Adolescence is a significant period of emotional development, where the therapeutic needs of middle schoolers are different from the needs of high schoolers. Teachers understand this and apply different techniques in the classrooms, so why shouldn’t wilderness programs? Currently, Trails is the only wilderness therapy programs for middle school students with single-gender middle school programming year-round in the country.
We implement a variety of unique strategies with our younger groups to better meet their developmental needs.
Field staff who work with pre-teen students work solely with this age group. They receive pre-teen specific trainings focused on how middle school students’ brains work to help them better understand which therapeutic approaches will work with this group. These trainings focus on attachment, universal human needs, and love languages so that staff are prepared to support students on their healing journey.
We know middle schoolers have a hard time sitting still and opening up while contained in an office or even sitting as a group. In wilderness therapy programs, group therapy occurs organically while engaging in other activities. This dynamic form of therapy also encourages students to be more in touch with what they’re feeling in their bodies, which gives them more insight into their thoughts and impulses.
Creative Holistic Approach
We acknowledge that this age group is less responsive to traditional psychoeducation than our older students, who are better at processing this information based on their emotional maturity. As a result, we focus more on the bigger picture than teaching these kids how to manage symptoms of their mental health struggles.
Students and parents take love language assessments, facilitated by their therapist during the therapeutic process. These are quizzes that help families better understand how each member of their family gives and receives love. This helps them learn how to communicate more effectively with one another.
Another aspect of the new phase system for middle schoolers is a focus on universal human needs.
According to primary therapist, Amanda Mojave, LPC, “If a student is exhibiting a challenging behavior, instead of trying to eradicate these behaviors, we want students, staff, and parents to put on their detective hat and ask ‘what need are we trying to get met?’
“For example, one universal human need that we see frequently is the need for certainty. If a student is asking a question repeatedly, instead of trying to simply put a stop to the badgering, we invite everyone to be curious,” describes Mojave. “When we establish that the student is trying to get the need for certainty met, we can help foster an environment where they are learning how to meet their needs in a prosocial way.”
Focus on Attachments and Relationships
Phase work for middle school students is focused on attachments and relationships. Many students at Trails struggle in their relationships with others. New middle school programming helps students repair relationships with families and peers.
“Part of the attachment-focused work we’re doing with the middle school group is helping train staff to better understand what it means to be a secure base for students,” says Mojave. “We are using recent research to approach attachment-related behaviors with curiosity and playfulness, which is developmentally appropriate for pre-teens. We are also teaching parents about this too. It helps students feel safe in their relationships and allows them to make changes.
Increased Parent Communication
Another addition to middle school programming is a parent-child phone call during the process. With older age groups, many of the students we work with have come to Trails Carolina after getting into a lot of arguments at home and being defiant. Compared to younger teens, they may benefit from more space from their parents. Because of this, parents participate in a parallel therapeutic process through parent calls, while communication with their child is limited to letter writing the first few weeks they are there. As they begin to repair their relationships, families interact through family workshops towards the end of their stay at Trails Carolina.
For younger students, parent-child phone calls are extremely beneficial in preparing for graduation and next steps after Trails. We are inviting the family to utilize their skills in real time with one another. This group of students is also more likely to be overly dependent on their parents and struggle with homesickness, which can get in the way of them being able to focus on themselves while at the program.
Staff at Trails Carolina are extremely passionate about working with this age group, which is key to the success of our students.
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 struggling middle schoolers. We can help your family today!