Many parents are struggling with adolescents and young adults who suffer from mental health, substance abuse, and other typical issues associated with this age group. Although the usual courses of therapy and medications have been tried, for some, these therapies are just not working. In these cases, alternative therapies are being sought out.
One type of alternative therapy parents are asking questions about is outdoor therapy. This type of therapy has been around for decades, but is quite different from the first offerings parents may remember from years ago.
What is Outdoor Therapy?
Outdoor therapy is a treatment option that takes place over an 8 to 10 week period. Its purpose is to help adolescents and young adults with mental health issues and issues of addiction. It is a full immersion style therapy that can include one on one sessions with therapists and group therapy sessions with other participants.
Along with formal therapy, the participants take part in team building exercises and life skill courses. Part of the program also includes regular exercise, excellent nutrition, and incorporating healthy sleep habits.
The therapy is tailored to the individual after being assessed by a mental health professional. The patient is placed with therapists and peers with similar issues to promote optimal mental health benefits.
What are the Benefits?
Wilderness therapy is typically high structured for participants. Although there is downtime to eat and rest, most of the time spent is either in formal therapy or informal therapeutic activities. Young adults who discover they can not only survive, but thrive, in the wilderness, experience a greater sense of self and higher self esteem.
The therapy also promotes self reliance. For example, a teen who refuses to participate and learn how to build a fire will learn later on that they will have to eat their meals cold because of their reluctance to engage. The awareness that no one is going to do it for them forces the person to learn how to do it themselves or suffer the consequences of their behavior.
The simple nature of being outdoors promotes physical health. It has been shown in numerous studies that exercise bolsters mental health and can alleviate depression.
The therapy takes place outdoors, which means there is no place to isolate themselves from others and no electronics to hide behind. Participants must confront their issues head on.
The outdoor setting allows mental health professionals to conduct therapy in ways that do not feel like therapy to teens. These sessions are simply fun and and teens may not feel pressure to participate. This is important for rebellious teens and those with authority issues.
Being outside and away from environments that promote unhealthy or unsafe choices is a huge benefit Of these programs. The removal of outside forces on impressionable youth can make a big difference in jump starting therapeutic benefits.
What Does the Research Show?
The Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council, or OBH council, has conducted research on the benefits of outdoor therapy. Their research shows that the therapeutic benefits of outdoor therapy are sustained in participants at the one year mark.
The OBH council’s research also found that most participants reported a decrease in their mental health and substance abuse issues at the end of the therapy.
Who Can Benefit?
Young people who can benefit from outdoor therapy include those suffering from definable mental health issues such as Asberger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, bulimia, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder. Outdoor therapy can also help adolescents and their families dealing with typical issues of rebellion, low self esteem, and substance abuse.
With its full immersion model of therapy and measurably good outcomes, outdoor therapy may be the right alternative to traditional therapies for many young adults and teens. For parents who are struggling with family members going down the wrong path, the benefits of this therapy can be a lifesaver.
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