Into the Wilderness
As someone who works with teens who've suffered trauma, I like to celebrate innovative treatments which help them heal, so I was thrilled to see research out of the University of New Hampshire this fall that recognized the success of Wilderness Therapy (or Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare -OBH). In wilderness therapy, teens live and travel in the back-country with their peers, similar to what they might do at a summer camp, only in addition to hiking and ropes courses, they are also assessed and treated by mental health professionals. While effective, these programs can also be enormously expensive, and I hope research like UNH's convinces more insurance companies to cover this kind of non-traditional treatment -especially for teens.
Unlike children, they've started to develop the ability to think abstractly. Play therapy doesn't always engage them, and narrative therapy, which is most commonly employed with adults can seem dull, or worse, be ineffective. Adolescents are more sensitive to what their peers think, and they are also more likely to be guided by reward than caution. What I love about wilderness therapy is that it recognizes the ways in which teenagers are different from adults and children, and it has created an experience that caters to their developmental needs. Daily wilderness challenges give teens the opportunity to employ coping mechanisms at the same time as they are talking about them, and their successful engagement of these mechanisms provides them the reward they crave, keeps them engaged with their therapy, and focuses them on their treatment goals.
We don't have an accredited OBH's here in Arkansas yet, but I hope we will get one soon. In the meantime, the promise of the good work done by OBH is a reminder to me to be innovative in my own private practice: to get outside and go for walk or to utilize metaphors, media, and storytelling or other creative experiences that engage teens where they are.