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When Tech Replaces Values, How Wilderness Therapy Can Help

We have all become reliant on technology in our daily lives, to some extent. For a troubled teen the reliance can be even more detrimental. Online persona often becomes more important to a teen than how she is perceived in her actual life. It is especially difficult for a teen to become “unplugged” from reality if she’s never been forced to unplug from the technology. For this reason, there are many benefits wilderness therapy can provide in this regard.

The effects of too much technology include:

  • Poor health and diet
  • Reduced physical fitness
  • Family values no longer important
  • Disconnected emotionally
  • Decreased personal interaction
  • Withdrawal from extracurricular activities
  • Depression
  • Poor academics
  • Development of a narcissistic personality
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Video game addiction

The overuse of technology can result in a variety of mental, physical and social problems.

A strong reliance on technology generally comes with the withdrawal from social interactions. Social skills are not developed and individuals can become self-involved and introverted. In the most serious cases, an overuse of technology can lead to a substance abuse problem or an addiction to gaming. An advantage to wilderness therapy in addressing these issues is that there is no technology in nature. Participants are made to engage in the behaviors that technology hinders, such as social interaction and physical activities. 

Wilderness Therapy is about re-prioritizing one’s values in life. Without the crutch of technology, participants are forced to address core issues. Importance is placed on having participants look at their overall direction in life and figure out how they want to proceed into the future. They leave being able to manage their technology use in a healthy and responsible way. 

Wilderness therapy begins by removing all of the negative items the child wouldn’t go thought before (cell phone, internet, social media). It then addresses problems in a way that a clinical setting cannot. When completely removed from familiar and habitual situations a person does not have the means to continue destructive behaviors. For instance, they cannot meet up with their friends online to chat and check a Facebook page. This type of program strips away the false ideological ideas of what is important in life, and what comes to the surface is a re-prioritization of values.

What do participants of wilderness therapy leave with?

  • Realization that family is the most important thing
  • Desire and ability to make good decisions
  • Fostered independence
  • Self-reliance
  • Social and team skills
  • Willingness to make big changes back home

Children and Young adults are not faced with the same challenges as their parents and grandparents. There are very different inputs than those of the past, and, in many cases, these inputs do not promote the family structure. No doubt technology enriches and makes our daily lives easier, but spending too much time with technology is actually doing more harm than good. Wilderness therapy facilitates the removal of a person’s dependence on technology and allows them to evaluate current values and goals.

Experiential Education: Learn by Doing in Wilderness Therapy Programs

Experiential education is one of the original philosophies behind wilderness therapy programs.  Experiential education is, most simply, learning through experience. It’s easy to see how wilderness therapy and experiential education go hand in hand, as wilderness therapy requires that participants engage on a very practical level. Also, positive results tend to happen at a faster rate. When participants in the program find themselves in the unfamiliar setting of the wilderness, without the comforts of home, it pushes them to confront and take responsibility for the issues that have bought them there.

For many, the wilderness setting is a new, and unfamiliar environment that is well out of the comfort zone. From a therapeutic approach, this is beneficial. Experiential education involves the concept of “perceived risk”, which refers to an individual’s perception that a certain activity or situation poses a potential danger or threat to them. For instance, a person may feel afraid to rock climb because it feels as if there is the potential to fall when in reality there are harnesses and secure nets in place for safety. The wilderness therapy environment provides guidance and safe boundaries for participants to overcome seemingly risky or frightening experiences, forcing them to confront fears and personal hang-ups in order to move past them.

Wilderness therapy fosters the setting where an individual can truly evolve.

Personal growth and development comes from putting oneself outside of what feels comfortable. Perspective is gained from unfamiliar situations and personal realizations are made. If someone is required to do something that they have never done before—to set up camp for the night or cook a meal for the whole group—and they accomplish the task, they in turn learn what they are capable of. In wilderness therapy, individuals learn by adapting, and in doing so learn something that can translate to their lives when they return home. If a person can learn to cope with the challenges that they face in wilderness therapy, it is likely that they can cope with the challenges they will face in daily life.

The benefits of experiential education in a wilderness therapy setting:

  • The wilderness setting supports reflection and critical personal analysis.
  • Individuals are required to take responsibility for themselves, make decisions and are held accountable for their actions.
  • Participants develop the ability to handle challenges when they go home.
  • Wilderness therapy stimulates mental and physical activity.
  • Relationships between participants and staff are nurtured and developed.
  • The process of experiential learning provides a foundation for future experiences.
  • Personal values are reflected upon.

Wilderness therapy programs provide a safe and regulated environment for participants to have an experience that can profoundly impact their lives. What is learned from the experience can be taken home and applied to day-to-day life so that an individual has the skills and tools to handle formerly challenging situations in a mature and positive way.

Rites of Passage Wilderness