Students & Families Speak Out About The Success They Found Through Our Wilderness Therapy Program
The Trails Carolina Wilderness Program Reviews series are a chance for us to contact prior clients to check in and ensure they are on track. So many times programs put up reviews that are not tied to an experience long-term. At Trails, we follow up after a camper has left the program.
Our focus is on getting a struggling teen home. To us, Trails Carolina Wilderness Program Reviews are essential to allow families to make the best decision possible for their child’s success.
Grace’s Family Finds Togetherness And Peace
In her time at Trails Carolina, Grace learned to manage symptoms of depression and severe anxiety, communicate more effectively with her family in order to work through conflict in healthy ways, and learned coping skills to manage her anxiety at school and improve her academic focus.
Starting a few years ago, Grace started suffering from depression and anxiety and it continued for over a year. She was hospitalized 3 times over that year, twice with suicidal tendencies. Each time she was prescribed more medications beyond what her psychiatrist had already prescribed.
Grace’s anxiety was so great she left two private schools because she refused to go to school or do the work. The chaos of emotions during this stressful time made it challenging to decide on the best next step.
“Our family’s journey began with Grace falling away from us,” commented mom Ellen, “and continued into a health care system equipped only to prescribe ever-increasing doses of frighteningly ineffective addictive medications combined with hospitalization.”
After almost two years of sleepless nights and Grace’s increasingly escalating behavior which was harming her and her family, Grace’s therapist suggested a program where Grace would go to focus on making positive changes.
“We were the lucky ones who found wilderness Trails,” commented Grace’s mom, Ellen. “No hospital or social worker or psychiatrist offered us this solution.”
Grace began wilderness at Trails Carolina two days after Christmas. Ninety-three days later she was ready to graduate from Trails. “Trails helped us see the big picture of how this behavior comes to be and to create the understanding of how to sustain change over time for the whole family.”
At the end of her Trails stay, families have the choice of a traditional graduation or the 4-day, comprehensive Family Graduation Camp. Grace chose the Family Graduation Camp because she felt “we all had put in the hard work to get to this place.”
Trails’ innovative and in-depth family therapy and Graduation Camp were instrumental in Grace’s success and the entire family's success.
Mom commented, “Through this journey, our family embraced each opportunity to learn new ways to communicate.”
Her brother commented, “The family who entered this journey is not the family leaving it.”
Grace will begin her junior year at a traditional coed boarding school this fall.
In summarizing her generated self-awareness and success Mom reflected, “A meaningful journey contains joy, fear, excitement, risk-taking, trust, mistakes, leaps of faith, and love. Trails provided a supportive haven to navigate through the much-needed process.”
Mom concluded, “Thinking about Trails Carolina brings me feelings of gratitude, knots in my stomach, love for my daughter, and understanding of the importance of this journey.
Written by Grace’s brother with the help of mom Ellen B.
Hope Returns To Herself And Her Family
In her time with Trails Carolina, Hope overcame issues around anger, repaired her relationship with her family, and reset herself to find a better path in life.
As with most things in life, the reasons for Hope attending Trails slowly became significant as there were insurmountable problems for us to fix at home. These problems developed over the years and culminated in the months leading to us having Hope enroll in Trails.
The hardest thing to admit as a parent is that we can’t fix a problem with our child or something happening in our home. The love we have for Hope meant we had to accept our shortcomings and do the best thing for her to become a happy, productive adult member of society.
Since Hope was turning 18 in 6 short months, we knew time was of the essence.
I think there were two major facets to Hope’s problem:
- Hope always had an anger issue. We called her our ’95 – 5 child.’ She was happy and pleasant 95% of the time. However, the other 5% of the time, she had a temper that could not be tamed.
- Hope was swallowed up by the lack of personal attention in the large public High School she was attending.
When the school leadership changed she lost her sense of belonging, she quit her activities, and got lost in a vast high school environment and felt very alone.
Hope’s problems manifested themselves in three significant symptoms: bulimia, anger and defiance/deceit/disrespect. Once these ‘symptoms’ were engrained in her behavior, we did not have the tools or resources or respect to turn them around without outside help.
Even Hope knew she was unhappy with her disposition and choices, but she did not know how to commit to changing them. We knew we needed to stop the circular pattern that was occurring – we needed to take her completely out of her environment and start fresh, focusing on the many positive, beautiful attributes that were being clouded by the mask she was wearing.
Our circumstance was an unusual one in that we were able to have Hope come home after her time at Trails. As a family, we were fully committed to having a peaceful, productive last year with her living at home before college.
Our daughter has continued after Trails to take responsibility for seeing her therapist regularly and we all consistently work on our communication and respect for one another.
As with any family situation, ours is not perfect – we know ‘perfect’ is unattainable. We have our slips, but Trails has taught us how to address these so that we no longer fear them spiraling out of control.
We are most grateful for Hope’s experience at Trails and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Hope had to examine the masks she was making and to own them and share her genuine, pleasant self with us and with others. She has become the happy, productive adult we prayed she would be as she enters adulthood.
Written by Hope’s mom Kelly
Amelia Returns From Wilderness Forever Changed
In her time with Trails Carolina, Amelia overcame issues of chronic lying and defiant behavior at home, learned how to practice healthier boundaries with her family and friends, became able to process and manage stressors, and learned coping strategies through assertive communication to resolve conflict.
"The biggest concern was the outbursts – yelling and raging at home," shared Steve, Amelia's father.
"Amelia was managing to do okay in school – but as her workload increased, she had more difficulty paying attention in class and completing assignments. She had become verbally abusive towards our family. Then, at the beginning of summer, she shoplifted a shirt at Target and got caught. The most concerning part of this was that she boldly lied straight to the face of the security officer and then to the police officer. She also took no responsibility at home. She needed to learn to cope better personally, socially, and academically.
"We knew we needed to help her make a change. That’s when we found Trails. We are eternally grateful, and so thankful we did this," shared Steve.
"This time exactly a year ago I was in a car headed to Wilderness," recalled Amelia. "A lot of people ask why I talk about wilderness so much, and why I act so proud of it. And to answer, it’s because I am proud of it. Not the fact that I actually got sent, but because a year afterward, I can look back and say that I conquered who I was becoming and became the person I was created to be."
While at Trails Amelia:
- Learned how to manage qualities that put her at risk.
- Gained a better understanding of who she is and what she wants to represent/achieve
- Discovered what motivates her.
- Acquired the skills needed to control her impulsive behavior.
- Understood how to appropriately “filter” her words.
- Learned more healthy ways to manage and control her emotions.
- Learned how and why it is important to delay gratification.
- Developed an understanding of why being trustworthy & having integrity is important.
"Our family is better, too. We went from a family with a little girl who was lost and headed on a very bad path to a young woman with direction and compassion. Thank you to everyone at Trails, from the admissions people who helped me make this decision to the field staff, teachers, and therapists who worked with Amelia.
"Amelia worked through underlying contributors to her inability to initiate. We all focused on family discord and unresolved past conflicts with family," said Steve.
"I can look back and say, 'You did good Amelia.' I can look back and be proud of how far I’ve come.
Wilderness Therapy is something that you can never truly explain or describe, you can’t understand it unless you go. It’s a true blessing in disguise.
I am beyond proud of who I am and what happened a year ago. Wilderness has been the best thing that has happened to me. I will never be able to explain the true blessing that this was, or what went on while I was there, but know that it brings me no shame. Yes, I went to the wilderness, and yes, I am beyond proud. I made friendships that are unbreakable, and I spent 68 days in the woods, and that is something to be proud of.
Now, a year after being sent I am completely content with where I’m at and I want to thank everyone who had something to do with my experience.
TRAILS Carolina was my home for 68 days, and I’ll never forget it, or the people that I met while going through it. I love you all so much."
– Amelia, alumni student
Seth’s Story Through His Mothers Eyes
In his time with Trails Carolina, Seth learned how to recognize and process his emotions and motivations, learned communication skills alongside his family, and gained direction in his life.
When it was clear Seth was going to fail his junior year classes, mom realized it was time to act. The behaviors he had been exhibiting for a few years were not getting better and mom feared his struggles were going to impact his long-term prospects.
“I remember the phone call with mom. Mom mentioned he was isolating himself from family and friends, not taking care of himself, and kind of lost in his world of video games,” recalls the Trails Welcome Team Director.
During the admissions, process it was clear Seth was struggling and needed a break from his current environment, stressors, and habits.
Seth was bright but isolated himself socially. He was lethargic. He was oppositional, defiant, and struggling with anger management and occasional physical outbursts. Maurine, Seth’s mom, was struggling to determine how to help him.
That’s when she found Trails.
“From the first conversation, it was a relief that I thought I had found a solution for Seth,” commented Maurine reflecting on her initial impressions, “Trails was not inexpensive, but I felt like it was an investment worth making.”
Soon after that first conversation, Seth was enrolled at Trails. He was resistant at first, upset that he had lost his video games and common daily routine. Once he settled in and got comfortable in the wilderness, he made friends and connections with others that had been missing in recent years.
“While the experience has been difficult at times,” Seth stated, “I got a chance to reflect and realize that I might’ve been a little depressed. I started to see the benefits of Trails and was actually happy to have this opportunity.”
The family was able to start reconnecting and communicating in new ways, as well, thanks to weekly phone calls and the family-focused aspect of Trails’ program.
“We were all able to step back and look at how we were acting and reacting,” Maurine commented, “Trails and the family focus is enabling us all to reconnect with one another in more positive, loving ways.”
Maurine’s thoughts on the Trails experience have continued to be positive. “Trails has my highest regard and recommendation. They are an incredible asset to not only our son but also to our family as a whole. Trails has been instrumental in turning our family crisis into a period of positive transitions.
Our problems didn’t materialize overnight and the solutions will take commitment and time. Trails has been there, always available to provide calm and reassurance. “
Written by Maurine, Seth’s Mother
Wilderness Teaches Chris Self-Sufficiency
In his time with Trails Carolina, Christian overcame issues around drug use, repaired his relationship with his family, and reset himself to find a better path in life.
My husband and I began the daunting task of identifying drug treatment for our son after several years of broken promises, relapses, and legal problems.
My initial contact with the admissions counselor at Trails Carolina was a relief. They were understanding and supportive and spent all the time that we needed to answer all of our questions. Our son had reached a point in which using drugs was his only real focus in life and his crutch for all of his underlying issues.
While he had at one time been an honest son, an athlete, a good student and involved with school and church; his drug usage had changed him. He had become dishonest, sneaky, and unreliable. He was not afraid to go to great lengths with risky and self-destructive behavior to keep up his drug usage.
We made the difficult decision to send him to the wilderness program at Trails Carolina. He would later tell us while he was in the wilderness, soon after his head was cleared from the effects of his long-term drug usage, that he was thankful that we forced him into treatment because he knew that he was “slowly killing himself.”
While in the wilderness, our son’s head slowly cleared further and he gained a great deal of confidence from rigorous outdoor activity and hiking and the self-care skills he learned in the woods. The wilderness required him to cook and clean for himself. He learned how to build his own fire out of rock, sticks, and a homemade bow drill.
He was assigned to a therapist, Leigh, who was a very special person. She not only spent weekly therapy sessions with our son in the woods, but she had weekly calls with my husband and me to update us on our son’s progress. In between our weekly calls, Leigh was always available by phone or e-mail to answer any questions or concerns that we had about our son.
While I knew that she had many other boys she was working with and her own family, I felt as though she held my son’s wellbeing and his recovery as a very high priority. She not only helped my son identify and open up about his feelings and his need for recovery; she provided much needed family support.
She was creative and passionate about her work with my son. She learned who he was by talking to his family and even his girlfriend. She then tailored a specific treatment plan and interventions for my son that addressed his specific identified needs.
My son was not always comfortable in the wilderness and he was not always glad to be in such difficult circumstances, but he has said that he always felt supported by Leigh. He nicknamed her “Mama Bear.”
Throughout his stay in the wilderness, he remained convinced that he needed to come home after the wilderness program. With the help of Leigh and our interventionist, our son came to terms with the fact that he needed more treatment. I think he felt the concern that Leigh had for him and he knew that she wanted what was best for him. He respected her.
Trails Carolina's wilderness program also had a weekend family workshop that helped my husband and I have better parenting skills to be able to set appropriate boundaries and parent our son in a positive manner that would support his continuing growth and better decision-making.
Jason Mckeown was an excellent teacher. He was informative and helpful without talking down to us. Both Leigh and our interventionist also helped support my husband and me in setting the boundaries that were necessary for our son to make the right choices for his recovery. I don’t think we could have convinced our son to continue treatment and attend the therapeutic boarding school at Trails without the supportive relationship that Lee had built with our son.
I highly recommend Trails Carolina. Parents can feel confident placing their son or daughter in the care of the professionals at Trails Wilderness and the Trails Academy.
They are caring and work to know the student as an individual and they provided him with much-needed treatment. My husband and I are extremely thankful for the changes that we have seen in our son. He is returning to the young man that we knew before drugs took such a grip on him.
Written by Christian’s mom Valerie
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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
98% Of Students Continued To Report Significantly Improved Mental Health 12 Months After Graduation
Many of our alumni report increased self-confidence, autonomy, and motivation in their lives after completing our program. In addition, they often form lasting friendships and develop a greater appreciation for nature and the outdoors, which can help strengthen healthy relationships within families.
We are results-driven at Trails Carolina, and our outcome data speaks for itself.
One year after graduation:
86% of students showed improvement in anxiety symptoms
93% of students showed improvement in depression symptoms
96% of students reported experiencing a decrease in substance use
98% of students reported experiencing a decrease in suicidal thoughts
98% of students reported experiencing a decrease in aggressive behaviors
87% of students felt excited about school.
At Trails Carolina, the answer is yes!
Trails Carolina has developed a multi-year outcome study to allow us to better understand the efficacy of our program.
Our outcomes study is done in coordination with the Center for Research, Assessment, and Treatment Efficacy (CReATE; Asheville, NC) and the University of Arkansas. The results are collected independently from Trails Carolina’s involvement.
We pay close attention to outcome data from our students and their parents to allow us to better understand the efficacy of our program and make necessary changes to the program for the greater benefit of the families we work with.
The independence of the study along with the transitional model used by Trails Carolina helps to legitimize the work done in the wilderness and provide evidence-based results for our methods.
The success rate of wilderness therapy can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the specific program, the individual participants, and the goals of the therapy. The research that has been conducted to assess the success rate of wilderness therapy has shown that many wilderness programs are effective in helping youth and young adults overcome a variety of challenges.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, A Meta-analysis of Wilderness Therapy Outcomes for Private Pay Clients, found that wilderness therapy effectively reduced anxiety, depression, and externalizing behaviors in adolescents.
Additionally, in The Impact of Wilderness Therapy: Utilizing an Integrated Care Approach, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Experiential Education, it was found that wilderness therapy had "significant improvements in [youth] mental health functioning."
It's worth noting that success in wilderness therapy is not always easy to quantify, as the goals of the therapy may vary from individual to individual.
Some participants may experience immediate and significant improvements in their mental health and well-being, while others may require ongoing support and therapy after completing the program.
That being said, compared to other types of therapeutic programming, wilderness therapy is more likely to result in longer-lasting and more sustainable success.
Parents want their kids to be happy, healthy, and resilient, and when their child is struggling, they will go to the ends of the Earth to find the support their child needs.
Many parents choose come to our program after trying out other therapeutic programs that haven't made enough of a sustainable impact on their child's wellness. Wilderness therapy is a way to provide their kids with a safe, supportive environment where they can work through personal, emotional, and behavioral challenges while developing important life skills and strategies for long-term success.
Parents may send their kids to wilderness therapy for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common reasons include:
Behavior problems: Parents may send their kids to wilderness therapy if they are struggling with behavioral issues such as defiance, aggression, or substance abuse.
Mental health issues: Kids with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or trauma may benefit from wilderness therapy, which provides a supportive and therapeutic environment.
Academic struggles: Wilderness therapy programs can provide an opportunity for kids to disconnect from distractions and focus on their academic and personal goals.
Family conflict: Wilderness therapy can also help families work through conflict and communication issues, improving family dynamics and relationships.
Developmental challenges: Other parents may send their kids to wilderness therapy to help them overcome developmental challenges such as social skills deficits or executive function difficulties.
Average Daily Cost
Residential Treatment Centers: $400-$1000
Wilderness Therapy Program: $600-$1000
Learn more about the cost of wilderness therapy programs.
Average Length of Stay
Residential Treatment Centers: 9-12 months
Wilderness Therapy Program: 70-90 days
Average Success Rate
Residential Treatment Centers: 75-80%
Wilderness Therapy Program: 80-85%
Average Daily Cost
Therapeutic Boarding School: $400-$1000
Wilderness Therapy Program: $600-$1000
Learn more about the cost of wilderness therapy programs.
Average Length of Stay
Therapeutic Boarding School: 9-12 months
Wilderness Therapy Program: 70-90 days
Average Success Rate
Therapeutic Boarding School: 75-80%
Wilderness Therapy Program: 80-85%
Not at all.
A juvenile detention center is typically used as a form of punishment or incarceration for young people who have been convicted of a crime.
These facilities are usually run by the criminal justice system and have strict rules and regulations that are enforced by staff members. Young people in these centers are often isolated from their families and communities and may be subject to strict disciplinary measures.
Wilderness programs, on the other hand, are designed to provide a supportive and therapeutic environment for young people who are struggling with a range of emotional, behavioral, or mental health issues.
These programs typically involve spending time in a natural setting with safety measures in place, while participants work with an entire team of trained therapists and staff members to develop coping skills, improve communication, and address underlying issues that may be contributing to their challenges while focusing on the healing process.
A boot camp is often more focused on discipline and obedience, while wilderness therapy is focused on therapy and healing.
Boot camps are typically designed to be highly structured and controlled, with strict rules and regulations enforced by staff members.
Participants in a boot camp may be subject to physical punishments or harsh disciplinary measures if they do not comply with the rules. The goal is often to "break down" participants and rebuild them in a more disciplined and obedient form.
In stark contrast, wilderness therapy programs are designed to be supportive and therapeutic, with trained therapists and staff members working closely with participants to help them develop coping skills, improve communication, and address underlying issues.
While there may be some structure and rules in wilderness therapy programs, they are typically to keep the participants physically safe and much less harsh and rigid than those in boot camps. The focus is on personal growth and development at a wilderness program, rather than obedience and discipline.