The Wilderness Therapeutic Approach

Admittedly, there are a growing number of programs operating in the entire United States that uses “wilderness therapy”.  But what exactly does “wilderness therapy” entail? The wilderness therapeutic approach can be defined and characterized in a slew of ways.  The use of outdoor-based approaches that are considered “rehabilitative” such as “adventure-based therapy”, “challenge courses” or “wilderness experience programs (WEPs),” are often used interchangeably with wilderness therapy.  All of the programs are conducted in the wilderness or comparable lands for the purposes of cultivating personal growth, rehabilitation, therapy, education or for leadership and/or organizational development.

Out of the many organizations offering wilderness therapy, there are those that stand out from the rest; thanks to their use of a holistic, bio-psychosocial-spiritual approach to the treatment. Why use all of those components? It’s because we believe that the best treatment approach is one that recognizes the massive influence of the mind, body and spirit to the induction of growth and development of individuals. Their programs are governed by the following components:


Relationships are essential in the development of a person, especially adolescents. These programs are geared to build positive relationships between the staff and program participants. This move aims to lower the participant’s resistance and also to promote self-awareness and introspection. Young adults tend to respond well and be more perceptive in a non-hostile or non-controlling environment which is what the WTC programs are striving to create.


wilderness therapeutic approachA person’s psychological makeup can affect one’s perception and level of cognition. With the wilderness treatment programs, they employ a positive psychological approach to interventions which can help instill into the minds of their participants that they are capable of insight and can make sound decisions or changes that can turn the quality of their lives around.


This addresses one’s sleep habits, diet, medications or any issues of substance abuse—all of which can affect a person’s mood, line of thinking, point of reasoning and personal resiliency. It is in here that program participants are taught the most important aspects of having a healthy lifestyle and how to apply it to their day-to-day dealings in life.

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


The spiritual aspect implores participants and their families to look at faith and beliefs and see how those beliefs play a role in their ongoing lives. Studies have proved that people, particularly young adults who share the same beliefs as their family tend to do better in life.  The WTC professionals are also sensitive to people who don’t necessarily have any religious beliefs or affiliations and respect their stance to leave the spiritual aspect of the program out should they wish to do so.


The teams work to create an environment of change. For it to be achieved, all facilitators are trained extensively in the intervention model and are versed to make all interactions made with the participants and their families consistent with the intervention model and the philosophy it upholds.


The wilderness can offer a unique yet therapeutic kind of environment. It being somewhat “foreign” to a lot of people makes it a great setting for learning adaptation techniques and acquiring new skills. It provides an alternate environment where the norms, methods and rules that children and their parents have become so used to, do not apply. It’s a setting free from numerous distractions that are common occurrences at one’s daily life, thus inviting peaceful introspection.


Each participant seems to graduate from wilderness therapy with varying outcomes, yet there are of course some similarities across those outcomes. Completing a set of wilderness therapy program can render the participant with a sense of accomplishment that is real and concrete which can be used to draw strength from in the future. This sense of accomplishment is accompanied by an increase in self esteem and physical health which already represents a step towards personal growth.  Participants completing a wilderness therapeutic approach can walk away with an enhanced self-concept which can represent personal empowerment and resiliency. Oftentimes, people who complete wilderness therapy can get into thinking that they can also accomplish other tasks that are as formidable. Participants leave wilderness therapy knowing that their journey has only just begun and there is a need to continue the process towards their own personal growth.