Adolescents nationwide have been grappling with increased rates of hopelessness, suicidal behavior, and mental health struggles since 2009. According to CDC data, persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness increased for adolescents by 40% from 2009 to 2019. These struggles have been further exacerbated by disruptions to social systems, family stress, and other stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests that the stress of the pandemic on adolescents may have significantly impacted brain development and social functioning so that adolescents’ brains have developed in a manner similar to those who have experienced chronic stress or trauma in childhood. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlight that these data points are not just numbers but that “they echo of a cry for help” and have underscored the importance of addressing adolescent mental health with effective therapeutic strategies.

In response to this pressing need, blueFire Wilderness has further tailored its programming and supported clinicians and frontline staff in receiving training in addressing trauma in a holistic manner. Importantly, this involves not only training in modalities such as EMDR, Brainspotting, the Trauma Resiliency Model, and the Community Resiliency Model but also drawing on the years of experience of their clinicians and founders in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) or wilderness therapy, to truly integrate trauma treatment with the OBH modality to enhance the effectiveness of the care they provide to families and adolescents.  

Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare has long been defined by core characteristics that are consistent with a trauma-informed approach to treatment as defined by SAMHSA, such as peer support, collaboration and mutuality, and empowerment and choice (Russell, 2001; Colon, Wilson, and Stoker, 2018OBHC, 2023). blueFire has received accreditation from the Association for Experiential Education and continues to hold state licensure to further align with these characteristics of trauma-informed care through continuously being challenged to meet standards for best practices in safety, trustworthiness, and transparency and understanding the impact of cultural, historical and gender issues on treatment. OBH has repeatedly been shown to address disruptions common in trauma, such as self-efficacy, autonomy, self-esteem, and resilience.  The program at blueFire has shown similar outcomes to those demonstrated in the research. Importantly, in almost all modalities for treating trauma, such as those listed above, the clinician seeks to build on life experiences where the client has been resilient, found connection, or feels a resource, then supports the client in facing the challenging aspects of a traumatic experience or experiences and integrating these with other positive life experiences. The clinicians at blueFire don’t simply show up and practice these modalities separate from the wilderness experience. The wilderness experience provides moments for clients to develop positive relationships, a sense of accomplishment, and build resilience in the moment. All aspects of the program are utilized as part of the trauma treatment. 

After a trauma therapy session, one client shared, “I feel like a feather,” encapsulating this integrated approach’s uplifting and transformative power. For many adolescents, this represents the first time they have been able to discuss their struggles and traumas openly. The blend of OBH and trauma therapies creates a safe and nurturing environment where young individuals can begin healing.

Adolescents are facing significant challenges to their mental health, and they need sophisticated and holistic clinical approaches that engage them on affective, behavioral, relational, and cognitive levels in order to build resilience and heal from the traumas they are facing. As the mental health landscape evolves, blueFire strives to remain at the forefront of innovation, continually refining its program to meet the evolving needs of today’s adolescents. As we navigate these challenging times, blueFire remains steadfast in its commitment to empowering individuals and their families to build resilience, find their voices, and embark on a path toward lasting healing.

blueFire Wilderness is an outdoor therapy program for clients ages 11–17. blueFire combines clinical expertise, family, animal, wilderness, and adventure therapy in their program, providing an approach to treatment that produces long-lasting, internalized change. blueFire is licensed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, is accredited by the American Experiential Education (AEE), and has professional memberships in NATSAP and OBH.

Gather, build, and ignite your spark.

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