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What is Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness Therapy: What it is and How it Aids Teen Addiction Recovery

What do you think of when you hear the term “wilderness therapy”? For some, the thought of a campfire comes to mind – the bright, yellow and orange flames flickering in the night, the hissing and popping of the fire and the intoxicating, musky smell of wood and pine needles that fill the air.

It’s a romantic and peaceful picture to imagine, sparking the desire to spend an evening outside around a bonfire. But for others, the history of wilderness therapy overshadows the beauty and mystery of the outdoors.

The very first wilderness therapy programs in the 1970s were analogous to boot camps, designed for adolescents in juvenile justice systems who would go through challenging and punishing activities. These programs often lacked proper oversight and didn’t keep the adolescents’ safety in mind.

Luckily, today’s wilderness therapy and adventure therapy programs are much more akin to the relaxing campfire scene mentioned above. Keep reading to find out what wilderness therapy is, the benefits associated with this type of therapy and why it would be good for your teen.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness therapy, also known as outdoor behavioral healthcare, is a form of therapy that uses outdoor activities to address behavioral challenges, mental health issues and interpersonal self-improvement.

Wilderness therapy programs – similar to the one like Kokua Recovery – begin with a thorough assessment to better understand the teen’s health and physical abilities and to identify what addictions and mental health issues they’re struggling with.

Once the program begins, teens experience outdoor excursions meant to challenge them in a safe and healthy way. They socialize with other teens in their group, interact with the licensed professionals leading the adventure activities and learn incredible self-efficacy skills and confidence.

The Benefits of Wilderness Therapy for Teens

Wilderness therapy offers incredible, life-changing benefits, ranging from physical improvements to behavioral modifications. In fact, studies by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council have found that wilderness therapy offers greater short-term and long-term benefits than traditional therapies or no therapy at all.

Here’s why wilderness therapy is so beneficial to teens struggling with behavioral, mental health and addiction issues:

  • Physical Improvements: Wilderness therapy is all about physical activity. Getting outside and exercising helps improve your teen’s overall physical health, from increased muscle strength to greater stamina.
  • Responsibility: When your teen participates in wilderness therapy activities, they have accountability for both themselves and others in their group. At Kokua Recovery, for example, your teen is given a specific assignment like being in charge of lunch or holding onto the first aid kit. Tasks like this can help your teen become more personally and socially responsible.
  • Trust: Putting your safety in the hands of someone else builds trust. Through outdoor activities like rock climbing, your teen starts to trust the experts leading their group. This helps heal the trust your teen may have lost in other people close to them due to the trauma or challenges they faced before treatment.
  • Coping Strategies: Wilderness therapy is meant to be challenging and stressful. During these activities, your teen learns ways to more effectively cope with stress instead of turning to impulsive behaviors and addiction. These coping strategies can then be used in your teen’s every day life once they are home from treatment.
  • Self-efficacy and Confidence: Participating and successfully completing outdoor challenges in wilderness therapy helps your teen feel empowered. This gives them self-efficacy skills and confidence they’ve never had before, which they can then take with them beyond treatment.

Why Adventure Therapy for Your Teen at Kokua Recovery

At Kokua Recovery, your teen will experience adventure therapy in the mountains twice a week. They’ll rock climb, hike, fly fish, go white water rafting and much more. All these activities are run by licensed experts and are designed to help address the behavioral problems and emotions your teen may have a difficult time communicating in traditional therapy.

And on top of all this, we take every single precaution we possibly can to keep your teen safe during these outdoor therapy sessions. We ensure our gear and equipment are safe and in pristine condition each time we go out, and your teen is always supervised by certified professionals who make your teen’s safety their top priority.

Hope and Healing Awaits Your Teen and Family at Kokua Recovery

At Kokua Recovery, your teen’s incredible adventure therapy experiences will correct negative behaviors and thought patterns, and help them realize they don’t need drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma or other struggles they’re facing.

Contact us today to learn more about our program and find out how to get your teen started.

Ken Huey

Upon graduating from Purdue with a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, Dr. Huey worked as a therapist, Clinical Director, and Business Development Director in residential treatment. Dr. Huey was always drawn to the large population of adoptees in residential treatment (he is adopted himself). He ultimately became convinced that this population needed specialty care and in November of 2006, Dr. Huey founded Calo. Calo grew to a 200 plus employee organization with about the same numbers of teen clients served each year. He sold Calo and retired in June of 2015. He came out of retirement in 2017 and founded Kokua Recovery, trauma-informed residential drug and alcohol treatment with sites in Colorado.

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