What is wilderness therapy for young adults? 

Wilderness therapy for young adults is a therapeutic model that allows young adults to be immersed in a wilderness setting while working through whatever they are struggling with: depression, anxiety, unhealthy patterns, and more. While disconnecting from their home environment, young adults are better able to reconnect with themselves, their peers, and their family members in a very genuine and real way. Effective wilderness therapy provides a comprehensive clinical approach that considers all of the needs of the client. 

The primitive yet supportive environment allows space for self-discovery and learning new ways of being, including improved communication and self-regulation skills, goal setting, and boundary setting.  Wilderness therapy also typically results in increased self-efficacy and self-esteem, as young adults find success in areas they previously found challenging and insurmountable.  

 

Wilderness therapy programs are considered short term interventions; they typically last from 10-14 weeks. Throughout that time, young adults are in small groups together staffed with wilderness therapy guides. These experienced and trained guides oversee the day-to-day activities of the group and encouraging positive individual and group dynamics. Clinicians typically visit the group on a weekly basis and receive daily updates from the guides. 

 

Day-to-day activities can vary depending on the program, setting, weather, and make up of the group itself. Safety is paramount and young adults are typically responsible for hygiene, shelter, and fire. Cooking can be an individual or group activity. There is also plenty of time for more, including therapeutic groups, hiking, letter writing, and more. Additional activities depend on the specific curriculum of the program. These can include adventure based activities (for example, rock climbing) or primitive skills (bow-drilling). 

Who do wilderness therapy programs for young adults help? 

Wilderness therapy programs for young adults can help young adults with a variety of general needs, clinical presentations, and diagnoses. Most wilderness therapy programs for young adults work with clients ages 18-28. (Younger clients would be more appropriate for an adolescent wilderness therapy program.) Wilderness therapy programs have been shown to help those with: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • “Failure to launch” issues
  • Addictive patterns or habits 
  • Trauma
  • Oppositional behaviors
  • School avoidance or school refusal (including dropping out or being asked to leave)
  • Unhealthy peer or family relationships
  • Technology addiction or overuse
  • Executive functioning issues
  • Poor self esteem

Young adults live in a stressful and sometimes complicated world. For anyone struggling with any of the above, that being in that environment makes things even more difficult. Often times, mental health or self care can take the backseat with more pressing issues (work, school, etc.). Wilderness therapy is able to address all of these things and more, as well as how to re-enter the home environment in a healthy way with appropriate coping skills in place.

There are some things that wilderness therapy is not right for. For individuals experiencing dementia or schizophrenia, wilderness therapy is likely not the best choice due to safety concerns. 

Research into why wilderness therapy for young adults works 

Wilderness therapy is integrated care approach that is beneficial for mental health concerns as well as the improvement for physical well-being too. Wilderness therapy has been shown to be effective at facilitating positive change across all Axis I and Axis II diagnoses. Studies have shown statistically significant improvements in wilderness therapy effectiveness and also how the development of mindfulness related-skills were related to positive outcomes. Wilderness therapy has been shown to be effective with no just one presenting issues, but also with a more complicated client presentation (someone exhibiting more than one diagnosis or struggling in multiple areas). 

Longitudinal studies are also helpful in examining how well wilderness therapy works for young adults. One assessment found that clinically significant changes occurred and that in-treatment gains were maintained after treatment in young adult populations. This back-to-basics approach can result in improved self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. Wilderness therapy programs improve interpersonal skills and increase motivation, as well as improved self worth. 

When wilderness therapy includes family programming, the positive benefits extend to family members as well, with improved family functioning and communication skills. Weekly letter writing and other communication is common in wilderness therapy, and the process of slowing down the communication cycle offers time for reflection and more consideration. 

Adventure therapy also has research showcasing its’ efficacy, including studies that have identified the unique factors that make adventure therapy effective. Adventure therapy in a wilderness setting also has shown a proven reduction in mental health symptoms, both during and after treatment. Increased resiliency levels have also been documented for adventure therapy participants. 

Why choose BlueFire PulsaR? 

blueFire PulsaR helps young adults find direction and purpose. Young adults face a complicated and stressful world where their self-worth can be considered extrinsic. At blueFire PulsaR, we seek to help our clients find intrinsic self-worth as they strengthen their identity and understand who they really are. 

This all starts with our clinically intensive program. We provide therapy than any other wilderness program in our field. This includes: 

  • Four days of therapy with therapeutic professionals every week
  • Two days of individual therapy
  • Four days of group therapy
  • Family programming: this helps rebuild and reconnect our client’s relationships with their parents and siblings. The level of family involvement varies based on a client’s specific needs.
  • Weekly equine therapy: this helps develop healthy relationships and communication skills.

Our adventure therapy program provides a hands-on way to practice coping skills, improve communication, and understand their own unique potential. Students begin to shift from an “I can’t” mindset to an “I can!” mindset. Students also participate in daily yoga, meditation, and mindfulness exercises. These are easily transferable skills that they can take with them after they leave. 

We give our students the tools to build their own success long after their time with us. Transition planning is another way we do this. From day one, we have the end goal of independence in mind. That looks different for each of our students, though for many it means college, transitional living, or independent living. Their next steps will successfully launch them into adulthood and the rest of their lives.

BlueFire PulsaR's adventure therapy program 

Adventure therapy is the focus of our wilderness program because of the way these new challenges create opportunities for personal growth. This experiential and in-the-moment approach allows students to experience all the emotions of “doing” and also receive real-time feedback from guides, therapists, and peers about how they are showing up. Adventure therapy provides great therapeutic fodder, because the same negative thoughts patterns that our students have in everyday life will show up here. “Am I good enough?” “Will I succeed?” “What happens and who am I if I don’t succeed?” This are real, identity level questions that all human beings struggle with at some point. Unfortunately, these questions - coupled with negative coping skills - have led to significant struggles for many prior to coming to blueFire PulsaR. 

The shift occurs when we are able to show our students what they are truly capable of. And not just once or even twice: we present experiences that provide an appropriate amount of challenge or adversity on a daily basis. This is coupled with a compassionate, positive approach where students are respected and well-regarded for who they are, not what they do. But what they are able to do will surprise them! Their peers will be there to support them and help process how they are feeling as well. 

By stepping out of their comfort zone, they have the ability to step into greatness and who they really are. And by stepping into their greatness, they can proceed into the rest of their lives with confidence and self-awareness.