If you are dealing with a troubled teenager and are considering wilderness schools as a possible remedy, here is a brief introduction to programs of that type.
The SUWS Youth Wilderness Program of Shoshone, Idaho, is typical of the available wilderness therapy courses. At SUWS, teenagers must face their fears and overcome obstacles in order to grow both emotionally and spiritually. “Adolescents complete a variety of team-building initiatives during their time at SUWS, from low ropes course elements to a blindfolded walk in the field. One initiative that most students complete is a trek to the tallest peak of a mountain where they symbolically ‘let go’ of a burden they’ve been carrying.”(1)
In addition to performing symbolic gestures, teens are also taught practical, down-to-earth survival skills, such as trap-building and fire-starting. “Students learn search and rescue skills such as first aid, map and compass use, and team response to emergencies as a way to reach outside of themselves and become essential, functioning members of a team.” (2)
Wilderness schools typically provide teenagers with much needed counseling and therapy, in addition to survival skills. At SUWS, all students are assigned a “primary therapist for individual and group therapy sessions”(3) and teenagers “engage in hands-on therapeutic activities such as ropes course initiatives, equine therapy and service projects.” (4)
Parents wondering if wilderness schools are actually effective at behavioral modification might be interested in the following statistics from the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council. Representatives from the Council contacted 88 families two to three years after their children completed outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment and discovered that “86 percent were in high school or college, or had graduated from high school and were working. Six had graduated from high school but were living at home … only five had not graduated from high school, and these were living at home and working or ‘doing nothing,’ and one was in prison.” (5)
A success-rate of 86-percent seems to indicate that, for parents of teens with serious behavioral problems, further investigation of wilderness schools might be well worth the effort.
For more information, please visit:
- “Typical Day at SUWS” SUWS Wilderness Programs. Undated. Retr. 22 Mar. 2012 <http://www.suws.com/wilderness-programs/typical-day-suws>
- “Does Wilderness Treatment Work? Does It Last?” Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council. Undated. Retr. 22 Mar. 2012 <http://obhic.com/research/does-wilderness-treatment-work.html/>