Self Help Therapy

What is Wilderness Therapy?

An experiential type of therapy called wilderness therapy blends therapy sessions with outdoor activities. Adolescents at risk are most frequently treated with wilderness treatment, which involves placing them in settings designed to replicate the difficulties they would face in their native social structures, according to Romanoff.

Related: Wilderness Therapy: Stages, Types and Advantages

Since this type of therapy can foster bonding, it is occasionally provided for families and couples as well. Families with disturbed teenagers can also benefit from participating in a wilderness program together as a means of addressing problems, mending broken relationships, and fostering family healing.

With sessions conducted in outdoor or natural environments, This therapy assists people in addressing behavioural and mental health issues. Over the past 20 years, wilderness therapy has become more and more well-known. It made its debut in the 1900s.

One type of therapy that is included in the adventure-based therapy category is wilderness therapy. People travel on different adventures without the harmful external influences that are usually present in social and familial contexts. Depending on each person’s needs, group treatment, family therapy, or individual psychotherapy may be involved.

Types of Wilderness Therapy

One of the two forms of therapy that are administered outside is wilderness therapy. They are as follows:

  • Wilderness therapy: This treatment emphasizes tenacity and adaptability through outdoor activities. This usually happens in small groups over several days in isolated wilderness locations. Unless someone leaves, the group stays the same the entire time. These initiatives frequently take inspiration from Outward Bound.
  • Adventure therapy: Adventure activities are a part of this type of therapy. It’s about challenging yourself and accepting mental and physical risks. These programs are frequently held at or close to the patient’s place of treatment; typically, this is the case for patients enrolled in multi-day programs like residential therapy or intense outpatient programs. As patients arrive and go from the institution, the groups rotate, and occasionally the activities—like rock climbing walls in a treatment centre designed with therapy in mind instead of in the “real” wild—become more staged.

Related: Eco therapy: The Transformative Power of nature in mental well-being

Techniques of Wilderness Therapy

Techniques used in this therapy include group bonding exercises, training in survival skills, and adventures. Although the therapy’s substance is provided by these strategies, Romanoff notes that transformation happens in the process because it gives rise to unhelpful attitudes and behaviours that have the capacity to change.

Some of the outdoor pursuits that wilderness therapy may entail are as follows:

  1. Adventures: You can push yourself both mentally and physically by participating in adventure sports like rock climbing, trekking, ziplining, and boating.
  2. Games: As you solve problems and get beyond barriers, playing games and engaging in problem-solving exercises can help you develop your confidence, self-worth, and leadership abilities.
  3. Expeditions: These encompass both survival and exploration trips, which are frequently undertaken in teams. They can boost cooperation and trust, foster teamwork, and provide you with survival skills.
  4. Outdoor recreational activities: As you spend time in nature and away from your typical surroundings, wilderness therapy frequently incorporates outdoor recreational activities that can aid in self-discovery.

This therapy also involves therapy sessions with mental health specialists in addition to these activities. The sessions can also involve individual sessions and support groups, though they are typically held in a group environment. The goal of therapy is to help patients replace unhealthy, unhelpful thought patterns with healthier, more constructive ones.

Related: Why you should Start Therapy?

What Wilderness Therapy Can Help With

Anxiety and Asperger’s syndrome are two mental health issues that may benefit from wilderness treatment.

  1. Trauma
  2. Depression
  3. Substance abuse
  4. Attention Deficit Disorder
  5. Disorders related to eating
  6. Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Teens who struggle with low self-esteem, avoidance, resistance, and impulsive, careless, or rebellious behaviour might also benefit from wilderness treatment. In the early phases of this therapy, participants may be assessed to identify potential problems.


Benefits of Wilderness Therapy

The following are some advantages that wilderness therapy may provide:

  • Establish responsibility: You can learn survival skills and develop a stronger sense of accountability through wilderness therapy.
  • Lessen negativity: Being in the wilderness can assist you in substituting healthier, more optimistic mind patterns for negative behaviours and thoughts.
  • Gain coping skills: It can help you acquire coping mechanisms that you can use in other contexts, such as the workplace, school, or home.
  • Enhance health and fitness: Limiting your use of technology, getting outside, and engaging in physical activity can all help you become healthier and more fit.
  • Promote personal growth: This type of treatment can aid in your increased self-awareness. It can also support the growth of your work ethic and leadership abilities.
  • Boost confidence: Overcoming mental and emotional obstacles as well as physical obstacles is a key component of wilderness treatment, which can raise your self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Control your emotions: Since this therapy is an immersing kind of treatment, it can help you feel feelings and ideas you were previously ignorant of. It can facilitate the processing of these feelings, improve your mastery over them, and deepen your self-awareness.
  • Strengthen relationships: This type of therapy frequently entails cooperative group activities that call for teamwork, which can foster strong interpersonal bonds. In due course, this may also assist in strengthening your bonds with loved ones and friends outside of the wilderness treatment environment.

Related: 15 of the Best Couples Therapy Techniques to try

How does wilderness therapy work?

An environment of safety, non-judgment, and support is offered by this therapy for self-discovery. When someone finds a therapist and participates in wilderness treatment, they are frequently led through an analysis of maladaptive behaviours that lead to unfavourable situations in their lives. Unproductive or disruptive ideas and viewpoints may be questioned and even changed through the use of team-building activities, wilderness outings, and instruction in primitive skills (such as making a fire).

The difficulties and demands of social and familial systems are imitated in wilderness treatment, but it does so in an environment free from harmful influences. Using their own inner power and insight, youth learn how to live within boundaries, form healthy relationships, and accept and handle criticism. In order to complete tasks or protect themselves, participants are frequently obliged to form alliances with other young people. The participants gain trust, communication skills, cooperation abilities, and self-confidence by doing this.

Related: Let’s sort it out: Importance of Healthy communication in relationships

Controversies and Limitations of Wilderness Therapy

A prevalent critique of wilderness treatment programs is their potential inability to deliver the level of care or quality they claim to. The wide range of therapeutic approaches that may be found in various wilderness therapy programs has led to doubt about the efficacy of this type of treatment among certain individuals. Some adolescent boot camps and other wilderness experience businesses that could misrepresent themselves as wilderness therapy programs also have an impact on this scenario.

The expense of wilderness therapy treatment may be somewhat significant. Some programs have daily costs as high as $500, and therapy lasts anywhere from one to three months. As a result, some people who would really like to use this therapeutic technique might not be able to pay for their care.

Older adults, small children, and those with certain physical problems may not benefit from wilderness therapy because of its physical, cognitive, and social demands. Additionally, the method might not work or be dangerous for those with severe or long-term mental health illnesses like dementia, schizophrenia, or other conditions of a similar nature.

References +
  • Gupta, S. (2023, November 28). What is wilderness therapy? Verywell Mind.
  • GoodTherapy Editor Team. (2016, January 3). Wilderness therapy.
  • Choosing Therapy. (2023, December 25). Wilderness therapy: What it is, benefits, & effectiveness.
  • The Human Condition. (2022, April 3). Wilderness therapy: Description, types, and benefits.
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