The Best Wilderness Therapy Programs Take a Holistic Approach

When traditional therapy isn’t enough, wilderness therapy programs offer a unique approach to healing.

Rather than relying solely on talk therapy or medication, wilderness therapy programs for teens incorporate physical activities, mindfulness practices, and the natural environment to promote emotional, physical, and spiritual healing.

But, not all youth wilderness therapy programs are created equal.

The best wilderness therapy programs take a holistic approach to treatment, addressing the whole person and tailoring treatment plans to each individual’s unique needs.

Understanding The Basics: Wilderness Therapy Defined

If this concept is new to you, you may be wondering, What is wilderness therapy?

Wilderness therapy, also called outdoor behavioral healthcare or nature therapy, is an immersive experience that promotes personal growth and healing through connection with nature and peers.

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Wilderness Therapy students and wilderness guide hike in the forest.

Unlike traditional talk therapy, which often takes place in an office or clinical setting, wilderness therapy programs involve therapists and other mental health professionals facilitating the use of evidence-based therapeutic methods in the outdoors.

These programs provide a safe, supportive, and natural environment for participants to explore their emotions, build resilience, and develop life skills.

What Makes The Best Wilderness Therapy Programs?

The best wilderness therapy programs for teens involve much more than building campfires, hiking, and engaging in teambuilding exercises in wilderness camps. The best wilderness therapy programs, like the wilderness therapy programs at Trails Carolina, take a holistic approach by providing clinical care and educational, social, and emotional support. 

The Importance of a Holistic Approach

A holistic approach to therapy is one that focuses on treating the whole person, not just their symptoms. Rather than focusing on a specific diagnosis or issue, holistic therapy addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person’s life.

In wilderness therapy programs, a holistic approach means addressing each individual’s unique needs and challenges in a comprehensive way.

This approach works by offering a variety of comprehensive services, such as individual therapy and group therapy, life skills training, family coaching, and therapeutic outdoor activities, to help teens grow in multiple areas of their lives while harnessing the healing benefits of wilderness therapy settings.

Harnessing The Healing Power Of Nature

The natural environment of wilderness adventure therapy, like the North Carolina wilderness therapy at Trails Carolina, can be both challenging and rewarding, as it allows for time away from the stresses of daily life and encourages self-discovery.

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Photo credit: flickr user – Nature

Through exposure to the outdoors, participants learn about the importance of taking care of their physical and mental health. This helps build resilience in young people so that they can better manage stress, anxiety, and other challenges as they transition from a wilderness setting back into a more traditional environment of a residential treatment center or back home.

Removed from the distractions of everyday life at home, teens have the opportunity to focus on themselves and experience a complete shift in perspective while enrolled in a high-quality therapeutic wilderness program like Trails Carolina.

The Holistic Benefits Of A Wilderness Therapy Program

Physical Benefits of Wilderness Therapy

The physical benefits of wilderness therapy programs are numerous.

Participants engage in physical activities like hiking and camping, which can improve cardiovascular health, boost endurance, and promote physical fitness.

Physical activity and a healthy diet can help teens feel better about themselves while also increasing the body’s levels of the natural mood enhancers endorphins and serotonin.

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Yoga and Meditation in Lotus Pose

According to research presented in Psychosomatic Medicine, exercise can be just as effective as medication in treating depression in some people and is an effective way of addressing emotional distress without having to talk about it, which helps integrate healing on a somatic level.

The wilderness therapy approach is highly attractive to teens who learn better from actively engaging in experiences. Studies also show that physical activity can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase self-esteem, and promote positive body image.

In addition to dealing with the physical toll that mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder have on the body, many teens and young adults who struggle with mental health issues may also struggle with body image, low energy, keeping up with hygiene, eating well, or other self-care practices related to physical health.

In order to live a healthy life, we must find ways to take care of our bodies and our minds each day, which can often be extra difficult for those who are dealing with mental health challenges. 

Emotional Benefits of Wilderness Therapy

The physical benefits of wilderness therapy can also translate to improved mental and emotional well-being. Many people don’t realize just how connected our mental health and physical health are. In reality, physical and emotional well-being go hand-in-hand.

Wilderness therapy programs also offer emotional benefits. Participants learn how to build resilience, manage stress, and develop coping skills. The wilderness environment provides a sense of safety, allowing participants to explore difficult emotions and experiences with the support of trained staff and peers. The experience of overcoming physical challenges like rock climbing or backpacking can also boost self-esteem and confidence.

Traditional weekly therapy sessions help the teen process the events of their week and better prepare for similar situations. After an hour-long, weekly therapy session, teens are usually left to face their struggles alone with limited therapeutic support and accountability until their next session.

While teens gain self-awareness from having a space to process their struggles, emotional well-being goes beyond clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety. It refers to the ability to manage negative emotions and conflict in the moment, not only in the aftermath, and internalize healthier thinking.

Wilderness therapy programs, like a residential treatment program, offer 24/7 support as new challenges arise and help teens continue to make progress toward personal growth.

Relational Benefits of Wilderness Therapy

The best wilderness therapy programs prioritize healing the individual and family unit. Healing is for all family members. A family-centered therapeutic approach helps teens repair family relationships and sets them up for success when they transition home.

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Family Reunited at Trails Carolina

In the healthy group setting that we establish at Trails Carolina, teens learn to reach out to their peers for emotional support and work together to complete tasks. Teens develop meaningful relationships with others going through similar struggles and expand their support system. The social skills they practice in a therapeutic environment can be applied to other relationships once they leave.

At Trails Carolina, families stay involved in their child’s therapeutic process through video therapy sessions, weekly phone calls, journaling, and family workshops. By the end of our wilderness therapy program, family dynamics improve and the child is more prepared to live a healthy, balanced life equipped to overcome challenges in everyday life.

Spiritual Benefits of Wilderness Therapy

The wilderness environment can also promote spiritual growth and exploration. Participants have the opportunity to connect with nature and the natural world, which can foster a sense of awe and wonder. Mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can be incorporated into wilderness therapy programs, providing participants with tools to manage stress and connect with their inner selves.

How To Find The Best Wilderness Therapy Programs

Look For Experienced Staff

The success of wilderness therapy programs relies heavily on the expertise and experience of the staff. The best programs employ trained professionals who are well-versed in wilderness safety and have experience working with participants who have mental health diagnoses, behavioral issues, and other unique needs.

The Trails Carolina staff members are able to create a safe and supportive environment, guide participants through the healing process, and provide individualized support.

Look For Individualized Treatment Plans

Each participant in a wilderness therapy program has unique needs and challenges. The best programs provide individualized treatment plans that take into account each person’s strengths, challenges, and goals. Individualized treatment plans ensure that each participant is receiving the care they need to achieve long-term healing and success.

As a part of the therapeutic wilderness program process at Trails Carolina, our team works with every student to create an individualized treatment plan. Each plan is thoughtfully developed based on input from the student, the student’s parents, and the student’s primary Trails therapist. 

Look For Follow-Up Care for Continued Healing

The healing process doesn’t stop when participants leave the wilderness. The best wilderness therapy programs offer follow-up care and continued support to ensure that participants have the tools they need to maintain their mental health and sobriety. This might include ongoing therapy, support groups, or aftercare programs.

In addition to our Alumni Support Services program, we incorporate wilderness therapy transitions throughout every step of the therapeutic process at Trails to help students transition from our program to the world beyond with confidence.

Look For Positive Reviews and Success Stories

When choosing a wilderness therapy program, it’s important to look for positive wilderness therapy reviews and success stories from past participants. Read Trails Carolina reviews to hear what our students and families are saying about our program.

How Our Wilderness Programs Remove the Troubled Teen Label

Many families who are considering wilderness therapy have already tried other therapeutic options to help their teen, oftentimes without the level of success they were hoping for.

While traditional therapy often focuses on problem behaviors rather than the complex underlying challenges with which the teen is struggling to overcome, at Trails, our students and their families work closely with a team of mental health professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan that looks at the student’s strengths and goals along with their challenges and struggles.

At Trails, we know that it is difficult for teens to find the motivation and support to transform behavior patterns that no longer serve them into healthier coping skills without a perspective change. Traditional therapy primarily focuses on a patient’s mental health and ways to challenge the way a person thinks. Many teens internalize this approach as a message that their feelings are wrong or that they are troubled. For many families, this can feel like an uphill battle where their teen easily slips back into old patterns of thinking and acting. 

By putting teens in a new environment where they learn to care for their overall health and learn new skills outside of a structured therapy session, you increase the chances for lasting success. 

Wilderness therapy programs acknowledge that mental health is just one piece of the puzzle for teens. A holistic approach incorporates strategies to help teens improve in many areas such as emotional health, physical health, and relational health.

Trails Carolina Can Help

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program 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 outdoor wilderness environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior. Trails Carolina gives students the tools they need to lead happy and healthy lives. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 800-975-7303 for more information about our holistic approach to wilderness therapy.

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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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