Troubled Teen Program: Is Wilderness Therapy Effective?


Adolescence can be a difficult period for teenagers. Several physical and emotional changes occur during this period and this can make teens prone to various mood disorders including anxiety and depression. Wilderness therapy has been identified as one of the solutions for teenagers who are going through such situations. This therapy has been applied for several years especially in learning institutions and teen programs to develop character among adolescents. Research has revealed that this approach can promote personal growth, resilience, self control and self confidence.

Troubled Teen

Wilderness therapy exploits nature’s uplifting and healing powers to assist troubled teens overcome various personal challenges and empower them to regain control in their lives. Its main objective is to restore happiness and health in teenagers. It has proved effective for several teenagers who are dealing with depression and anxiety.

How it Works

Wilderness therapy begins with cleansing. Teenagers are removed from environments that contribute to their anxiety and despair. The cleansing can include engaging in physical activity, eating nutritious meals, and learning self-care and basic survival skills. At this stage, program participants are taught how to take responsibility for their actions. They experience natural consequences of the actions they choose to take and this reinforces the personal responsibility idea.

Once the cleansing is complete, teenagers learn about social and personal responsibility. The consequences of their actions are highlighted during this second stage. Program participants may be taught how to make a fire and those who do not grasp the skill end up having cold meals. This phase also involves learning how to communicate effectively. Programs also focus on interdependence for survival in the wilderness.

In the third phase, participants learn how to transition from the wilderness to their normal surroundings. The program teaches them to apply the skills learned in the wilderness in their day-to-day activities. Family involvement is crucial at this point because the members are a significant part of the teenagers’ environments.

Why is it Effective?

Wilderness therapy is an effective approach for helping Troubled teen program because of its focus on developing strong interpersonal relationships. Healthy relationships are valuable especially for teenagers who are undergoing difficult transitions from childhood into adulthood.

Close interactions with nature gives teens an opportunity to overcome both physical and emotional challenges. Therapy programs include a variety of activities that are designed to promote decision making, control, self-understanding, and assertiveness. The improvements participants make are often maintained after the program and this can be quite helpful for troubled teens.

This form of therapy involves task accomplishment and this can promotes self-autonomy and self-efficacy. Participants have to understand themselves and their environment to survive in the wilderness and this encourages self-growth. Teens discover their limitations through the tasks they engage in and this encourages them to explore alternatives that will help them solve challenges. It can even be a spiritual journey for some teens.

The wilderness offers teens a chance to learn new skills and knowledge in an environment that is free of most of the distractions found in their normal surroundings. There are no smartphones, TVs, laptops, tablets or video games to distract them in the wilderness and this makes it easy for participants to explore things they may have overlooked. It is also easier to focus in such an environment, allowing for greater growth.

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