Typically, treatment for addiction involves a therapeutic approach and either inpatient or outpatient care. One alternative is wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is a clinical approach to addiction treatment which, despite being non-traditional, has garnered a lot of popularity in recent years as a way of treating adolescent addicts. The lessons found in nature, just like those found in traditional therapy environments, apply to life in general.

Wilderness Therapy for Teens

In an environment free from the negative influences and triggers that characterize much of urban life, youth overcome their psychological turmoils and learn to live sober. The outdoors is new and simple—a great place to clear your head, enhance your self-awareness, and challenge yourself. For the entire duration of their stay, adolescents are monitored by qualified professionals—not just camp counselors, but real, certified addiction counselors. The tasks they assign—primitive stuff like fire-making, backpacking, and building shelter—are designed to teach leadership skills and self-reliance. Everything in wilderness therapy is a team effort. Programs can last from three to eight weeks, and each patient is examined periodically to decide whether they are ready to leave.


Wilderness Therapy for Addiction Recovery

Often, wilderness therapy is the first step in a long recovery journey which continues with traditional outpatient treatment at home. Many treatment specialists know how to deal specifically with teens fresh out of wilderness therapy, who may be experiencing a bit of a culture shock. The goal will be figuring out how to apply what they learned in the wild to their new sober, urban environment.

Wilderness therapy should not be confused with wilderness camp, which runs off a military model rather than any psychological theories. When you hear the stories about the runaways and the injuries that happen at these places—it’s those places.

Distinguishing between the two just from the advertisements can be tricky, because the latter is often referred to as “therapy” as well. It’s really a matter of doing your research. Get online; read testimonies from other parents. Investigate the credentials and ideals of whichever camp you’re considering for your teen. If the staff at the camp isn’t clinically licensed—if it’s just a bunch of regular camp counselors—it’s definitely not a true therapy environment (no matter how professional they appear on their website). Another good rule of thumb: anywhere which promises behavioral modification is a probably a boot camp. In the field of addiction management, there are no such promises.


For answers to your any pressing questions you may have about addiction, recovery, or the use of the outdoors as a therapy tool, contact us at 800-910-9299. The staff here will be happy to speak with you and to refer you for help.

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