When you hear the term “wilderness therapy”, what comes to mind? Is it a boot camp style program? Are teens expected to be expert campers or rock climbers? The reality is that wilderness therapy is nothing like boot camp and that it is appropriate for teens with all levels of experience. blueFire Wilderness understands that the idea of wilderness therapy seems way out of one’s comfort zone for city teens. Compared to teenagers who grow up around nature, many city teens have limited outdoor experience and have grown up participating in indoor sports and creative pursuits as hobbies. This can bring up a lot of concerns for parents who believe that their child might benefit from wilderness therapy but may struggle to adjust to the natural environment

No Outdoor Experience Necessary

Wilderness therapy is designed to give clients a treatment plan that combines clinical therapy and support with experiential education. Wilderness therapy has the additional benefit of taking place in nature, which we know can also have a positive impact on people’s mental health. 

At blueFire Wilderness, students participate in a variety of adventure activities, not just backpacking, where no previous outdoor experience is necessary. As we offer many different types of adventure activities, every client starts out with different levels of experience in participating in each activity. Some students have spent time biking as a form of transportation, but are less familiar with water sports. Or, they might have gone rock climbing at an indoor gym but never tried to scale a boulder. Even students who are passionate about a particular adventure activity start at square one, as processing their experience through a therapeutic lens may be unfamiliar to them. 

Building skills in the wilderness is an important part of the program, but just as important is the emotional learning that happens while building those skills. Clients are not expected to have all of the answers when they walk through the door, but rather, view wilderness therapy as an invitation to push out of their comfort zone into a place of growth. 

Adventure-Based Activities vs Primitive Skills

While most traditional wilderness therapy programs are based entirely around nomadic camping and focus on teaching primitive skills, blueFire offers an alternative to wilderness therapy. While outdoor skills, like navigation and building bonfires, are part of the program, we focus more on how to apply therapeutic lessons from these activities to the “real world.” We also follow a base camp model where between wilderness expeditions, students return to a home base, which helps them develop a sense of consistency and predictability.

Some examples of adventure-based activities include:

Rock Climbing: Some teenagers may have experienced climbing in a climbing gym, but climbing on real rock can be a completely different experience. There are no marked holds or taped routes. Outside climbers need to problem solve to figure out what their best route might be. They may attempt a route two or three times before deciding that a different way up will work better for them. Rock climbing can help build resilience and problem solving skills. It can also encourage independent thinking because chances are, their route will not be identical to the climber before them or the climber after them. With assistance from climbing guides, they are encouraged to find their own way. 

Mountain Biking: Mountain biking can be an exciting and exhilarating experience for teens. During adolescence, many teens begin to exhibit thrill seeking behaviors which can result in harmful behaviors such as substance abuse or unsafe life choices. An activity like mountain biking can teach teens how to experience thrill and challenge in a healthier way. 

Rafting: For teens learning to raft for the first time, communicating skills are an important part of that learning process. In order to move successfully through the waters, everyone in the raft needs to communicate. The paddler in the front communicates obstacles downstream while the paddler in the back steers and communicates their needs to keep the raft on course. 

Hiking: Hiking is the perfect introductory activity for teens who may feel nervous about engaging in adventure and wilderness activities. Hiking is really just a walk. But hiking has many opportunities for building life skills too. For example, hikers need to read their maps and plan for their hike. You wouldn’t want to just head out without making sure you had enough food and water and knew how to get to your destination safely. Hiking helps clients learn time management and self reliance. They will pack what they need and carry it with them for their hike. 

The experience of planning a multi-day trek, preparing for the journey and following through with it is unique and powerful – unique because clients truly experience the positive results and sometimes negative consequences of their decisions during the planning process and in the field. Perhaps their route is more circuitous or tougher than the group thought or planned. Perhaps the group brought too many supplies and weighed down their journey; powerful because through the multi-day wilderness experience, clients face challenges and measure their emotional and behavioral reactions, which are immediately transferable to their lives and relationships back home.

Benefits of Wilderness Therapy Programs with a Base Camp Model

At blueFire Wilderness, each group has a base camp that they operate from which is set up with gear, food and supplies storage. This campsite is outfitted with a yurt for year-round sleeping during in-climate weather, complete with cots and heat. The site has a picnic and cooking area and storage for gear, which the group might use during their time there but can leave behind to travel lightly when they explore. Each week, groups will begin their week at their established base camp to engage in group therapy, equine therapy, take showers, get clean clothes and send/receive mail and/or Skype calls with parents & family members.

At base camp, groups also facilitate and plan their next multi-day trek. Clients might leave one week to take a multi-day backpacking trip. The next week, they might go to the city for a multi-day rock climbing/service project trip to one of the Mecca’s of rock climbing in the country.

Comforts which are not found in traditional wilderness therapy programs can be found at blueFire. These include:

Equine facility: Equine therapy is a well-respected, effective therapeutic intervention for teens that utilizes horses to help create positive changes such as improved communication and relationships, building responsibility and establishing connections. Biweekly interaction with horses in both therapy sessions and general grooming. 

Multi-disciplinary team: We understand that teenagers are multifaceted and that each one will have different strengths and areas of growth. A multi-disciplinary team of professionals allows for our staff to see how clients are progressing whether in a group therapy session or on a multi day trek. Staff communicates with one another so that we can see the full picture of our clients across the program. 

Extra therapy time: Rather than just meeting with a therapist once a week in an office, our clients work with a therapist in the group and in the field, four times per week. This extra therapy time gives teens experience working through their blocks or triggers in real time with a clinical professional in different settings. Practicing new life and coping skills in different environments can help prepare them for success when they return home. 

Family time: Family Spark Workshop is an immersive family therapeutic experience where parents get a chance to see first-hand the behavioral changes being made at our therapeutic wilderness program. This four day program helps families learn about the program, how to repair relationships and gain a better understanding of therapeutic processing as a family unit.

High-quality gear: For many clients, having high quality gear can make them feel more comfortable as they start their program. At blueFire, they can begin with as much as they believe they need and then work towards primitive skills for maximum self-reliance. 

Bluefire Wilderness Can Help 

blueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with mental health issues, like ADHD, anxiety, depression,  and behavior issues. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allows them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Clients will be able to focus on themselves and become more aware of their troubling behaviors. BlueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to combat these behaviors and be on their way to a happy and healthy life.

Unlike other wilderness therapy programs, with the blueFire Wilderness Therapy program, I believe we have succeeded in creating one of the most top notch wilderness therapy programs in the country, complete with a high level of clinical sophistication and a highly experienced and passionate staff. We explore the wonderful landscape of southern Idaho to provide many opportunities for clients to experience adventure, have success and rediscover their true self. For more information about our adventure therapy program, call 1-844-413-1999. We can help your family today!

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