The concept of employing nature and the outdoors as a therapeutic tool has emerged likely in the early 1900s. The last decade have witnessed significant growth in the wilderness therapy research, with supporters of this therapeutic approach aiming to establish a firm foundation of empirical evidence for its effectiveness.
What to expect?
Wilderness therapy falls under the larger bracket of adventure therapy, however there are distinct differences between the two therapeutic approaches. Wilderness therapy ensures adaptability and endurance, often this is achieved through the use of primitive skills in wilderness environments.Risks undertaken during adventure therapy may be physical or psychological, it can be real or perceived that is apparent. Wilderness therapy programs usually include a measure of risk, which is not always clinically significant.
Wilderness therapy comes with a relatively high cost of treatment. Some programs may cost too much for an individual who belong to the middle class strata of socioeconomic distribution difficult to afford, with treatment lasting from 1 to 3 months it requires huge commitment from both the participant and the therapist.
How does wilderness therapy works?
Wilderness therapy work by providing a secure, non-critical, and supportive environment for self-discovery. Individuals who visits a therapist and engages themselves in wilderness therapy are often guided through an examination of maladaptive behaviors that leads to negative circumstances in their lives. Through the utilization of wilderness expeditions, primitive skills training (which includes work like primitive fire starting), and team building exercises, disruptive or unproductive beliefs and negative views are often challenged and possibly transformed.
Wilderness therapy is founded and modeled to simulate the challenges and pressures found within family and the set social structures, but exposes the clients to them in an atmosphere which is safe and free from negative influences. Youths learns how to develop healthy relationships, live within preset boundaries, and accept without judgement and process accordingly the feedback while relying on their own sense of inner wisdom and strength. Furthermore, participants are often made to forge alliances with other youths for self-preservation or completion of a specific task. In the process of doing this, the participants develop self-confidence, communication skills, cooperative skills, and trust. This skills are later applied in their respective personal lives.
Wilderness therapy uses outdoor activities and unfamiliar environments to arrange the participants in a setting where they can enjoy a unique experience and build positive character traits. Several program activities take place in the therapeutic process in a group setting in order to encourage communication, cooperation, and trust between group members. Reflective activities are often used to help participants process the experience and highlight what they learned.
When is it used?
Due to the cognitive, physical, and social demands of the therapy, this form of treatment might not be effective with young children, elderly people, or people with certain physical disabilities or for people experiencing chronic mental health issues such as dementia or psychotic disorders. Other than these it can be employed for most other psychological distresses.
Role of therapist:
Some therapists explains that risk involved in the therapy to be a clinically significant tool in prompting behavioral change. Therapists look into wilderness expeditions and/or wilderness survival activities as crucial therapeutic agents in the process of wilderness therapy.
Hoag, M. J., Massey, K. E. & Roberts, S. D. (2014). Dissecting the wilderness therapy client: Examining clinical trends, findings and patterns. Journal of Experiential Education, 37(4), 382-396. DOI: 10.1177/1053825914540837
Margalit, D. & Ben-Ari, A. (2014). The effect of wilderness therapy on adolescents’ cognitive autonomy and self-efficacy: Results of a non-randomized trial. Child Youth Care Forum, 43, 181-194. DOI 10.1007/s10566-013-9234-x