Everything You Need to Know About Wilderness Therapy
Mental health hour. What is wilderness therapy? Who is it for?
What does it do? Myriad questions. – And myriad answers. Are we ready?
Not all who wander are lost, but the question imposes itself: Is there a final destination? For those who are riddled with uncertainty, loneliness, anxiety, depression, grief, anger, and other delicate emotional and self-impeding responses to life’s stimuli, the path seems to only bifurcate rather than lead to cathartic answers. The mere cognizance of an imposed Tantalus-like punishment, the quiet universe’s ridicule of having no answers to our inner battles, does nothing but inflict abyss-deep wounds.
Luckily (or better yet, deliberately), a brilliant concept was conceived: wilderness therapy. Radical, unconventional, and innovative at its core, it dares to challenge the boundaries of the well-established alternative therapy concept. Here’s what you need to know about wilderness therapy.
Defining wilderness therapy
So, what is wilderness therapy, exactly? Whether you are a young troublemaker, an addict, or just unambiguously swallowed by existential black holes, wilderness therapy uses nature’s untainted, primal force as a healing tool. Being an experimental form of therapy, it combines the best of both worlds: therapy sessions and outdoor activities, both of which (in their own unique way) open the door to self-discovery.
Through various activities like camping, hiking, solo pondering, survival tactics, and group sessions, attending individuals learn to embrace the newly discovered set of coping skills. The ultimate goal of wilderness therapy is to connect with “the self” by overcoming physical and mental obstacles.
-Innumerable. Let’s begin.
Wilderness therapy benefits:
Deep psyche diving
The beauty of wilderness therapy lies in its simplicity and its genuineness. The concept of “being one with nature” is hardly a novelty, given that we are its intrinsic part, and vice versa. So, as innovative as it may sound or as controversial as it may appear, its basic premise heavily relies on the “return to innocence” narrative.
When away from all the distractions our everyday lives joyously throw at us, we can finally afford to turn inward and gain perspective. A moment of silence, at last. Participants tread the road to self-discovery through various therapeutic activities.
Those struggling with mental health issues, trauma, and addiction can benefit greatly from this form of therapy. Let’s go camping.
To all my fellow introverts out there – if there’s anything to know about wilderness therapy, it’s this: it’s a confidence booster crash course, and we’re not talking pseudo, only 100% organic facts.
How, you might ask? The key to building healthy self-esteem is conquering your fears and distorted beliefs about yourself. The best thing?
You don’t even have to force it; it comes naturally. Wilderness therapy is a raw, liberating experience that will test your physical and emotional boundaries. Although challenging, the obstacles to be surmounted are a gateway to believing in one’s abilities.
Overcoming those challenges births new confidence, further strengthening one’s ability to overcome real-life challenges.
Fundamental changes occur the moment we let go of familiarity and comfort. Painful? It can be; nonetheless, discomfort invites the much-needed quantum leaps.
The ones who struggle with addiction understand the importance of our environment and all its taunting layers. Wilderness exudes authority, and playing by its rules is mandatory. No technology. Primal mode: activated.
The experimental form of therapy minimizes the chance of possible distractions. Furthermore, it introduces peace as a form of necessary meditation. That being said, you can incorporate relapse prevention into wilderness therapy for those struggling with addiction.
Wilderness therapy teaches you that the best way to deal with your addiction is to deal with your triggers. Head-on.
Emotional apparatus management
Wilderness therapy makes room for the subconscious to emerge; emotions and thoughts buffet. Whether you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, or any other peace-hindering issue, one thing is certain: your emotions speak volumes, albeit frequently incoherent. We can oppose the idea of emotional structure (or any other kind, undoubtedly) as much as we want, but at the end of the day, we desperately need it.
Wilderness therapy can be extremely helpful in processing our intricate thought and emotion patterns and identically masterful at deciphering them. The subconscious may be a tough nut to crack, but nature has its quiet ways of enveloping the intangible. By helping us process our idiosyncratic inner equations, the wilderness becomes a silent bystander to our epiphany.
Interpersonal relationship growth
Yet another thing you probably didn’t know about wilderness therapy: it strengthens our bonds. Relationships are the epicenter of our being, and for the ones who struggle with trauma, addiction, abuse, and mental health issues, bonding and trust don’t come easy, nor are they cheap. Forming lasting, healthy relationships represents a challenge.
This form of therapy is a blessing in disguise for those whose trust and confidence have been deeply wounded. The wilderness therapy program insists on group activities that, above all, require teamwork. By creating meaningful bonds with instructors and other participants, we are presented with an opportunity to evolve as social entities by improving our communication skills.
Eventually, the things we learn in therapy will help strengthen our familial dynamics, romantic relationships, and friendships.
Healthy coping skills
Wilderness therapy is no hippie camp. Things will get tough, and you’re to power through it. The idea behind nature’s benevolent cruelty is to instill responsibility and replace detrimental coping mechanisms with healthy ones.
Sounds complicated, but you’ll get there. That’s the sole purpose of this journey. Change. Individuals struggling with addiction can benefit greatly from learning (and applying) healthy coping strategies.
Sobriety is a full-time job, 24/7, 365 days a year, year in, year out. It takes stamina, self-love, and unyielding willpower to stay on the sobriety train. There is no “last stop,” only an infinite momentum.
Finding sober, fun activities can be challenging. The path to healing might seem like an eternity, but the wilderness will teach you to enjoy life in a healthy way. – And love it. When in nature, developing umpteen coping skills is an involuntary outcome.
Much like meditation, wilderness therapy encourages self-awareness. The program aims to acquire a more excellent knowledge of self and expand one’s scope of abilities. Now, a thing to admire and know about wilderness therapy is that, unlike other alternative forms of treatment, it organically blends the spiritual with the practical, and equally so.
All participants are provided with a chance to maximize their self-awareness potential. Additionally, (and paradoxically) the training equips us with job-related skills, such as a strong work ethic or even leadership capacity. It’s safe to say wilderness therapy provides both “soft skills” and “hard skills” growth.
Spiritual plan included.
Wilderness therapy techniques
Wilderness therapy techniques include survival skills, group activities, and adventures. The real transformation unfolds as the impeding behavioral patterns, and auto-destructive (or destructive) patterns emerge throughout the course.
Wilderness program activities include:
● Adventures: rock climbing, ziplining, hiking, rafting – options are endless. The purpose of any given adventure is to push our physical and emotional limits. (just bring the right shoes)
● Expeditions: Often conducted in groups, this type of activity includes either survival expeditions or the exploratory kind, with a goal to encourage cooperation and teamwork, address trust issues and develop survival skills.
● Recreational activities: Designed to ignite the self-discovery flame, these outdoor activities provide time for recuperation and constructive inner monologues away from your usual setting.
● Games: Sounds childish, but far from it. Wilderness therapy encourages problem-solving games that can improve our self-esteem, leadership skills, and our overall confidence by conquering obstacles and finding correct solutions.
Does it really work?
Although initially considered controversial, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that wilderness combined with adventure therapy actually works. In attempts to find the “golden ratio” for wilderness therapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center was established. (previously known as the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative) Wilderness therapy is now used to treat the following conditions:
● substance abuse
● eating disorders
● Asperger’s syndrome
It is also believed to be efficient in addressing reckless, impulsive, and rebellious behavior in adolescents, as well as low self-esteem and avoidant patterns.
However, there are drawbacks. Wilderness therapy alone may not be as effective as one would hope, as it is often used as a complementary form of therapy. Additionally, compared to other alternative forms of therapy, it can be costly and lengthy. (up to several months)
The final, imperative thing to know about wilderness therapy: its sole purpose is waving the present self goodbye and plunging into the unknown. Willingly, joyfully. It’s where you will face your deepest fears, cognize the elusive parts, and ultimately – break free.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, they say, but then again, cities are inanimate objects. They know no fear. They are immortal, untouchable, and unwavering.
To be human is far more intricate and colossal. It’s an honor. Not knowing yourself and not living your best life is a crime against humanity.