Summer Camps: A Part of The Wilderness Experience

Parents who are struggling with a pre adolescent or teen often find that change is difficult as long as the child remains in the home environment. Influences outside the home impact behavior, often more than the family does. Young adults struggling with substance abuse issues can also find the pressures and influences of their daily environment make it difficult to develop healthy coping skills. For this reason, residential programs can effect profound changes in troubled youth and young adults by removing them from the school and neighborhood and putting them in a healthy and controlled environment where they can focus on behavioral change. Outdoor education, also known as wilderness therapy, is a unique alternative to longer term residential schools and treatment programs. These programs have proven to be highly effective in dealing with issues such as oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD-related behavioral struggles, and substance abuse problems.

When parents and young adults begin to explore such treatment options, they often feel confused and overwhelmed. There are so many types of therapy and programs. How do you know which one is best for your adolescent? The most publicized programs tend to be boot camps. The highly structured boot camp environments emphasize stern discipline that will supposedly get your kid “back in line.” While a military school or boot camp might seem like a good idea if you are angry and fed up with your troubled teen, most likely this environment is far from truly therapeutic in nature. How often have you yelled at your child and not seen any result?

Wilderness Programs, also known as Outdoor Therapy Programs, emphasize therapy and positive behavioral change over discipline. While students must follow strict guidelines to ensure the safety of all participants, nature serves as the ultimate teacher. Troubled teens are particularly impacted by the realization that the wilderness cannot be manipulated by them. The group environment teaches them the value of cooperation and joint effort. Through the development of wilderness skills, teens develop healthy self-esteem and learn to respond in positive ways to their peers and to authority. They begin to see that the world is not there to fulfill their every need or whim, and that they are part of a larger community. Young adults who do not want to go to a more clinical environment such as a treatment center, report that the wilderness programs help them develop a sense of the larger world that improves their self-confidence and spiritual development.