Wilderness Programs

Are you considering a wilderness program as an appropriate setting for your son? Wilderness programs are designed to include a therapeutic element to address a variety of issues. Read this article for more information about wilderness programs.

What Is a Wilderness Program?

Wilderness programs are treatment programs, primarily for adolescents, which - when properly licensed and accredited - may provide the assistance a child with a variety of issues may need for resolution, coping, or overcoming the issue, depending what is at issue. Wilderness use group activities in a setting with real, natural consequences and in which there is a strong need for interdependency to help students deal with their issues and reset their expectations of life, as well as their self-esteem, self-reliance, and commitment to self and others.

Wilderness experiences may include a variety of outdoor activities, including bouldering, camping, caving, canyoneering, kayaking, mountain biking, mountaineering, rock climbing, and ropes courses. Academic courses may be integrated with the program.

Wilderness programs offer treatment for a variety of problems. Wilderness programs may accept boys, girls, or coeducational groups. They primarily treat teens and young adults, and they characteristically separate these two groups. Programs may have restrictions on accepting students with severe health issues, have a history of violence, or who are suicidal. Some wilderness programs accept students with a wide range of issues and some focus on a narrower range.

Wilderness programs are geared to treat a variety of issues and problems, including family issues, learning disabilities, mood disorders, substance abuse, addictions, low self-esteem, academic problems, defiance, trauma, and abuse. Some programs also work extensively with the family of the child who attends.

How to Find Wilderness Programs

Sources to consider in seeking wilderness programs are healthcare providers who know your child, guidance counselors, and two organizations: the National Association of Therapeutic Wilderness Camping (NATWC) and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). Some wilderness programs belong to both organizations. NATSAP’s search provides more information http://www.natsap.org/programsearch.asp than NATWC’s  http://natwc.org/camps/ but both sites provide links to the programs’ websites.

How Not to Find Wilderness Programs

The U.S. Department of State explicitly warns Americans about sending minor children for treatment outside of the country. Dangers include children being cut off from communication; local standards for safety, health, nutrition, sanitation, and education being both notably different from what a citizen of the United States would expect and impossible to ensure compliance with; and the right of minor children to say they do not wish their parents to have information about them, which can, in effect, cut off ties. For more information, see the State Department Fact Sheet on Behavior Modification Facilities http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1220.html

Since Canadian programs are licensed and accredited by some of the same organizations that license and accredit US programs, they are a likely exception.

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