Does Wilderness Therapy Work?

    Trails Carolina is partnering with the Center for Research, Assessment, and Treatment Efficacy (CReATE) and the Arkansas Institute of Developmental Science in conducting a research initiative exploring the therapeutic effectiveness of wilderness therapy. 

    Both students and parents reported remarkable transformations in behavior and symptoms between the time a student entered Trails initially and one year after graduation.   

    The ongoing research initiative received reports from parents and students about the symptoms, syndromes, and behavioral problems that they observed throughout four specific time periods:

    • Upon admission to Trails Carolina 
    • At graduation from Trails Carolina
    • Three months after graduation from Trails
    • One year after graduation from Trails

    Student Outcomes Study Findings

    Students reported the following upon admission:

    • 44% of students reported clinical symptoms of a substance use disorder
    • 33% of students reported significant symptoms of depression/anxiety, suicidality, and peer conflict. 
    • 25% of students reported clinical elevations in symptoms of ADHD, sleep disruption, and disruptive behavior disorders

    One year after students graduated from Trails:

    • 8% of students reported significant symptoms of substance use disorder
    • 7% of students reported symptoms of depression/anxiety, 10% reported symptoms of suicidality, and 8% reported symptoms of peer conflict. 
    • 12% of students reported symptoms of ADHD, 7% reported symptoms of sleep disruption, and 3% reported symptoms of disruptive behaviors.

    Upon admission, almost half of teen students (44%) reported clinical symptoms of a substance use disorder, as compared to 8% reporting similarly significant symptoms, one year following graduation from Trails. More than one-third of youth (>33%) reported significant symptoms of depression/anxiety, suicidality, and peer conflict at admission, compared to 7%, 10%, and 8% respectively, a year following graduation. Over 25% of youth reported clinical elevations in symptoms of ADHD, sleep disruption, and disruptive behavior disorders at admission, compared to 12%, 7%, and 3% respectively at follow up. Overall, there was a significant reduction in symptoms, across ALL domains. Symptomatic reductions persisted (and in most cases, continued improvement) for a full year following treatment at Trails.

    Parent Outcomes Findings - Teens 14-17

    Upon admission, parents reported the following about their children:

    • 66% of parents reported that their children experienced clinically significant symptoms of ADHD, depression, anxiety, and conflict with their peers.

    • 50% of parents indicated that their children experienced suicidal ideation.

    • 40% of parents reported that their children struggle with substance abuse, disruptive behavior, and academic problems.

    • 25% of parents reported significant sleep problems observed in their children.

    One year after the completion of Trails, parents reported:

    • 20% reported their children experienced clinically significant symptoms of ADHD, 0% reported that their children were experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 15% reported that their children had conflict with peers.

    • 13% reported that their children experienced suicidal ideation.

    • 18% reported that their children were struggling with substance abuse, 28% reported that their children were struggling with disruptive behaviors, and 6% reported children struggling with academic problems.

    • 6% reported significant sleep problems observed in their children.

    Upon admission, over two-thirds of parents (>66%) reported that their children experience clinically significant symptoms of ADHD, depression and anxiety, as well as conflict with their peers. Half of parents indicated that youth experienced suicidal ideation. Forty percent of parents reported that their children struggle with substance abuse, disruptive behavior, and academic problems; 25% of parents report significant sleep problems observed in their children upon admission.

    Following treatment at Trails, there was a significant reduction in symptoms, across ALL domains. Symptom reductions of depression, anxiety, and suicidality persisted—and continued—for a full year following treatment at Trails. In fact, one year after treatment at Trails, NO parents observed clinically significant symptoms of depression or anxiety in their children.

    Parent Outcome Findings - Children 9-12 Years Old

    Upon admission at Trails Carolina parents reported the following about their child:

    • 65% said their child was anxious and depressed, 49%  reported that their child was withdrawn, 61% reported aggression in their child.
    • 36% said their child was experiencing issues with attention, 35% reported that their child was showing rule breaking behaviors, 42% of parents reported that their child experienced social problems.
    • 65% of parents said their child was internalizing behaviors, 55% of parents said their child was externalizing behaviors.

    One year after graduation, parents reported the following about their child:

    • 20% reported that their child felt anxious and depressed, 9% said their child felt withdrawn, 5% said that their child was behaving aggressively.
    • 10% reported that their child was experiencing attention issues, 5% reported that their child was exhibiting rule breaking behaviors, 10% said their child was experiencing social problems.
    • 25% said that their child was experiencing internalizing behaviors, 5% said their child was experiencing externalizing behaviors.

    Approximately 15% of the Trails study participants fell within the age range of 9-12 years old. They demonstrated a similar pattern of symptoms as the larger sample of youth, with a few notable exceptions.

    For this group of study participants, anxiety and depression were the most prevalent problems at admission, similar to the overall sample of study participants; however, a higher percentage of the younger sample have significant symptoms at admission and these symptoms do not respond to treatment as readily as they do for the older sample of adolescents. Further, over 60% of the younger sample demonstrated significant verbal and/or physical aggressiveness before treatment at Trails.

    Following Trails’ programming, less than 30% of the younger sample continued to present with aggressiveness. For the younger students, all psychiatric symptoms showed significantly improvements, from admission to graduation from Trails. Like the older students in the study, younger students continued to experience significant symptomatic improvements for a full year following graduation.

    Parent Outcome Findings - Results from Adopted Students

    Upon admission to Trails, parents of adopted children reported:

    • 58% reported that their child was anxious and depressed, 41% reported that their child was withdrawn, 42% reported that their child was exhibiting aggression.
    • 45% reported that their child was having attention issues, 55% reported rule breaking behaviors, 40% reported that their child experienced social problems.
    • 65% reported that their child experienced internalizing behaviors, 50% reported that their child experienced externalizing behaviors.

    One year after graduation from Trails, parents reported the following about their child:

    • 19% reported that their child was anxious and depressed, 5% reported that their child was withdrawn and that their child exhibited aggression.
    • 10% reported that their child was experiencing attention issues, 1% reported that their child was exhibiting rule breaking behaviors, 10% reported that their child was having social problems.
    • 19% reported that their child was experiencing internalizing behaviors, 2% reported that their child was experiencing externalizing behaviors.

    Approximately 22% of the students who participated in the Trails study are adopted. They demonstrated a similar pattern of symptoms as the larger sample of youth, with the most prevalent problems at admission being anxiety and depression, followed by significant ruminative, destructive behavior, sleep disruption, and compulsiveness. Adopted youth also demonstrated significant improvements in all other psychiatric symptoms, following their participation in Trails’ program. The sample of adopted youth maintained (or improved) reductions in symptoms for the full year following Trails’ treatment.

    Wilderness Therapy

    Wilderness Therapy

    Wilderness Therapy

    Wilderness Therapy