Outdoor Therapy Serves as Healthy Outlet for Teens with Behavior Problems

Outdoor therapy programs take a different approach than boot camps for teens with behavior problems by using nature as a guide to making healthier choices and empowering teens to gain insight into how their actions affect others. As many teens with behavior problems struggle with taking advice from authority figures and lack self-awareness necessary for many types of talk therapy, outdoor therapy is a popular alternative that motivates teens to be more actively engaged in treatment. The outdoor setting of these programs removes many opportunities for teens to act out behaviorally but reveals the underlying mental health struggles that affect their decision-making and focuses on building up their strengths.  

Natural Consequences of Behavior

It can be hard for teens to notice how their behavior affects others unless it also directly impacts them. In a wilderness setting, teens experience the natural consequences of their actions. Rather than trying to reward or punish teens for certain behaviors, nature teaches the most powerful and life-changing lessons. For example, refusing to hike, picking fights with peers can lead to losing daylight hours or lack or group cohesion. Skipping steps when doing chores, like gathering wood for a bonfire, setting up camp, or cleaning food up can lead to natural consequences, like cold food, difficulty sleeping, or attracting animals. Seeing these natural consequences helps teens understand that rules are designed for their own safety and wellbeing, not just for the sake of rules. This helps teens gain an understanding of rules at home and the rewards that come with following them. 

Benefits of Healing Outdoor Environment For Teens With Behavior Problems

Many teens have pent up energy from spending so much time indoors or feeling bored with their daily routine. Spending more time outside gets them out of their comfort zone, but also meets their need for excitement and new experiences. With time away from technology and the stresses of their everyday lives, teens are better able to reflect on their challenges as well as notice subtle changes within themselves. Nature has a way of slowing down thoughts so that teens can become more aware of how they are thinking and feeling from moment to moment and beautiful landscapes offer moments to pause and reflect. At Trails, we transition back and forth between the wilderness and base camp to encourage students to get comfortable with different situations and transitions and to offer experiences in a more traditional setting, like academics, equine therapy, and cabins to sleep in. 

Healthy Social Activities

One reason that teens get into risky activities, like experimenting with substances and sneaking out of the house, is that they are frustrated with unstructured ways of socializing and struggle to connect with others in a meaningful way. For teens who struggle with low self-esteem, low motivation, or trauma, they find it hard to connect with others over shared goals or experiences. This leads to trying to connect with others by making impulsive decisions or by showing that they’ve accepted their future “failures” and don’t care about the consequences of their actions.
Outdoor therapy introduces teens with behavior problems to healthy recreation activities as a way for teens to develop more positive relationships and healthier ways of coping. Even for teens who have had limited experience playing on a sports team or spending time outdoors, they often realize how these activities are not just therapeutic, they are also fun and plan to incorporate outdoor activities as a hobby once they transition home. 

Trails Carolina Can Help

Trails Carolina is one of the nation’s leading wilderness therapy programs for middle school and high school-aged teens that helps teens ages 10-17 who are struggling with behavioral and emotional issues. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn throughout the wilderness program offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. By removing teens from their fast-paced environment into a safe, nurturing, and peaceful environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior.
Contact us at 800-975-7303 to learn more about our wilderness therapy program for teens with behavior problems. We can help your family today! 

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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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