May 29, 2019
Wilderness Therapy and the Problems it Addresses
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One therapeutic method that we employ at Second Nature is cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and promotes happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. It rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior.
Unlike traditional Freudian Analysis which focuses on childhood and the wounds acquired there as the root cause of conflict, CBT focuses on solutions and encourages one to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior. The work is perfect for a wilderness therapy setting because of its more immediate feel and its requiring of the student to be honest and open about their problems now, not in the past but in their immediate cycle of life.
The structure of Wilderness therapy helps students to identify triggers for bad behavior in the moment so that they can recognize and immediately begin the journey of modifying their behavior. It also allows them to witness others going through the same struggles and identity when they have breakthroughs that they can then use as guideposts and goals for themselves
A wilderness therapy setting demonstrates to the student that acting out of anger or defiance will not get them anywhere. Instead of lecturing and punishing teens, the wilderness provides natural consequences within a safe and controlled environment to highlight the futility of acting out in anger in ways that are immediately understood. For example; if a student refuses to put any effort into packing their backpack in an organized way because they want to punish their parents for sending them into the wilderness. The weight of the backpack is not evenly distributed on their back so they end up with needless aches and pains. They discover there is no one to blame but themselves and they're acting out in anger is only making their own lives difficult as their parents cannot feel their anger.
Many teens struggle with their emotions and how to express them. Discussing their feelings causes them fear and anxiety. Wilderness therapy teaches them how to access and express their emotions and shows them that talking about their emotions and not just letting them out in an uncontrolled manner is very important.
This type of environment also shows teens a different path. Bad behavior, avoiding addressing an emotional state, can cause the emotions to build up to the point where they have to be let out. Identifying the emotions, the cause, and the root allows teens to have a better understanding and deal with their emotions before they become uncontrollable.
Completing the program represents a sense of accomplishment for the teen. An accomplishment that is real, solid and can be used to draw strength from in the future. That strength will serve the teen well when they are faced with obstacles that, before the wilderness therapy program, could have caused them to slip back into old, bad behaviors.
A sense of accomplishment and confidence for teens who complete a wilderness therapy program boosts their self-confidence and self-efficacy, sometimes called the internal locus of control. Teens who complete the program believe if they can complete this they can complete other formidable tasks. This is especially helpful for teens who are exhibiting anger issues due to low self-esteem or bullying.
Higher levels of self-efficacy are linked to greater motivation, positive thinking skills and lower vulnerability to stress and depression in teens.
Teens can often avoid their emotional troubles and retreat into substance abuse, either drugs or alcohol, thinking it will help. Naturally, it never does. Because wilderness therapy employs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, teens are able to quickly recognize triggers for addiction, manage their cravings and build steps to deal with problems without relying on substances for escape or answers. CBT focuses on present problems, there here and now and doesn’t stress past situations. Teens will get bogged down in the idea of the past and being punished for the way they behaved before. Being in the wilderness and applying CBT techniques focuses on the present much more. The immediacy of the environment and the situation, staying warm, getting shelter up, dealing with cooking food, all favor a much more present-day approach to better behavior.