Healing In Nature: Five Benefits of Wilderness Therapy Programs


It’s official: wilderness therapy is one of the most unique and effective forms of therapy!

When it comes to addressing mental health conditions and behavioral issues, traditional talk therapy has been the go-to solution for many years. However, traditional talk therapy sessions can sometimes feel repetitive, and there’s a growing interest in alternative approaches such as wilderness therapy programs. Wilderness therapy has been found to have several benefits over traditional therapy, including family-focused programming, a change in environment, clinically intensive wilderness therapy techniques, expertly trained therapists, and a long-term, sustainable impact.

Unlike traditional therapy, wilderness therapy blends experiential therapy, adventure therapy, and traditional forms of therapy to create many opportunities for personal growth and success, especially in younger participants.

The benefits of wilderness therapy programs are numerous and significant compared to traditional therapy.

What defines wilderness therapy?

What is wilderness therapy? The short answer: Wilderness therapy is an experiential therapy that takes place in a natural setting.

The longer answer: Wilderness therapy, sometimes called outdoor behavioral healthcare, is a unique approach to mental health treatment that involves immersing individuals in a natural outdoor environment and incorporating outdoor recreational activities as part of the therapeutic process.

Wilderness therapy is a type of experiential therapy, which is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the value of direct, hands-on experiences in promoting personal growth and development.

Experiential therapy approaches are based on the idea that individuals learn best through doing, rather than just talking. By engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and rock climbing, individuals in wilderness therapy programs are able to confront their fears, build self-confidence, and develop new coping skills.

This approach allows individuals to engage in therapy in a way that feels less clinical and more organic, making it a valuable and effective treatment option for many individuals.

How does adventure therapy fit in?

Adventure therapy and wilderness therapy are closely related therapeutic approaches that utilize the natural world and outdoor activities to promote personal growth and development.

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Adventure therapy typically involves a range of physical challenges and group interactions while wilderness therapy specifically uses natural outdoor environments such as forests and mountains as the setting for therapeutic interventions.

While both approaches have similarities and can be used in tandem, wilderness therapy is a type of adventure therapy that emphasizes the use of natural environments to address a wide range of mental health issues including substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.

Trails Carolina’s wilderness therapy programs incorporate adventure therapy activities as part of the therapeutic process.

What are some of the benefits of wilderness therapy and adventure therapy?

Wilderness therapy programs have emerged as a popular alternative to traditional talk therapy for individuals struggling with mental health challenges and emotional and behavioral issues. While wilderness therapy programs may seem unconventional, they have been found to be highly effective.

The following top five benefits of wilderness therapy make these programs stand out and deliver an often stronger success rate compared to traditional therapy. These benefits include family-focused programming, a change in environment, clinically intensive therapy, expert staff, and long-term impact.

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Photo Credit: flickr user – Matthias Ripp

The benefits wilderness therapy can offer are numerous, however, this article will focus on a few short points about the overall benefits of wilderness therapy and why someone should choose wilderness therapy over other forms of inpatient therapy. Here they are:

Family-Focused Programming

Unlike traditional therapy for troubled teens which is often focused only on adolescents, a wilderness therapy program typically incorporates a family-focused approach. This means that the program isn’t just focused on the individual, but also on the family unit.

Wilderness therapy programs, like at Trails Carolina, generally offer a variety of family-focused programming. Families participate in the therapy work together, which can lead to increased communication, understanding, and support during and after the wilderness program.

This approach is especially beneficial for families struggling with issues such as substance abuse, mental health issues, and behavioral problems. Wilderness therapy, or any therapy for that matter, is almost always more effective if the entire family is involved in the healing process. Family-focused programming may include family workshops, family seminars, and regular family therapy sessions.

A Change of Environment

Wilderness therapy takes place in natural outdoor settings. This change of environment provides at risk adolescents with a refreshing break from the familiar and sometimes stressful surroundings of daily life.

Nature has a calming and restorative effect, which can help adolescents relax and open up to the therapeutic process. In comparison, traditional therapy sessions usually take place in clinical settings such as offices or clinics, which can be sterile and uninspiring.

By removing the teen from the distractions found in everyday life, wilderness therapy allows them to focus on improving their behavior and overall mental health.

Gone are the negative influences that may be affecting your teen’s behaviors. In nature, your teen has the time to mull over their past actions and make goals for a successful future.

Clinically Intensive Therapy

Some people don’t associate being out in nature with clinically intensive programming. However, many wilderness therapy programs offer clinical treatment for the struggling teens who attend the program. They may have any number of psychiatrists and therapists on staff to help teens work through their struggles.

At Trails Carolina, our therapeutic interventions are carefully designed to help our students confront their challenges head-on when they are ready, develop new coping skills, and build self-confidence. Through a combination of individual and group therapy sessions, experiential learning activities, and wilderness skills training, the students in our wilderness therapy programs receive highly personalized and intensive care to fit their individual needs. This level of clinical support can be especially valuable for individuals with complex mental health issues or those who have not found success in traditional talk therapy.

Expert Compassionate Staff

The clinical intensive therapy found through many wilderness therapy programs would not be possible without highly skilled and professional staff. In fact, wilderness therapy programs often have some of the most passionate, caring, and qualified staff on board.

Wilderness therapy programs are typically staffed by highly trained and experienced therapists, outdoor experts, and medical professionals who work together to provide comprehensive care to the participants.

At Trails Carolina, the team of wilderness staff members are knowledgeable about the therapeutic process and have extensive experience working with individuals with a wide range of mental health issues. All of our clinicians have years of experience and are masters-level therapists. They are equipped to provide personalized care that meets the unique needs of each individual and can adapt to their changing needs throughout the treatment process.

Long-Term Impact

Finally, one of the most significant benefits of wilderness therapy is its long-term impact.

For those who are just learning about wilderness therapy and it’s benefits, you may be asking, Does wilderness therapy work?

The short answer: Yes! Wilderness therapy research has shown that wilderness therapy can be an effective form of treatment for individuals struggling with a wide range of mental health and behavioral issues.

The longer answer: Yes! But there is always room for improvement and research. Studies have found that wilderness programs can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young people. Wilderness therapy has also been found to be effective in treating substance abuse and addiction, as well as behavioral problems in adolescents.

One reason for the success of wilderness therapy is its experiential and immersive approach. By engaging in outdoor activities and learning new skills, individuals in wilderness therapy programs are able to confront their challenges in a supportive and natural environment. This approach can be especially helpful for individuals who have not found success with traditional talk therapy.

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Trails Carolina Student Smiling, Reunited With Parents

In addition, these programs typically provide highly personalized care that is tailored to the unique needs of each individual. The clinical support provided in wilderness programs can help individuals develop new coping skills and build confidence, which can lead to both short and long-term recovery.

Still, while wilderness therapy may not be suitable for everyone, research suggests that it can be a highly effective form of treatment for individuals struggling with mental health issues. As with any form of treatment, it is important to work with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the best approach for your individual needs.

By engaging in experiential learning activities and developing new coping skills, individuals in wilderness programs gain tools and strategies that they can use throughout their lives.

Additionally, these programs often incorporate aftercare planning and support to ensure that individuals continue to receive the care and resources they need to maintain their progress after they leave the program. These wilderness therapy transitions support the long-term impact of wilderness therapy, making it a transformative process and allowing individuals to create lasting change and achieve long-term recovery.

Bonus: Making Healing A Fun Adventure

At wilderness therapy programs, your teen will have many opportunities to have fun while healing. While not all of the experience is fun and games, many wilderness therapy programs like to have fun! After all, if your teen is enjoying the elements of their healing process, they are more likely to be engaged in making changes for themselves.

Trails Carolina Is One Of The Most Effective Wilderness Therapy Programs

Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program for teens ages 10-17, helps teens struggling with behavioral and emotional issues like depression, anxiety, trauma, defiance, and attachment issues.

Trails Carolina can help your struggling child today. For more information about Trails Carolina, please call 800-975-7303 today!

Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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