In its early years, boot camps were a popular option for parents who are dealing with defiant teens. It initially seems like a fast and effective way to break a defiant teenager and bring him/her back home a more agreeable and obedient person. At the very least, “I’m sending you off to boot camp” is an effective way to scare teens into submission. However, people these days are realizing that boot camps may not really be as effective and efficient as parents would hope to be in terms of delivering real help to their children.
One good boot camp alternative is wilderness therapy programs for teens. Unlike boot camps which inspire behavior modification through confrontation and negative punishment, wilderness therapy programs actually have therapy in place throughout the program. Providing therapy is an important part of helping at-risk youth because this kind of help will last. Suppressing the symptoms of a troubled youth doesn’t help in a significant way. It may even breed other kinds of problems that would be harder to deal with in the future.
In wilderness therapy programs for teens, nature is used as a vehicle for therapy. Teens also learn a lot of practical and life lessons while in the wilderness that they can translate to the world outside of it. Like boot camp, it teaches teens responsibility, but not in a negative way which uses confrontation and coercion. In wilderness therapy programs, teens learn and realize for themselves how their actions produce direct consequences as well as impact the lives of the people around them. Unlike a human drill sergeant, nature cannot be manipulated, intimidated, nor ignored. It cannot be reasoned with or begged to change its mind. If a teen refuses to pitch his tent, he directly experiences the consequences of his refusal. If he refuses to learn how to start a fire, he also directly experiences the consequences of that. It’s like fighting against a brick wall or kickin against the thorns. While teens may initially fight and struggle against human authority figures, experiencing nature can put a lot of things to perspective for them.
Nature’s beauty, on the other hand, also has a calming effect. The raging emotions of a troubled teen could be quieted by spending time with nature. Introspection counts for much when it comes to truly gaining something beneficial from therapy.
Of course, the success of wilderness therapy programs depend heavily on the kind of counseling and therapy that they get. Staying in the wilderness by itself is hardly enough. One may learn a lot of lessons through nature, but without receiving guidance on how to process what they think and feel afterwards, young people may not take away too much from the experience. After all, the world outside wilderness programs is a vastly different one. Most wilderness therapy programs will offer several sessions of one-on-one counseling every week and a group session every day. That way, individual therapy can be supplemented and complemented by peer group sessions. There’s no need for the physical, emotional, and psychological punishment that young people get subjected to in boot camps.
Boot camps also don’t usually offer aftercare programs because they are not therapeutic in nature. Good wilderness therapy programs will also offer good aftercare programs which aims to help young people get their bearings as they transition back to home life and mainstream school.