Is Wilderness Treatment Effective?

Wilderness Therapy is a growing type of personal psychotherapy treatment. Many parents are exploring the possibility of utilizing wilderness therapy programs to address their children’s behavioral or social issues. The biggest concern for those interested in therapeutic options is whether treatment is effective and long lasting. Below are answers to common questions regarding the effectiveness of wilderness therapy.

What Constitutes Valid Wilderness Treatment?

is wilderness treatment effectiveWilderness therapy at its core is the application of psychotherapy techniques in a wilderness setting. All therapeutic organizations must meet certain criteria like:

  • Licensing by a state agency
  • Regular client contact with a licensed mental health practitioner
  • Individualized treatment plan creation and monitoring for each client
  • Formal evaluation of treatment effectiveness
  • Formal follow-up to ensure that treatment effectiveness is maintained

Furthermore, wilderness treatment programs must meet other criteria:

  • Field guides with training in client-specific specialty areas such as substance abuse, stress management, and de-escalation
  • Utilization of the outdoors to remove the client from their comfort zone and implement new behavior and coping strategies
  • A prolonged time period in the outdoor setting to allow old habits to be replaced by new ones
  • Group settings to make use of group development processes
  • Learning of outdoor skills which can be used to apply to the client’s situation

How Do People Respond During Wilderness Treatment?

Results from any type of therapy vary greatly from person to person. In an educational paper exploring the effect of wilderness therapy for at-risk girls, Taryn Yudaken reports that many participants claim to have boosted self-esteem and confidence during and after their wilderness treatment.

  • Don’t forget to check out the directory of treatment locations, such as those in the state of Pennsylvania.

Therapy sessions are often in a group setting and focus on teamwork and the accomplishment of certain tasks. This teaches clients that they are able to acquire skills, as well as applying the importance of working in groups. The remote setting allows clients to put aside pre-conceived behaviors that they practice in their everyday lives.

What Happens After Wilderness Treatment?

Dr. Keith Russell, a respected PhD in the wilderness therapy field, has conducted many case studies on the application of wilderness therapy techniques. In his co-written paper, “How Wilderness Therapy Works…”, he explores effective strategies for making sure wilderness therapy maintains effectiveness. To this end, the authors state that wilderness therapy programs must include a transition phase where clients are taught how to apply their newly learned skills in real-life settings.

Every type of therapy comes with a risk of relapse. The overall chances of relapse depend on the specific program and how therapeutic strategies are applied. The client’s willingness to continually apply their newly learn skills is also important. Parents and family members looking into wilderness therapy as an option for adolescents should talk directly with program staff about what strategies are set in place to ensure longevity of treatment effects.

As society drifts further away from nature, wilderness therapy is becoming a more utilized therapeutic option for clients with a variety of behavioral and social challenges. Studies have shown wilderness therapy to have equal effectiveness rates to other types of therapy. Clients, family members, and guardians should always research the credentials of any therapeutic program, and make sure the program staff is dedicated to providing personalized, research-proven care.