, assertiveness, and independence.

Today, wilderness therapy is used to treat a wide array of different conditions, including mood disorders, behavioral problems, attachment disorders and adjustment difficulties. Some programs are also used to help youth with substance abuse and chemical dependency issues – and those are able to boast a success rate of over 56%.

If you’re interested in wilderness therapy for troubled teens, it is crucial that you choose a program that is well-established, accredited and has a sterling reputation. One of the most renowned is Anasazi.org/ which is a non-profit organization that was founded by the pioneers of wilderness therapy – Larry Olsen and Ezekiel Sanchez. Its approach is regarded as one of the best out there, and focuses not just on helping troubled teens, but their families as well.

Letting the healing hands of nature work its magic could be the key to affecting a change of heart in a troubled teen.


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