Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How safe are therapeutic wilderness programs?

A: Safety should be the primary concern of any top-notch wilderness program. Parents should ask as many questions as possible about safety measures the program takes and ask for written documentation of these procedures. Some questions to ask are:

  • How many children in a group vs. how many field instructors?
  • What training do field instructors undergo?
  • Are all instructors certified in CPR and first aid?
  • Do they have an Emergency Response Team?
  • Does the base camp have radio contact with the field group?
  • How often does base camp touch base with the field group?
  • How do they handle defiant teens (restraint policies)?
  • Have they ever had a restraint incident (child injured)?
  • Have they had any serious injuries, and if so, what were the circumstances?
  • What safety rules do they have in place in terms of water, food, rest, shelter?
  • What are the qualifications of the non-field staff (e.g., director of the program)
  • How long has the program been in operation (the longer in operation, the better)?
  • Can you visit the program and see it in action before enrolling your child?

Generally, legitimate, well-supervised wilderness programs are very safe. Research has indicated that children are safer in these types of wilderness programs than they are on a traditional hike. It has also been shown to be safer than many other typical activities in which teenagers participate. For more information, see research from the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative.

Q: How do I know if such a program will be effective for my child?

A: Take our assessment test to see if your child may be in need of such a program. Many programs have exclusionary criteria, such as medications where the teen has not yet stabilized, suicidal behavior, violent behavior, or very low IQ.

Q: What about overseas programs?

A: Be very cautious about enrolling your child in an overseas program, particularly one in a third-world or underdeveloped country. The rules governing the maintenance of such schools will not be the same as in the United States. The U.S. State Dept. has issued a formal statement on overseas behavior modification programs.

Q: How much do these programs cost?

A: Most quality programs will cost between $4000 and $9000 per month. Most require a one-month minimum stay, and some require a longer stay. Because of the highly effective nature of these short-term programs, it is often a viable choice for parents who cannot afford long-term therapeutic boarding schools.

Q: How can I get my child, who is very defiant, to such a program?

A: Discuss this with an Admissions Counselor when you inquire at a program. There are escort services available to help you if you feel it will be difficult to place your child in such a program.

Q: Will my child need to go onto a more residential program after the wilderness experience, or can he or she come straight home?

A: This really depends on the particular child. If your adolescent has serious behavioral, emotional, and academic issues, it may be necessary to enroll them in a longer term residential boarding school. In many cases, the wilderness program will be able to recommend a facility. However, many children respond extremely well to this short-term therapeutic approach and will do well if they return home. In such cases, it is generally advisable to continue with local therapeutic services, such as one-on-one counseling and family counseling.

Q: What can I do to prepare for when my teenager comes home?

A: Many times a family has been in chaos and turmoil for months or years by the time they seek an intervention such as an outdoor wilderness program. Parents may find it helpful to seek family counseling so as to learn how to better cope with the issues they have faced. This can help you enormously in dealing with your child when he or she returns. This is not to say that you are the problem, just that sometimes negative coping techniques have become entrenched after dealing with a defiant child for a long period of time. Therapy can help you learn better, more effective techniques for understanding and working with your child when he or she returns home.

Q: Will my child be ready to come home after such a program or will he or she need a longer term program?

A: This really depends on the individual child. Some teenagers with serious emotional, behavioral, or academic problems may need to continue on in a longer term residential boarding school. The Counselors at the wilderness program will usually be able to recommend some good programs if your child should need one. However, many children significantly improve behavior after the short-term wilderness experience. Parents may benefit by having such children continue with one-on-one counseling when they return home. Family counseling for the parents and siblings can also be very helpful. This is not to say that you are the problem, simply that after months or years of coping with a chaotic, stressful homelife with a defiant teen can impact your coping skills. Family therapy can help you deal more effectively with your teen when he or she returns home.