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Substance use disorder (SUD) knows no bounds. It can affect just about anyone, which is why there is no “one-size-fits-all” mode of treatment. Recently, more non-traditional therapy modalities have been embraced to help those with addiction. Wilderness treatment is one such modality that has proven significant benefits for those who utilize it.

What Is Wilderness Treatment?

According to a 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, wilderness therapy is defined as “a form of residential treatment, primarily for adolescents, and may include expedition trekking or base camp models with a focus on immersion in wilderness locations.” Wilderness treatment can include various outdoor activities that will help one overcome their struggles in a unique and fulfilling way. 

Wilderness treatment falls under the larger umbrella of “outdoor therapy.” The 2021 study notes that outdoor therapies are “intentional therapeutic processes that are (1) place-based, (2) feature active bodily engagement, and (3) recognize nature-human kinship.” 

Benefits of Wilderness Treatment

The aforementioned study also states that wilderness treatment approaches “have shown improvement across a wide range of social, emotional, physical, physiological, and psychological outcomes and populations.” One such population is addiction treatment and recovery. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, wilderness therapy “involves immersion in an unfamiliar environment, group living with peers, individual and group therapy sessions, educational curricula and application of primitive skills such as fire-making and backcountry travel.” The idea behind this modality is that it can foster personal and social responsibility, as well as emotional growth. 

Outdoor Activity

Wilderness treatment has a multitude of benefits, especially for those with addiction. When individuals are put in situations where they have to completely focus on difficult tasks like survival skills, it allows them to re-train their minds to think of things other than substances.

When skill-based activities are combined with fresh air, the benefits are even greater. According to Frontiers in Psychology, “There is growing evidence to suggest that exposure to natural environments can be associated with mental health benefits.” Being in green spaces has been associated with lower stress levels and even reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Change of Environment

Another benefit of wilderness treatment is the extreme change in regular environments. This is especially helpful for those with addiction who may be triggered by certain familiar environments, including their own home.

Self-discovery and acceptance are two of the most important components of the recovery process. When taken out of a familiar situation, the mind will have to focus more in order to adapt. The outdoor setting will also enable individuals to spend proper time alone with themselves to face their addiction head-on and heal in a more profound way.

Types of Wilderness Treatment

In reference to the 2021 study, connections have been found between “physical challenges of the wilderness therapy programs on the physical body (i.e., aches and pain) and reports of increased self-efficacy and resilience.”

Wilderness treatment is not for the faint of heart. The different activities that make up wilderness treatment are akin to survival skills and even extreme summit climbs.

Group Wilderness Treatment

Wilderness treatment can occur in either a group setting or as a solo experience.

According to the United States Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), wilderness therapy in groups helps youths learn “prosocial and interpersonal skills that can be applied to life outside the program through positive and cooperative interaction with team leaders and supportive peers during the activities.” 

It’s important to note here, however, that even though wilderness treatment is popular among adolescents, it can still be an extremely beneficial model for adults who also struggle with addiction.

Individual Wilderness Treatment

Wilderness therapy can also be performed in a solo setting. The OJJDP states that the physical activities of wilderness camps “are usually unfamiliar and demanding, presenting challenging problems with clear consequences of failure.” 

When an individual sets out to master the different activities presented, they can “experience success and achievement that translate into positive attitudinal and behavior changes through increases in confidence and self-esteem and a more internalized locus of self-control.”

Wilderness Treatment Activities

Wilderness treatment, in both group and individual settings, may include activities like:

  • Expeditions
  • Therapeutic camping
  • Rock climbing
  • Zip-lining
  • Boating
  • Wagon trips
  • Overnight solo experiences

Wilderness Treatment and Outpatient Care

Wilderness treatment also includes many components of traditional outpatient addiction care. While participating in wilderness treatment, individuals should also have access to regular group counseling, individual therapy, and medication-assisted treatment, if necessary. 

Family therapy can be another important part of wilderness treatment. When participating in wilderness treatment, unhealthy family dynamics can be improved, along with communication, with the goal of re-entering family life and feeling confident in one’s sobriety.

Holistic Treatment

Many treatment centers now incorporate wilderness therapy as part of their holistic approach to care. Wilderness therapy is just one modality that can help improve addiction treatment and recovery outcomes.

Other holistic care models, such as meditation, mindfulness, and even equine therapy, may be better suited for certain individuals. When researching outpatient programs, it’s important to find a treatment that includes a comprehensive approach to care.

Peer-Supported Treatment

Wilderness treatment has a strong focus on group therapy, just like traditional treatment models. There are many advantages of group therapy, including the promotion of social support, reduced feelings of isolation, and the development of strong communication and interpersonal skills. 

When an individual is participating in activities of endurance or even survival skills training, the group aspect becomes even more critical. Peers can lean on one another for support and accountability during their time in wilderness treatment.

Wilderness treatment is a popular therapeutic modality for overcoming addiction struggles in the great outdoors. This residential form of treatment used to be primarily for adolescents, but in recent years, more and more adults have been participating in these programs. Wilderness treatment can include a number of activities, like hiking, expedition trekking, and base camp models. These programs can be highly beneficial as they foster group connection and support, as well as social responsibility and emotional growth. At Lighthouse Recovery Texas, we utilize a holistic approach to addiction treatment. Our highly-trained clinicians can help you navigate the different forms of treatment available so you can choose an option that best suits your unique needs. Call us today at (214) 396-0259.