Getting the Best From the Outdoors: Wilderness Therapy

Your kids might be facing unique and dangerous issues relating to addiction, depression, cutting, promiscuity, or other complex problems. Simultaneously, most of these issues may lead to punitive measures or even law enforcement interventions. However, most of these problems are related to some underlying issue that can be addressed therapeutically. Wilderness therapy can be beneficial for teens struggling with complex emotional and behavioral issues. While in the woods, your teen can learn that there is something greater beyond themselves. They can learn how to cooperate with others and take responsibility for themselves while on an outdoor exploration adventure. 

Learning About Natural Consequences

Outdoor adventures can lead to life-changing moments and lessons. For example, your kid might need to build a fire to cook their meals. They might need to learn how to manage their frustrations and be patient as they make their fire. If your kid cannot handle this frustration out of impatience, they may need to eat a cold meal instead of a comforting warm dish. The natural consequences of needing to exhibit patience might lead your kid to adapt their behavior to meet their needs. Outdoor adventures and wilderness therapy might make the most defiant person more humble and cooperative, as the comforts of daily life are no longer accessible without work, effort, and cooperation.


Wilderness therapy often involves overnight treks in the wilderness. Your kid will need to take care of their own needs during most of this trip. During the “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast episode “The Benefits of Wilderness Therapy,” Aaron Huey of Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center describes a hypothetical example of a teen cooking their dinner outdoors. If they cannot start a fire, they may need to eat a meal of “crunchy, cold rice.” Following this consequence, they are more likely to learn how to start a fire and gain a sense of self-reliance that can be difficult to teach in another setting. During outdoor adventures, your kid will need to do things for themselves and can learn quickly, as the consequences are usually immediate. When your kid does learn new skills, the staff can show them the praise that can be life-changing, as they further reinforce the benefits of self-reliance. 

Containing Out of Control Behaviors

Wilderness therapy and outdoor adventures can help contain out of control and problematic behaviors. The outdoor setting requires more self-control and self-discipline, as there are fewer influences from the outside world. Your kid will have fewer reasons to engage in problematic behaviors, as others may not reinforce these behaviors in the woods. For example, if your kid acts out to seek attention from others, they may be less inclined to do so without a regular classroom or residential treatment facility setting. Problematic behaviors tend to be contained better within a broader environment with fewer distractions and reinforcing consequences. Without the distractions of the outside world, your kid can focus on doing the long-term work required to heal and grow.  

Learning Responsibility and Cooperation

While among others in a group during wilderness therapy outings, your teen will need to learn not only how to rely on themselves but how to cooperate within a group. Each participant takes on a role and has responsibilities to help the group attain a common goal. Your kid may be tasked with essential duties that benefit the group. Each participant is held accountable for the roles and responsibilities that each person has. The group’s success and comfort during the journey depend upon everyone pitching in to cooperate. Each person needs to have the other’s back while out in the wilderness. They need to adapt quickly to the new circumstances, as they will be far away from any comfort of home or familiar surroundings. They cannot depend on someone else to “bail them out.” The wilderness humbles everyone to coexist on equal footing.

The Power and Impact

While your kids may not completely change during one outdoor excursion, they can experience life-changing therapeutic work that is difficult to replicate in other settings. The woods can teach a person to remain humble, as all the comforts of everyday life are stripped away. The impact of the experience can last a lifetime and propel your kid into recovery. Each child is different and responds to therapy in different ways. Wilderness therapy might be beneficial to your child if they have not had success in traditional settings in the past. They can learn life-changing lessons while learning self-reliance, cooperation, and self-regulation during wilderness therapy and outdoor adventures.

Wilderness therapy and being out in nature can have a profound impact on teens in recovery. The wilderness offers a setting unique for treatment, as the comforts and distractions of the outside world are inaccessible. Your kid can learn to cooperate with others, become more self-reliant, and realize that there is something greater than themselves in the world. Each child responds differently to each type of therapeutic intervention. If your kid cannot contain their behaviors in traditional settings, then wilderness therapy might be an excellent fit for them. If your child struggles with addiction, mental health issues, or other problematic behavior, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center might be the next right step for them. Your child might benefit from both our outdoor adventures and our structured treatment facility. We are here to help your family’s fire burn brightest. For more information on our programs, call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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