No, this blog is not about a new concept for a high school. Nor is it about getting intoxicated in the woods. “Wilderness high” is the incredible feeling that participants with a successful wilderness experience feel upon completion of a specialized outdoor therapeutic experience. The feelings of confidence and competence, the feelings of “can do” rather than “can’t do”, the feelings of excitement and optimism… the transformation is simply amazing for these students who had prior feelings of hopelessness and helplessness before participating.
As an educational consultant for 25 years, I have seen the growth and changes in the industry, but the power of this experience remains the same. There are some down sides, however, to this incredible sense of power when leaving such a program. Since wilderness cannot last forever, participants must necessarily move on to a longer term therapeutic program, a school, or home. Please don’t misunderstand; this is not a bad thing, but parents, adolescents and young adults must realize that they will be the “newbies” at the next step, whatever that looks like. For example, if it is a therapeutic program or a new school, the student will typically begin at the bottom of the social and academic ladders, having to gain respect and privileges all over again. If they are going back home or to a former school they will have to work doubly hard to “prove” themselves.
A barrier to success? Absolutely not! A challenge? Sure. This transition is actually a life skill that everyone will experience when entering a new job, school/college, or relationship. The most important lesson is that this occurrence is inevitable and the more preparation on the part of the student and the family, the better. There will be no surprises when the honeymoon period wears off and the reality may induce some brief regression and old behaviors. If we are all prepared for this, however, we can remind ourselves that this is, in fact, what we knew would occur and that it will be over quickly if we, the collective transition team (students with parents, educational consultants, therapists, etc.), handle it collaboratively and productively.