Many parents who feel at a loss about how to help their teenager are starting to turn to other means of intervention, such as wilderness experience programs. Some people mistake wilderness experience programs as the same as adventure therapy and boot camps. As a matter of fact, while wilderness experience programs is mainly an outdoor education treatment that has the element of behavior modification, this isn’t the central purpose of this kind of treatment.
Adventure therapy has influenced many forms of therapeutic processes. Wilderness therapy, however, sees some aspects of adventure therapy as manipulative. It considers some activities and psychological exercises as contrived and thus produces contrived results. Wilderness therapy is also not like boot camps because there is no force used, no points or level systems employed, and no other models that suggest overt behavior modification.
Wilderness experience programs are more group-oriented and puts focus on assertiveness and open communication. Modern wilderness experience programs have developed from earlier models of outdoor survival programs where children are put in environments where they are put in challenging situations where communication and cooperation is important to attain a positive result. These exercises produce more self-awareness and leads children to a more contemplative attitude about life. It givem a sense of self-discipline, self-awareness and empowerment which allows them to respond to different situations in a more positive and productive way. Unlike in older models of adventure therapy, experiences in a wilderness therapy program are not contrived, and thus the impact is not diminished for the participants.
Children who went through wilderness experience programs say that they come out of the programs with a more independent attitude. They learn to appreciate their family more, and they learn not to take the comforts of home life for granted. However, most people will say that sometimes, the best thing to do after a child comes home from wilderness experience programs is to send them to a therapeutic boarding school. This is to ensure that the structure which has led to positive results will still be implemented in a school environment. This doesn’t apply to all children, of course. It’s a case-to-case basis, which is best discussed with your child’s therapist.
Of course, wilderness experience programs has had their share of controversies mainly because some military boot camps actually advertise themselves as wilderness therapy programs just because they are set in a wilderness environment. Since such programs are wrongly advertised, it also followed that children who were enrolled in such programs sometimes do not need that sort of structure. There have been reports of accidental deaths or injuries in such programs.
There are also some wilderness therapy programs that are situated outside the US, which means that they cannot be regulated by the same laws that regulate wilderness programs within the country. Unlicensed and unregulated wilderness therapy programs can be dangerous and oftentimes ineffective. This is why it’s important that you check the license and permits of the wilderness camp before you send your child to one. It’s also important that you ask about how they respond to emergency situations. Of course, the safety of your child is your first priority.