Wilderness Therapy For Troubled Youth

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Wilderness Therapy For Troubled Teens

Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy is one of the most renowned experiential therapy programs for troubled teens in the nation. Programs for troubled teens include facilities that fall into a wide spectrum of therapeutic options. These can range from a wilderness camp for troubled youth to a wilderness treatment program to a residential treatment center to a therapeutic boarding school to an intensive outpatient program.

At Trails Carolina, our therapeutic wilderness program for struggling teens can help your son or daughter get back on the right track in life.


Wilderness Programs For Troubled Youth At Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina offers wilderness adventure therapy programs complete with a wilderness treatment center base camp. Throughout our wilderness therapy programs, students are able to develop and put into action transferable life skills such as trust, respect, responsibility, accountability, integrity, and leadership. Every aspect of the wilderness therapy program is designed to help ensure a smooth transition after graduation and long-term, sustainable progress.

Students practice wilderness therapy transitions throughout the program, which makes it easier for them to maintain the changes they’ve made throughout their time at Trails long after they leave. This is unique to Trails, as not many programs for troubled teens put such a focus on the long-term healing process or what happens after a student leaves therapeutic care.

Trails provides help for troubled teens and children ages 10-17 who are struggling with behavioral and emotional challenges such as defiance, anxiety, attachment issues, and low self-esteem. Trails Carolina is beneficial to many struggling teens and their families because of our specifically designed programming which is:

  • Family-focused: One of the features that makes Trails one of the most effective wilderness treatment programs for troubled teens is the focus we put on healing family dynamics. Our family program includes weekly family therapy sessions, family seminars, and family workshops that help ensure that everyone in the family is on board in the therapeutic process. It takes a lot of effort from the entire family to create lasting change for your struggling teen.
  • Individualized: Every aspect of our programming is personalized to each individual student’s needs. From the clinical attention that is paid to students to the academic programming tailor-made to meet students where they are at in school, we make sure that each student is provided with what they need to be successful.
  • Multidisciplinary: Every member of our staff works together to provide the most well-rounded therapeutic and academic approach possible.
  • Accredited: Our wilderness school for troubled youth is fully licensed and accredited by CARF and the Department of Health and Human Services. In order to maintain these licenses and accreditations we must meet high standards of care and safety for students.
  • Results-driven: We utilize the feedback provided by families to constantly work towards creating the best experience for students and families. We also conduct outcomes studies to determine how effective our programming is for families. Read wilderness therapy reviews and Trails Carolina reviews from former students and families.

The Core Principles of Effective Troubled Teen Programs

When it comes to addressing the unique challenges faced by troubled teens, there are countless approaches and therapeutic programs made available. However, not all of them can offer the same positive outcome. In order to ensure successful intervention and rehabilitation for struggling youth, it is important to understand the core principles that make up an effective program for troubled teens.

does wilderness therapy work

The first core principle of effective programs for troubled teens is individualized care. Each teen experiences their own unique set of issues related to mental health and personal identity, so a program designed for one individual may not be effective for another.

It is important that any program considers the specific needs of each teen involved in order to provide personalized treatment strategies and outcomes. 

This might mean providing access to resources like mentors or therapists who have experience dealing with similar issues, while also considering the particular interests or goals of each participant in individual and group therapy sessions.

The second core principle involves creating a safe space where teens can feel secure and accepted. The environment should be free from judgment or criticism so that teens feel comfortable opening up about their issues without fear of repercussions or ridicule.

A trusting relationship between the student's primary therapist, other staff members, and peers is key in creating this atmosphere; without it, teens may be reluctant to engage in therapeutic activities or share their feelings honestly.

Additionally, establishing clear rules and boundaries helps ensure consistent expectations across all areas of a program or facility—including academics, recreation time, and group and individual therapy sessions—so that everyone knows what behavior is acceptable as well as what consequences will follow if those rules are broken.

The third principle recommends emphasizing life skills development in addition to traditional academics when designing an intervention program for troubled teens.

Life skills training equips teens with the practical tools they need to manage everyday stressors in healthy ways; these may include communication techniques like active listening or problem-solving strategies like goal setting.

Incorporating life skills development with accredited academics allows educators to prioritize real-world applications that help teens build confidence and develop lifelong learning habits which will serve them well beyond adolescence, while still preparing them to be successful in school when they return.

Healthy interaction with peers also plays an important role in any effective program for troubled teens. By engaging in social activities with peers facing similar issues—whether through organized sports teams or outdoor adventure trips—teenagers can form bonds based on trust and understanding which can help them better cope with difficult emotions or situations encountered both inside and outside the program environment.


Implementing The 4 Core Principles Of Wilderness Therapy

Implementing these four core principles into any intervention effort involving troubled teens is essential for achieving long-term success.

When combined with attention to individual needs as well as sensitivity towards cultural dynamics within families it becomes possible to provide a holistic approach to addressing teenage distress which takes into consideration physical as well as emotional requirements necessary for healthy personal growth during adolescence.

With proper guidance from trained professionals utilizing evidence-backed methods tailored specifically towards young people’s unique needs, most teenagers have excellent opportunities available to them when it comes time managing mental health struggles while transitioning into adulthood successfully despite the challenging circumstances they face along the journey ahead.

Meet Some of our Primary Therapists


Wilderness Therapy

We believe that a wilderness setting enhances the benefits of therapy


Lasting Change

We believe that practicing and applying the lessons learned in the wilderness to everyday situations promotes lasting change.


Family Involvement

We believe that families benefit from being involved in their child's process.

Wilderness Programs For Troubled Teens At Trails Carolina

At Trails Carolina’s wilderness program for troubled teens, we work with youth (10-13) and adolescents (14-17) to help get them back on track. With a few months at Trails Carolina, we can help foster the self-reflection necessary to help your teen girl or boy overcome challenges with defiance, social isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Our program is designed to help teens who are struggling with mental health, emotional health, and behavioral health challenges develop healthy coping skills that they can apply to all areas of their lives. We tick all the boxes of the core principles that make a program for troubled teens effective. This is how we do it:

Expert Staff & Individualized Treatment

We work as a team with field staff, primary therapists, and medical care coordinators to develop individualized treatment plans for each of our students. As soon as you enroll your child in our program, your child will be paired with a primary therapist who will begin developing an individualized treatment plan with input from you and your child. The goal of therapeutic program is to meet your child's individual needs and to ensure your child is well taken care of while gaining the skills for lasting success.

2022 Alumni series

Distraction-Free Environment

Our program is specially designed to create a unique environment that provides the safety and security needed to help your child heal. However, we know that real change happens when our students are able to apply the skills that they learn at Trails in diverse environments back home and at school. That's why we practice transitions.

We move between a wilderness setting and our base camp as a way for students to continue their education and practice their newfound skills in a new, experiential education environment with new staff. By doing this, students create lasting change that translates to all kinds of settings.

wilderness program staff and student

Transitions & Accredited Academics

The moment your child arrives at Trails, we begin teaching them real-life coping skills that they can use to manage their emotional and behavioral challenges in healthy ways. These methods include breathing techniques, journaling, mindfulness, meditation, listening to their body cues and emotions, and more.

Additionally, students attend classes and earn course credit while at Trails, while also participating in a proven therapeutic environment giving students a chance to practice their new social skills in a supportive learning environment.

Segmented Peer Groups

Throughout their time at Trails, our students will work closely in peer groups based on gender and age. We believe that segmenting groups by age and gender allows our team of mental health professionals, wilderness and adventure camp field instructors, and accredited education consultants to provide more focused and effective personalized care to each student.

Evidence shows that using segmented peer groups helps students learn to build positive relationships among their own peers. This makes the transition back to traditional school settings easier for young people. And it helps our students learn how to interact and build healthy connections for life.

Who benefits from programs for troubled teens?

Programs for troubled teens, such as Trails Carolina, help young people struggling with a variety of challenges. Depending on the program, these challenges may be severe or mild. Some programs for troubled kids and teens are co-educational and others are single-gendered. At Trails, we accept young men and women between the ages of 10-17. Our program divides girls and boys into separate groups based on gender and age. Trails helps young people struggling with difficulties such as:

  • School Refusal: Trails helps young people who have avoided attending school. This can be due to fear, bullying, academic failure, and other struggles.
  • Defiance: Trails helps adolescents struggling with Oppositional Defiant Disorder as well as defiant and disruptive behaviors, in general.
  • Depression: Teens struggling with mood disorders such as depression are provided with specialized assistance at Trails.
  • Attachment Issues: We help young people who struggle with attachment disorder due to neglect at a young age. This is usually found among adopted children.
  • Technology addiction: Teens struggling with an addiction to smartphones, video games, social media, and other technology can find the help they need at Trails.
  • Trauma: If a teen has experienced a traumatic event and is showing signs of trauma, we can help.
  • Social isolation: Teens who struggle to develop social skills and form meaningful healthy relationships with family members and peers.
what is wilderness therapy

Why choose wilderness therapy over other programs for troubled teens?

Programs for troubled youth struggling with mental health issues span a wide range of therapeutic modalities including residential treatment centers, boot camps, teen mental hospitals, and wilderness therapy programs for teens. Wilderness therapy has been proven time and time again to be one of the most effective forms of inpatient care for teens whose daily challenges impact their ability to lead successful lives.

At Trails Carolina Wilderness Programs, one of the best wilderness therapy programs in the country, students are completely removed from the distractions of everyday life. Away from the home environment, where peers and other negative influences may have been the propagators of a destructive behavioral or emotional pattern, adolescents are able to focus on breaking these patterns in a structured healing setting.

Unlike other programs for troubled teens, wilderness therapy programs utilize the natural consequences of being out in the wilderness to help adolescents understand how their behaviors and emotions affect their success. For example, if a student refuses to help build a fire they may be cold.

Footer Therapy

Out in the wilderness, there is nobody to point the finger at when something doesn’t go the way an adolescent wants it to go. They are completely in charge of their own behaviors. This learning experience transitions back to base camp where students participate in exercises based on topics like responsibility and teamwork.

As humans, we crave a connection with the natural world. Trails Carolina utilizes this connection with the natural environment to create positive transformations among adolescents through nature therapy. Spending time in the outdoors has a healing effect that is unparalleled by any modern medicine. Trails Carolina combines the powerful healing qualities of nature with clinically advanced therapeutic programming to promote healing and lasting change.

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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


Family Education & Growth

A Comprehensive Wilderness Therapy Program Combined With Residential Programming, Base Camp And Accredited Academics

Resources & Sources

A study conducted by the University of Cambridge found that young people struggling with mental health challenges who found help at programs for troubled teens and other treatment methods are significantly less likely to suffer from clinical depression and other mental health issues.

University of Cambridge
Your Little Professor
How Wilderness Therapy Works
Therapeutic Benefits of A Wilderness Therapy Program