Why a therapeutic wilderness program? Why now?

Families have been seeking our guidance for their troubled teens over the course of three decades and for those looking into such help there is no better time than the present because of all the options available. In addition, the current economy has caused some of the less viable programs to close and others to open with the exiled seasoned professionals.

Why would we suggest a therapeutic wilderness program for some tweens, teens, and young adults rather than simply advising families to go directly to a longer term therapeutic school?

It is almost miraculous what happens when a struggling teen is taken out of his or her comfort zone, away from all distractions, especially the electronic ones. When we see kids during our frequent visits and revisits to therapeutic wilderness programs, we can actually tell simply by looking at their faces and posture how long they have been in the field. The clear eyes, the rosy cheeks, the confident walk are signs that several weeks have passed.

The benefit of rolling admissions (continuous flow, as it is called in the therapeutic wilderness programs) is that those who have been there longer can actually rise to a leadership position, helping the newer ones adapt and thereby enhancing their own level of confidence. The group wilderness therapy, along with intense individual sessions, enhances the power of the wilderness program. In addition the "hard skills" such as "busting a fire" (rolling a stick between your hands into some brush and a rock until a spark catches the brush) take inordinate amounts of patience, a tool which teens lack today in our world of instant gratification. In full disclosure, I must admit that I have never yet been able to bust a fire...

These are NOT boot camps! The careful training of the field staff, the incredibly gifted credentialed therapists, the joy that emerges from being active, eating healthy (no, there is no food deprivation), and having plenty of fluids (yes, there is careful monitoring to prevent dehydration) is amazing to watch.

Thorough psychoeducational or neuropsychological testing can additionally be arranged, typically after a few weeks to ensure validity, and the testing, the weekly family therapy sessions by phone, the letters flowing back and forth from kids to parents, all lead to a great jump-start to either the next school or program or back home. If the family follows the advice of the professionals, the graduates of therapeutic wilderness programs are much more successful than those who opt out of such an option.

Obviously therapeutic wilderness programs are not for everyone. There may be certain medical issues, psychiatric diagnoses, or aggressive behaviors that rule out such an option but most profiles would fit a certain wilderness program, depending on the match of therapist, composition of group, and programmatic approach. No two wilderness programs are alike.

Afraid you can't afford a therapeutic wilderness program? They are impacted by this economy as well and this, once again, could open up an opportunity that normally might not exist at other times.

Tags: therapeutic wilderness programs, safety, educational consultants, schools for troubled teens, financing options, assessment, admissions process

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