What is Wilderness Therapy?


We hope that through this blog and through Panacea Adventures you will come to understand what the wilderness therapy experience is all about. There is debate in the literature of current and ongoing research of a strict definition of wilderness therapy.

This blog is simply one way to look at the whole picture of wilderness therapy.    The wilderness therapy experience can be summed up as “a theory-based adventure experience that promotes positive change for people with behavioral, developmental, emotional and physical challenges.”

Many people confuse wilderness therapy programs with wilderness or adventure programs.  The distinguishing factor is the clinical application to the wilderness experience.  A wilderness or adventure program typically has a “let the mountains speak for themselves” approach which focuses more on the “hard skills” Vs developing insight and personal change.  A wilderness therapy program, such as Panacea Adventures focuses on facilitating insight by processing the adventure experience.  In addition to teaching the “hard skills, wilderness therapy utilizes intervention, treatment, and assessment of the outcomes by a licensed therapist. Wilderness therapy is an emerging treatment intervention in the mental health field for helping people overcome barriers.

The wilderness therapist utilizes the experiences through-out the expedition to enhance the participant’s personal growth and insight.  This typically involves immersion in an unfamiliar environment, group-living with peers, individual and group therapy sessions, journal writing, educational curricula and application of technical outdoor skills. These processes are all designed to address problem behaviors by fostering personal and social responsibility and emotional growth of clients.

There are many different models and theories that are used in the wilderness therapy context.  Most wilderness therapy programs are based upon integration of wilderness programming theory and a clinically-based, eclectic, therapeutic model. By applying the processes to each of the phases of an outdoor adventure, the outcomes may includes; improved esteem, coping skills, relationships and insight as well as matured decision making and contemplation skills.

Please come back to visit us for the Part 2 of What is Wilderness Therapy? Coming soon!

Works Cited:

Russell , K. C., Hendee, J. C., and Phillips-Miller, D. (1999. How Wilderness Therapy

Works: An Examination of the Wilderness Therapy Process to Treat Adolescents with

Behavioral Problems and Addictions. In: Cole, D. N.; McCool, S. F. 2000. Proceedings:

Wilderness Science in a Time of Change. Proc. RMRS-P-000. Ogden, UT: U.S.

Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.


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