Wilderness therapy

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Wilderness therapy is a form of (or at least a close cousin to) large group awareness training conducted in a wilderness setting, usually involving activities such as ropes courses, rappelling, long hikes, and camping combined with team-woobuilding and self confidence-building exercises. Some of them also teach outdoor survival skills such as tracking. Outward Bound, the best known of these, maintains a good reputation. They are sometimes attended by adults as part of a business-motivation or team-building program, but many of them are touted as therapy for at-risk youth to turn them away from drugs or gangs.

Where the woo things are...[edit]

While many are reputable, the combination of poor regulation of such programs and the fact that many are targeted at at-risk youth has allowed many shady, abusive teen boot camps and fly-by-night outfits operated by people without any training in teen counseling or first aid to flourish under the guise of "wilderness therapy". A 1995 article in Outside magazine by Jon Krakauer exposed this shady underside of the industry after a particularly tragic death, in which a teen's obviously serious medical condition was ignored by the untrained counselors who accused him of being a faker and complainer, while the group was led on long forced marches and fed a starvation diet. [1] Sadly, not much has changed since.[2] Making it especially difficult for parents and youth choosing such a program is that the abusive and untrained outfits advertise as much as the reputable outfits do and it is hard to tell which is which.

The most dubious (and dangerous) of these camps are those promising "behavior modification" of troubled teens.

Articles by Maia Szalavitz in 2007 in Reason[3] and Mother Jones[4] traced the origin of "tough love" and "behavior modification" teen camps to the anti-drug cult Synanon.[5]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Outside Online - Loving Them To Death
  2. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Reality_101/message/31936 Coalition Against Institutionalised Child Abuse Blog
  3. Maia Szalavitz, "The Trouble with Troubled Teen Programs", Reason, January 2007
  4. Maia Szalavitz, "The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Industry", Mother Jones September/October 2007 issue
  5. Szalavitz has also written a book on the topic titled Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (ISBN 1594489106)