Wilderness Therapy: Stages, Types and Advantages

Wilderness Therapy: Stages, Types and Advantages

Nature beauty

The environment and natural surroundings play a critical part in influencing one’s mental health and overall well-being. Wilderness therapy may be a field of interventions that’s both assorted and gradually coming together, including individual and group therapy in natural settings. Therapeutic processes are best supported and enhanced when conducted within the natural environment, as nature is seen as a vital component in advancing healing and well-being (Gabrielsen and Harper, 2017; Harper, Gabrielsen, and Carpenter, 2018).

Origin of Wilderness Therapy

The development of wilderness therapy has been primarily in the US and can be traced back to the early 1900s when tent therapy was first experimented with. Due to the circumstances, numerous hospitals had to migrate a critical number of patients into tents. The hospital’s greenery was affected by particular tragedies, including an earthquake in one occurrence and a flood in another. Another refugee experienced a tuberculosis episode. In the following decades, there was a quick extension of therapeutic camping for youth. Outward Bound programs were at that point introduced nationwide from the 1950s onwards. The utilization of outdoor spaces for mental and physical rejuvenation in the past can be seen as the early versions of wilderness therapy, which became well-known in the late 1980s.

Nowadays, numerous private programs, residential treatment centers, and clinics within the US and other nations are practicing wilderness therapy to supply care for an assortment of people. Young people encounter emotional, behavioral, mental, or substance use issues.

Who Requires Wilderness Therapy?

Youths confronting genuine issues such as alcohol and drug use, sexual promiscuity, legal troubles, and intense parental conflict are in great need of wilderness therapy.

The Different Stages of Wilderness Therapy

Cleansing Stage

The essential objective of wilderness treatment is to assist clients in overcoming their chemical dependencies by removing them from the harmful environments that fueled their addictions. The cleansing method includes following a basic yet nutritious diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and learning essential survival skills.

Personal and Social Responsibility Stage

Following the initial cleansing stage, clients are strongly influenced by natural consequences and peer interaction, which help them learn and acknowledge personal and social responsibility.

Transition and Aftercare Stage

This stage centers on transitioning people from their current circumstances to a more sustainable and secure environment, as well as providing continuous support and care to ensure their proceeded well-being and success.

Different Types of Wilderness Therapy
I) Adventure Therapy:

Adventure Therapy offers an energetic approach to healing and personal growth within the great outdoors. By immersing oneself in nature and engaging in challenging activities, people can find strength, resilience, and self-discovery. This special frame of therapy empowers participants to go up against their fears, construct confidence, and develop life skills that can be applied to their everyday lives. Adventure Therapy gives a transformative experience that advances mental, emotional, and physical well-being in a natural and empowering environment.

Adventure therapy centers on using outdoor activities and challenges to assist people in working through personal and emotional issues. It includes utilizing nature and physical activities as part of a therapeutic process to advance personal development and healing. Adventure therapy includes utilizing outdoor activities to assess and intervene at both individual and group levels, pointing to bring about psychological and behavioral therapeutic changes. (Gass, Gillis, and Russell, 2012) (Norton, Carpenter, & Pryor, 2015). The therapies mentioned within the content incorporate behavioral, systemic, existential, psychodynamic, and occupational therapy (Association for Experiential Education, 2012).

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Adventure therapy empowers people through pleasant and stimulating activities that incorporate true challenges, which may appear inconceivably at first but are eventually achievable. Activities for solving problems, Ropes Challenge Courses offer an engaging and exhilarating involvement.

Outdoor adventure exercises, such as rock climbing, abseiling, rafting, caving, and bushwalking, are an exciting way to investigate the incredible outdoors. Extended overnight expeditions frequently include activities such as backpacking, canoeing, rafting, ski touring, and snow camping.
The objective of adventure therapy programs is for participants to understand the meanings they have learned and apply them to their personal and social lives.

II) Wilderness Adventure Therapy

The WAT model focuses on improving social-emotional competencies and coping abilities through group-based adventure experiences driven by a psychologist. Concurring to Crisp and Hinch (2004), the development of the WAT model has advanced through three phases. From 1992 to 2000, WAT was created to supply multisystemic group therapy for young people dealing with severe psychological, behavioral, and psychiatric issues (Crisp and O’Donnell, 1998). The program was created in 1992 as part of the clinical adolescent day program at Austin Health, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia by Crisp, O’Donnell, Kingston, Poot, and Thomas (2000).

In 2000-2001, a WAT program was offered as a separate outpatient treatment at the Barwon Health Youthful Mental Health Benefit in Geelong. In Victoria, Australia, Crisp (2003) aimed to reach a wide assortment of adolescent out-patients and their parents who required more intensive outpatient care compared to conventional methods (Crisp et al., 2004). More than six programs were carried out between 2000 and 2001. During this time, 39 adolescents effectively completed the WAT treatment.

Implementation and Impact of WAT Programs:

From 2001 to 2003, WAT programs were put into place at the Inner East Community Health Service in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. These programs were planned to collaborate with local government high schools, as well as community youth and family agencies. The aim was to offer early intervention, prevention, and treatment for psychological, behavioral, and family-related issues in adolescents, in order to address their issues before they required to be alluded to a clinical service (Crisp et al.). In 2004, it was expressed that… In this phase, nine WAT programs were carried out, and 36 adolescents successfully completed the WAT treatment. An adolescent child who had witnessed extreme domestic violence had a significant effect on the adolescent and the family’s well-being. Furthermore, there was a program particularly outlined for female teenagers who had been victims of sexual assault.

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Crisp’s study focused on families with teenagers where there was clear evidence of major disturbances within the parent-adolescent attachment.
Beginning in 2003, various WAT programs have been carried out in both independent and government schools, serving as community and early intervention initiatives.

The Advantages of Wilderness Therapy

Developing Coping Strategies:

The experts in the wilderness therapy program regularly evaluate how young individuals are adapting with their experiences and step in when necessary. They examine issues in the moment and assist the student in making compelling strategies for self-soothing and moving forward when necessary.


It is a process of advancing oneself and reaching one’s full potential. This sort of therapy can help in expanding self-awareness by acknowledging personal strengths. Also, it can help in the development of leadership abilities and a more robust work ethic.

Also Read: Unconventional Therapies: You may have not heard before

Boosting Self-Confidence:

Wilderness therapy programs point to creating a success-oriented self-image for participants by boosting self-perception, hope, internal sense of control, and self-assurance, and improving their interpersonal and social abilities.

Managing emotions:

Wilderness therapy helps individuals process their feelings, empowering them to be more in control and effectively manage their vulnerability.

Developing the skill of solving problems:

Partaking in wilderness therapy helps people learn basic survival skills and cultivates a more prominent sense of responsibility in addressing challenges.

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