Wilderness Therapy is an emerging field that utilizes aspects of the outdoors to promote change in adolescents with behavioral problems. Although this is not the only group that can benefit from the outdoors, wilderness therapy is most often used with youth-at-risk (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1993; Tippet, 1993; Miles, 1987). Staff in the field come from different backgrounds and schools of thought. Thus far, there is not a degree that prepares individuals to work specifically in this field and more and more, outdoor leaders find themselves in the position of a therapist dealing with emotionally and behaviorally troubled teenagers (Berman & Davis-Berman, 1993). Recently, researchers have started to look at the competencies and skills required of wilderness therapists, since these individuals work with high-risk populations and are confronted with high-risk situations and challenges (Nadler, 1993; Gray & Yerkes, 1995). The purpose of this research update paper is to identify those skills and competencies that have been deemed important by researchers and wilderness therapy professionals who work with youth-at-risk.
Wilderness programs stem from Outward Bound programs formed by German educator Kurt Hahn during World War II (Kimball & Bacon, 1993). Hahn's original purpose was to prepare British seamen to survive the rigors of war. After the war, Outward Bound came to the United States, where it became very popular and expanded rapidly. It was soon discovered that such programs greatly benefitted youths with various kinds of emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994). According to Kimball and Bacon (1993), Outward Bound's curriculum and philosophy are based on the assumption that people learn best while doing. The program is thus experience-centered, and usually takes place in the wilderness as opposed to indoor centers and hospitals. The main philosophy is that wilderness provides the best learning environment, because it is unfamiliar to the students, and total immersion in the wilderness milieu is necessary to achieve maximum impact. ...
Wilderness therapists play a significant role in helping students identify and replace self-destructive behaviors with productive ones (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; Gass, 1993). This is not a small task. In their book, “Wilderness Therapy: Foundations, Theory & Research,” Davis-Berman and Berman (1994) explain that wilderness therapists are required to change life patterns and confront some of the issues that have been unresolved up to the point when the youths begin the program. Furthermore, competencies needed to work in the field of wilderness therapy with youth-at-risk require knowledge of psychotherapy (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994; Nadler, 1993), and thus differ from competencies needed to work with mainstream populations. Ultimately, it is the wilderness therapist who will facilitate and invest him/herself in the growth of the students, and in the transformations that will occur. It is important that wilderness therapists be equipped with the proper skills and competencies in order to work with this type of population. Many times these programs are the last chance before the individual is incarcerated. Therefore the importance of therapists possessing full range of skills and competencies to work with these adolescents is absolutely vital (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1994).
Rosol, M.(2000). Wilderness Therapy for Youth-at-risk – Helping troubled teenagers. Parks & Recreation September 2000
Davis-Berman, J., & Berman, D.S. (1993). Therapeutic wilderness programs: Issues of professionalization in an emerging field. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 23(2), 127-134.
Davis-Berman, J., & Berman, D.S. (1994). Wilderness therapy: Foundations, theory and research. Dubuque, IO: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Davis-Berman, J., & Berman, D.S. (1994). Therapeutic wilderness programs: A national survey. The Journal of Experiential Education, 17(2), 49-53.
Gass, M.A. (1993). Adventure therapy: Therapeutic applications of adventure programming. Dubuque, IO: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Gray, S., & Yerkes, R. (1995). Documenting clinical events in adventure therapy. The Journal of Experiential Education, 18(2), 95-101.
Kimball, R.O. & Bacon, S.B. (1993). The wilderness challenge model. In M.A. Gass (Eds.), Adventure therapy: therapeutic applications of adventure programming in mental health settings. Dubuque; Iowa: Kendall Hunt.
Miles, J. (1993). Wilderness as healing place. In M.A. Gass (Eds.), Adventure therapy: therapeutic applications of adventure programming in mental health settings. Dubuque; Iowa: Kendall Hunt.
Nadler, R.S. (1993). Therapeutic process of change. In M.A. Gass (Eds.), Adventure therapy: therapeutic applications of adventure programming in mental health settings. Dubuque; Iowa: Kendall Hunt.
Tippet, S. (1993). Therapeutic wilderness programming for borderline adolescents. In M.A. Gass (Eds.), Adventure therapy: therapeutic applications of adventure programming in mental health settings. Dubuque; Iowa: Kendall Hunt.