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Wilderness experiences can have powerful psychological affects and have been used in a number of programs to bring about physical, emotional and behavioral change.

Wilderness therapyEdit

Wilderness therapy are forms of outdoor education treatment that relies on the natural aspects of a primitive outdoor sojourn. Like adventure therapy and boot camps, wilderness therapy is often used for behavior modification by the families of young people. But the aims and methods of wilderness therapy don't center on behavior modification. Unlike adventure therapy, wilderness therapy programs avoid what they view as manipulations, contrived activities, psychological games, and contrived consequences (ANASAZI Foundation 1990). And unlike boot camps, they employ no force, confrontation, point or level systems, or other overt behavioral modification techniques or models. They stress assertiveness, open communication between staff and students, and are very group-oriented.

"Wilderness therapy programs trace their origins to outdoor survival programs that placed children in a challenging environment where determination, communication and team efforts were outcomes" (Conner 2005). According to the Director of the Wilderness Therapy Program at Naropa University, "through contemplative practice and the experiential outdoor classroom, students gain further self-awareness and the ability to respond to whatever arises in the moment" (Piranian 2006). And according to the founders of ANASAZI Foundation "we learned that whenever we adopted what we have come to call 'contrived' experiences, the overall impact often diminished for the participants" (ANASAZI Foundation 1990).

ControversyEdit

Some programs which advertise as "wilderness therapy" are actually boot camps in a wilderness environment. These can sometimes be distinguished from other wilderness therapy by such programs promising behavior modification for troubled teens, but it is hard to tell just from the ads. Abusive situations have been reported and accidental deaths have taken place in some of these programs, although compared with similar outdoor adventure activities deaths are extremely rare. Among the most controversial programs have been those run by Steve Cartisano [1][2] or former Cartisano associates. There also exist "wilderness therapy" boot camps located outside the U.S. to avoid U.S. regulations, many of them unlicensed fly by night outfits. Such unlicensed outfits also exist in some U.S. states where the wilderness therapy industry is poorly regulated [3] [4]. There is also controversy over whether parents should be allowed to force their child into a wilderness program, which is often the case. Apart from the thousands spent on the actual program (around $500/day), parents pay a Teen escort company thousands to ensure that their child gets to the program by any means necessary. The first outcome studies were performed in 2000,[5] which followed students from ten outdoor programs and followed these students for one year after leaving the program and found students stilled showed signs of improvement in behavioral, somatic, and social problems at that time.

AftermathEdit

Many teens in wilderness programs report the experience as being positive, beneficial, and enjoyable. They learn independence, patience, assertiveness, self-reliance, and maturity; although it is unclear how long these changes last, some believe they are not permanent[verification needed]. Outcome studies have been completed [6]that show continued improvement in behavior one-year after attending wilderness therapy and new outcome studies are currently underway.

After a wilderness therapy program some students return home[verification needed], but if the staff at the wilderness program claim that they have more engrained behavioral problems they may be sent to a therapeutic boarding school or an intensive residential treatment center for further treatment. Wilderness courses are often offered by companies that also owns such places.

Some parents who choose wilderness therapy programs for behavior modification may be disappointed in what they believe is a lack of results from quintessential wilderness therapy programs, especially if they do not continue treatment for more serious behavioral and emotional problems that cannot be solved in six to eight weeks.

Parents and teens considering wilderness therapy programs should check them out thoroughly first, and be sure the program is a reputable one which does not use abusive techniques. A few wilderness programs have JCAHO accreditation, which requires thorough inspections to ensure the quality of the therapeutic intervention and safety of services.

Wilderness experience in management trainingEdit

Wilderness experience and recreationEdit

See alsoEdit

References and bibliograpyEdit

  1. ANASAZI Foundation (1990), The Ten Guiding Principles.
  2. Conner, Michael (2005), Wilderness Therapy Programs and Wilderness Boot Camps: Is there a difference?.
  3. Piranian, Deb (2006), Dear Prospective Student.
  4. Russell, Keith (2002), Study Shows Adolescents Doing Well One-Year After Wilderness Treatment.

BooksEdit

  • Roberts, E. (Ed.). The Humanistic Psychologist: Special edition, humanistic psychology and ecopsychology . 26 (1-3), 69-100.

PapersEdit

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