Wilderness Experiential Therapy for Young Adults

Wilderness Experiential Therapy for Young Adults

If you are the parents of a young adult or older teen (ages 18 and older) who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, have tried other approaches that have failed, or your son or daughter remains resistant to treatment, you may have lost all hope of them ever getting clean and sober. Wilderness experiential therapy for young adults may offer the solution.

What Is Wilderness Experiential Therapy

In a sense, wilderness experiential therapy is a combination of the best camp experience with inpatient traditional addiction treatment. The goal is to introduce young adults and older teens to a drug- and alcohol-free way of living. Wilderness treatment centers (WTCs) have activities that increase clients’ self-confidence and feeling of empowerment. They’re no cakewalk, however. The activities are both rugged and challenging and may include rappelling, ranch work, wilderness expeditions, backpacking, cross country skiing and others.

Length of Stay

Depending on the wilderness experiential therapy program, the length of stay is the traditional 30-day inpatient chemical dependency addiction treatment program that has the added benefits of wilderness adventure expeditions that range from 16 to 40 days in duration. If the young person is addicted to drugs or alcohol he or she may need to go through medically monitored detox first, and some attend a 30-day traditional alcohol or drug rehab first to stabilize them and ensure they are healthy for the experience.


Look for licensed addiction counselors that are with the clients the entire length of their stay. This isn’t a case of sending young adults off on some bonding trip where they do survival training. Experienced counselors trained in all the activities are with clients at all times.

Unconventional Settings for Treatment

Like the name implies, wilderness experiential therapy takes place in settings that offer incredible beauty and majesty of nature – and are nothing like the sterile or hospital-like environment of some traditional treatment facilities. Rocky Mountain and Blue Ridge Mountain locations, ranches or settings in Montana, Arizona, Utah, North Carolina, Oregon, or other breathtaking sites just add to the overall excitement of being away from it all. Many times the opportunity to be several states or hundreds of miles from home, and faced with taking a sense of personal responsibility and accountability with the assistance of licensed addiction treatment counselors is enough to make a dramatic change in the client.

Treatment Philosophy

Type of treatment used is generally multi-disciplinary, depending on the facility. Some are male only or female only WTCs. Since chemically-dependent or polysubstance-addicted individuals often have behavioral and emotional issues and psychological problems such as ADD, ADHD, oppositional-defiant, depressed, conduct-disordered or bi-polar, treatment counselors use appropriate methods designed for maximum impact. The 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs are utilized.

Daily Schedules

Daily life at the WTCs begins early – usually about 7:00 a.m. – and it’s lights out by 10:30 p.m. In between, there are lectures, chores, individual counseling, group therapy, step group and peer evaluation, free time, AA or NA meetings, individual counseling assignments, recreation therapy, and work therapy. Again, the schedules vary depending on WTC.

Cost of Programs

These vary depending on location, type of treatment offered, length of stay and other factors. Costs per day are from $375 and includes room, board and all therapy, plus a clothing allowance of $500 (for wilderness expedition equipment, sleeping bags, etc.). Insurance may help cover a portion of the costs, and some WTCs have loans available to cover the stay.

How to Find Wilderness Experiential Therapy Centers

Referrals come from both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment centers, probation officers, individual counselors, even family members.

Licensing and Accreditations

Make sure the WTC you’re considering has all the right licenses and accreditations. Look for licensing by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, accreditation from organizations such as the Association for Experiential Education, The Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC), National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) and others.

Tips for Finding A Wilderness Experiential Therapy Program

It takes a lot of research, but the rewards will be well worth it. Here are some tips to help make your search more productive.

• Research Type of Treatment Option – Find the one that’s right for your loved one.

• Visit Websites – From the handful of potential programs you’ve identified, visit each WTC’s website. Thoroughly read through their treatment programs and philosophies to ensure it’s what you’re looking for.

• Make Contact – You’ll undoubtedly have more questions, so now’s the time to make a phone call to talk with their admissions counselor to get the answers.

• Check References – It’s important to check the reputation of the WTC from previous clients. These may be in the form of testimonials, articles in the media, or even talking to the parents of former clients.

• Get The Family Involved – The addiction of your loved one affects the entire family, so make this a family decision. There are also some WTCs that have a family component, so investigate that as well.

• Take a Tour – If possible, tour the facility before you enroll your loved one. If this is not possible due to distance or time constraints, see if the facility has virtual tours on its website or a DVD they can send.

• Know All The Costs – Don’t be blindsided by costs you hadn’t anticipated. Ask for a complete and itemized estimate of what’s involved for the treatment program. Financial aid, loans or scholarships may be available, and insurance may cover a small portion of the program.

• Stay Informed – Once you’ve selected the wilderness experiential therapy program for your loved one, stay informed through the WTC’s licensed professionals on progress and any information critical to aftercare.

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