For parents who are thinking about sending their children to wilderness therapy, one wonders what it is about nature that helps troubled teens start their healing process. The healing power of nature is undeniable even in cases where troubled teens are not involved. One only has to go on a private getaway for a couple of days to start feeling rejuvinated again. Using wilderness as a vehicle for therapy can be a powerful tool in helping troubled and struggling teens get their bearings again and put things into perspective.
The relationship of wilderness and healing in terms of wilderness therapy can be helpful in several ways. During the first few days of wilderness therapy, one could achieve healing on the body by eating healthy food and getting a healthy amount of physical activity. For teens who are struggling with substance and alcohol dependency, this could be a great way of removing the things they are dependent on. Putting them in an environment where these things are not available and there is nobody to get it from is a significant part of the healing process. Removing them from an environment that negatively influences them is a must. Oftentimes, parents find out the hard way that peer pressure and influence is surprisingly powerful. Signing up your teen in a wilderness program where the environment is safer and more nurturing can be the perfect first step towards healing.
Learning the basics of how to live and survive in the wilderness also gives teens another perspective on what it means to care enough for one’s self. When teens struggle, it’s hard for them to believe that it’s worth the trouble to get their life back on track. The healing power of nature is such that it touches within people that deeply ingrained need to survive.
It’s in this way that wilderness therapy also promotes personal and social responsibility. Teens are often more resistant to lessons being taught by people, most especially authority figures. Using nature as a teacher is one way of getting their attention. Nature is relentless, it cannot be manipulated or argued with. It directly gives consequences to actions without accepting excuses or negotiations. If one doesn’t want to learn how to make a fire, he gets cold or eats food raw. If one refuses to set up a tent, there’s nobody else to blame but one’s self for having to sleep on the ground. Teens learn through a practical and symbolic approach what their decisions mean for themselves and for others. It’s a more compelling life lesson, so to speak, than saying to them, “your actions will have direct consequences on your life someday”.
However, wilderness therapy may not be a standalone cure in many cases. For most teens, wilderness therapy should be followed by a thorough aftercare phase. Before a struggling teen is let go on his/her own, they must be well enough to survive the world outside the wilderness camp, which is an entirely different ball game. Wilderness therapy gives the much needed stabilization in struggling teens’ lives, which is an essential step to complete healing.