Why Wilderness Therapy Worked

Seeking Real Wellness.

When I explain Wilderness therapy to most people, I’m usually met with a dropped jaw and a variation of how could they do that? I know from an outsider’s perspective, the practices of teen treatment seem insensitive, maybe archaic -- no communication with family, isolation in the middle of the mountains, no clothes other than the plastic cargo pants and knock-off crocs and single colored t-shirt given during intake, daily therapy, daily hikes, thrice-weekly interventions, no say -- in anything.

After the initial that’s insane, I’m typically asked, did it work?

My answer, unequivocally, is yes, Wilderness Therapy worked.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Whereas before, I couldn’t be by myself for ten minutes without needing stimulation, or connection, or validation, there, I could survive, even be happy while I was alone with myself. I had no choice but to be okay on my own, even when my mind was craving, insatiably, for an inkling of love, to mitigate my unease. My only option was to look at my discomfort and wonder why? Why could I not sit with myself? What was I trying to get away from? If I liked myself, maybe even loved myself, I’d truly be able to give love and receive love.

  2. I could find fulfillment with nothing. The only responsibility I had was to seek contentment without any crutches -- no technology, no clothes, no family or friends, no privilege. If I was okay with simply a backpack, I could endure anything, or at least it felt that way.

  3. I will always have power, even when all else is taken away. I have the power to grow, even if the growth can only be felt on the inside. Even when I think I have no say, I am ultimately the one who is in control of how I act and how I change. Owning my last thread of power was acknowledging that I had the capacity to be the person I wanted to be; I did not need permission from anyone.

All I had to do was say yes to Wilderness Therapy. I handed over the reins to the program and simply took on the priority of finding wellness. After twelve weeks, I can say Wilderness worked in the way it was supposed to: I found contentment, I found empowerment, and I left with confidence. No one outside of myself could ever give me that.



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