How wilderness therapy works : an examination of the wilderness therapy process to treat adolescents with behavioral problems and addictions

Keith C. Russell, John C. Hendee, Dianne Phillips-Miller
U.S. Department of Agriculture , 2000
Public cible: adolescents
Problématique: ,
Support: article
Langue: anglais

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This paper summarizes findings from a detailed study of the processes employed by four leading wilderness therapy programs focusing on how wilderness therapy works, the kinds of behavioral problems to which it is commonly applied, expected outcomes and the role of wilderness in the intervention and treatment process (Russell, 1999). Wilderness therapy is an emerging intervention to help adolescents overcome emotional, adjustment, addiction, and psychological problems. Thirty-eight known programs serve an estimated 12’000 clients annually, generating 350’000 visitor days of wilderness use and 143 million dollars annually. A comprehensive definition of wilderness therapy is presented from a review of literature. An applied model of wilderness therapy is developed based on interviews with key staff who were asked to describe the theoretical basis of their program, how the process works, types of clients for whom the intervention is appropriate, and what outcomes are expected. Seven days were spent in the field with each of the four programs observing the wilderness therapy process expanding and validating these data. A comprehensive model of wilderness therapy was then constructed from cross-case analysis of these data based on factors found in at least three of the four programs. A common theoretical basis of wilderness therapy emerged, containing an integration of wilderness programming theory and a clinically-based, eclectic, therapeutic model guided by a family systems approach. The wilderness therapy process is guided by a cleansing phase, a personal and social responsibility phase, and a transition and aftercare phase. Common anticipated outcomes included client strengthened self- concept by clients and new skills and knowledge leading to an understanding of the consequences of their behavior. These realizations typically lead clients to desire a better relationship with parents, to continue to develop emotion- ally, to be more appreciative and to see personal problems in a different light. The emergence of wilderness therapy demonstrates the value of wilderness as a healing source for adolescents who are not being reached by traditional therapeutic techniques.

[In McCool, Stephen F.; Cole, David N.; Borrie, William T.; O Loughlin, Jennifer, comps. 2000. Wilderness science in a time of change conference. Volume 3: Wilderness as a place for scientific inquiry; 1999 May 23 27; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-3. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. pp. 207-217