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Wilderness Therapy

A therapy used for at risk youth

Grace Cortijo

on 1 September 2012

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Transcript of Wilderness Therapy

Grace Cortijo
Priscilla McKie
Anmarie Reed Wilderness therapy is a group intervention that occurs in a natural setting and employs therapeutic techniques and processes with the use of activities and experiences that contain elements of real or perceived risk (physical, social, emotional) to facilitate improvements in the psychological and behavioral functioning of the participant (Winston & Tinsley, 1999). Russell and Phillips (2002) conducted a study evaluating a wilderness program and found that many clients enrolled in the program were enrolled due to:
drugs and alcohol abuse
school problems
resistance to other forms of treatment/counseling
stated they “needed help"
the theme of the clients interviewed was they were prominently adolescents in serious trouble who were not being reached by “traditional forms of counseling” -personal and social responsibility phase involving:
natural consequences and peer interaction as strong therapeutic influences
helping clients to learn and accept personal and social responsibility facilitated by natural consequences
wilderness living conditions that make cooperation and communication essential for safety and comfort
proper ways to manage anger, share emotions, and process interpersonal issues within groups and are modeled and practiced in a neutral and safe environment
staff working with the parents and family to help them understand their role in the clients’ problem behaviors and helps restore family functioning through contacting parents periodically -A cleansing phase including:
healthy diet
physical exercise
teaching self-care skills & survival skills
being removed from cultural stimuli -transition/aftercare phase:
preparing clients to return to their previous environments; staff helps them process what they have learned and how to take the lessons home with them (self-care, personal/social responsibility, etc)
preparation is facilitated by therapists through intense, one-on-one counseling’s and group sessions with peers
work on developing strategies to complete goals (i.e. communicating better with parents, therapist would develop strategies to help accomplish this goal) Wilderness therapy is a process guided by phases: Goals of treatment:
address clients “presenting issues”
developing sense of self through learning personal, interpersonal skills, communication skills, drug and alcohol awareness, coping skills, etc
there development of sense of self helps them avoid negative peer influences
clients understand changes they need/want to make after therapy
clients realize their past behaviors and propose changes
clients develop insight into their presenting problem as a symptom of other issues that were going on in their lives Participant responses of a study by Russell and Phillips (2002) on how wilderness therapy helped affect change for them:
Relationships with counselors/leaders: participants liked that they would just “sit and talk”, using metaphors to relate to real problems, and able to built a strong rapport
Peer dynamic: including peer feedback, group processing , and ability to share feelings with group
Facilitated reflection on life: using self-reflection “alone time”
Challenge and structure of the process: the process is difficult and challenging, which forced participants to often feel uncomfortable, find self confidence and competency Russell and Phillips (2002) explained that participants in their study had several perspectives on the benefits of wilderness therapy treatment:
desire to change their behaviors (have goals, have direction, finish school, think about the future)
desire to discontinue drug/alcohol use (do not begin friendships with people who use, quit old friends who use)
desire to be a better person (respect others, be open-minded, be a positive role model, listen to others, talk about feelings) Wilderness Therapy At-risk youth include adolescents:
judged delinquent by the courts or commit status offenses
abuse substances
who suffer from emotional/behavioral disorders
who are academic underachievers
who are economically/socially disadvantaged
who are deemed incorrigible by school officially, parents or social services agencies (Winston & Tinsley, 1999) Due to the variety that exists amongst various programs WT is not guided by one particular theory. Overall, it is based on an eclectic model that may draw from principles used in family systems theory, the Hahnian approach, and group therapy. Underlying Theories Family Systems Therapy Family Systems Therapy is an integral part of WT, primarily due to the fact that the members of the target group are youth, meaning that for most participants one of their primary social environments as an adolescent is their family.

Harper, Russell, Cooley, & Cupples (2007) examined the role of families in the WT process. Programs which encourage active participation on the part of caregivers in the therapy of their children had better rates of maintaining the change that the adolescent made during treatment. The Hahnian posits that the knowledge gained through participation should be manifest in the form of maturity and personal development, instead of simply being intellectual in nature.

A part of Wilderness Therapy emphasizes the fact that the therapist is not to act as an authority figure in the client's life. This means that instead of feeling forced to make a positive change clients are encouraged to become better self-regulators who are motivated to make the change themselves.

As a part of increased self-regulation, therapists believe that the use of natural consequences can be an effective tool. Instead of imposing punishments for not complying with the guidelines set forth in a WT program therapists encourage clients to be learn from the "natural" consequences of their actions. Hahnian Approach Group Therapy Group therapy is an important method employed in wilderness therapy, because of the fact that a large emphasis is placed on developing communication skills & social responsibility.

“Change occurring at the individual level cannot be understood in isolation; it needs to be addressed in terms of the relationships one has with others.” (Harper et. al, 2007)

The group process in WT is not only limited to group psychotherapy, instead it needs to involve group activities that allow for opportunities for participants to develop trusting relationships with others, and improve their listening and decision-making skills within a group setting. Group Therapy Effectiveness and Limitations of Wilderness Therapy (WT) Why the difference needs to be made?
Question of ethics
Difference in the type of services clients receive
It will assist clients in
What they can expect from the program?
What type of services they will receive
It will contribute to ethically informed service Therapy vs. Therapeutic Studies show that Wilderness Therapy contributes to adolescents change in:
Self concept

Jones, Lowe & Risler (2004), Becker (2009) and Hill (2007) Effectiveness Wilderness!
Group Cohesion (Glass & Benshoff, 2002)
Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC)
Family Involvement (Harper, Russell, Cooley, Cupples, 2007)
Maintains Change
Therapeutic Alliance (Harper, 2009)
Bond What makes WT Effective? Treatment gains are lost….Why?
A Qualitative Study Russell (2005)
WT has not been studied extensively
Produced mixed results at follow-up
Lack of Family Involvement
Lack of Therapist involvement Limitations Addressing Limitations of WT
Adventure Based Counseling (ABC)
Low challenge courses (LECC) (Glass & Benshoff, 2002, Glass & Meyers, 2001)
Using Adler's Individual Psychology
Promotes: goal setting, trust building and problem solving
Dealing with emotions
Groups can apply these skills to real life. Skills for Future Practice WT is recently expanding for use with other populations
Women who are victims of domestic abuse
More research needs to be done
Explore differences of race and gender
Train Social Workers to sustain behavioral and emotional outcomes of WT
Getting the Family Participation Future and Conclusions Group Therapy
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