Holistic Lifestyle and Gluten-Free

Camp for Overweight Teenagers in North America - USA

What You Need to Know About Gluten and Mental Health

Many behavioral and mental issues are associated with dietary habits, and gluten has gained the overwhelming spotlight. Recent investigation into the effects of gluten-free diets suggests that many of these issues can be improved by altering dietary practices to choose gluten-free or gluten-restricted food. ADHD, depression, anxiety, and autism are among some of the disorders that can benefit from choosing a more holistic lifestyle,and gluten-free diet.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in foods processed from wheat and other cereal grains such as rye, barley and spelt.  It is a glue-like substance used to give foods their doughiness and texture. Common foods containing gluten include pasta, couscous, bread, cookies, cereal, beer, gravy, crackers, dressings and even candy.

Problems with gluten range from gluten-insensitivity to celiac disease. Approximately one in 100 suffer from celiac disease and even more are sensitive to ingesting gluten. Gluten intolerance or sensitivity leads to a variety of emotional and physical discomforts. Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the small intestine and prevents the absorption of nutrients from food.

The side effects associated with gluten intolerance and celiac disease include:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor motor skills
  • Weight problems
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint or muscle pain

Evidence suggests that gluten intolerance may be at the root of many behavioral and mental disorders. It has been linked to:

Many of the symptoms that underlie gluten intolerance and celiac disease are common to behavioral and emotional issues.

For instance, irritability, hyperactivity and the inability to focus are symptoms that ADHD and gluten intolerance share. Muscle pain, fatigue and sleeping problems are common symptoms of both depression and gluten intolerance. Thus, a diet that eliminates or reduces the amount of gluten ingested can also serve to alleviate the symptoms associated with other disorders.

Switching to a holistic or gluten-free diet has been found to improve behavioral issues and cognitive functioning in troubled teens and young adults.

However, it is important to determine whether or not an individual suffers from gluten intolerance before making the switch to a gluten-free diet. Many gluten containing foods are rich in nutrients, and removing these foods from one’s diet means that these vitamins and minerals need to be replaced by incorporating other sources of nourishment. A nutritionist can help determine which options are right based on individual factors. Going gluten-free may be difficult at first, considering the prevalence of processed foods in today’s current dietary practices, but it can have many benefits that include increased physical and mental health. 

To learn more about living a more Holistic Lifestyle and started a gluten-free diet, contact Rites of Passage Wilderness at (800)794-0980.

Benefits of a Holistic Diet Plan

The Case Against Sugar

Sugar makes up a large part of the standard North-American diet. Only recently have we begun to understand the impacts that the overconsumption of sugar is having on our brains and bodies, causing many to make comparisons between sugar and the chemical effects of addictive drugs, alcohol and tobacco. In some cases, a more healthy holistic diet plan should be considered.

Sugar consumption on the rise

What was once a luxury item, sugar has become an inexpensive and prominent part of today’s average diet. Annual per capita sugar consumption is at the highest it has ever been. Sugar is a blanket term used to describe a class of molecules called carbohydrates, which includes: glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, dextrose, starch, high fructose corn syrup, honey and raw sugar. Some form of sugar is found in almost all of the packaged and processed foods that we eat. The purpose of refined sugar, like sucrose, is to add sweet flavor to foods; it is devoid of any nutritional content.

The effects of sugar on the brain and body

The overconsumption of sugar impacts the brain and body in many negative ways. Sugar prevents blood sugar levels from remaining stable, leading to hypertension. It causes an overproduction of insulin, which can increase a person’s chance of developing diabetes. It dangerously interferes with the appropriate release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to reward and pleasure.

Sugar consumption is also associated with weight gain. It causes an increase in the production of uric acid, which can lead to hypertension and high blood pressure. Sugar also changes the way that your brain thinks about consumption. Leptin, a hormone that regulates metabolism and appetite, is not able to do its job, causing individuals to overeat or binge. Eating large amounts of sugar increases fat production, which in turn places an incredible amount of stress on the liver. This can result in the development of fatty liver disease. High blood sugar levels are also linked to cognitive impairment.

Sugar consumption is also connected to a host of behavioral and mental disorders. High sugar intake can amplify the symptoms associated with:

Sugar addiction

Although a somewhat controversial stance, evidence is building to suggest that sugar has the potential to become addictive. Increased sugar intake raises the production of dopamine, and this activation of the body’s reward system is similar to that of alcohol use, tobacco use, drug use, and sex. Just as nicotine, heroin and cocaine send dopamine into overdrive, so too does sugar, although not to the same violent degree. Over time, the body begins to crave the feelings associated with sugar consumption, fuelling an individual to eat more. The symptoms of withdrawal are also similar to that of drug and alcohol withdrawal.

These symptoms include:

  • Hunger
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea

Removing sugar in favor of a holistic diet

Making the switch to a healthy holistic diet can work to alleviate all of the problems associated with the overconsumption of sugar. While it may seem impossible for some, given the demands of a busy life and the availability of processed foods, a holistic diet greatly improves cognitive functioning and physical health. Brain chemicals become properly regulated and the mind and body are able to operate optimally.

Not all sugar is removed when a holistic diet is adopted. Natural sugar can be consumed as part of a healthy diet. The naturally occurring sugar found in fruits is different than the sugar found in processed foods. Sugar in the form of natural fructose can provide the body with energy, provided it is not over consumed. Fruit sugar contains fibre, which helps the body to regulate appetite. It is only when sugar is processed that the fiber is stripped from it, eliminating this benefit.

Eradicating sugar may seem impossible for some, but an individual can read labels, check the sugar content of packaged foods and remain aware about what goes into their body. The benefits of a sugar-restrictive diet far outweigh the efforts it takes to remain diligent. 

When considering a healthier lifestyle and want to know more about cutting sugar and transitioning to a holistic diet plan and lifestyle, contact Rights of Passage Wilderness at (800)794-0980.

How To Fight Depression With Healthy Eating and Exercise

Almost everyone feels depressed at some time, but when these feelings begin to negatively impact daily life it is time to address the source of the problem. Diet and exercise play a significant role in both contributing to feelings of depression and also in alleviating the symptoms. When trying to best determine how to fight depression, a healthy diet and regular exercise is a key component to successfully managing a depressive disorder.

What is depression?

Depression is a serious illness affecting both the body and mind. When feelings of sadness and hopelessness turn to overwhelming despair, and extend past the point of being able to engage positively in daily life, depression may be the cause. There are many forms of depressive disorders, including: seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bipolar disorder and dysthymic disorder.

The general symptoms of depression are:

  • Continual feelings of sadness, anxiety or emptiness
  • Negative feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  • Thoughts of helplessness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Inability to concentrate or remember
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Dietary problems
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Aches, pains, headaches, muscle cramps

The underlying causes of depression are a combination of factors that are genetic, environmental and circumstantial, and are influenced by diet, activity level, family history, medical past, social conditions and life events.

The effects of poor nutrition and lack of exercise on depression

Poor diet and lack of physical activity aggravate the symptoms that cause depression. Ingesting high quantities of sugar, gluten, food additives and processed foods hinder the body’s ability to regulate brain chemistry and manage the feelings associated with depression.  Serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that directs messages within the brain and body, are affected by diet and exercise. As are dopamine and cortisol—the brain chemicals associated with pleasure and reward and stress—thus contributing to feelings of fatigue, decreased energy, mental confusion and sadness.

Making the switch to a regular exercise plan and holistic diet is a significant factor in treating and managing depression.

Proper diet and exercise allow the brain to create and regulate the appropriate amount of serotonin, dopamine and cortisol, which affect nearly every symptom associated with depression. In some instances, a positive change in diet and exercise results in the disappearance of symptoms, suggesting that diet and physical activity can be the most significant factors contributing to depression in some individuals.

Wilderness therapy combines physical activity and holistic nutrition with traditional therapeutic methods, and is an extremely effective way of treating depression.

Fresh air and sunlight, which help to alleviate feelings of depression, are also part of the natural setting of wilderness therapy. In combination with cognitive and behavioral therapies, the diet and exercise plan that comes with wilderness therapy is directed towards empowering participants to carry forward changes made in treatment. Hiking, carrying equipment and the physical challenges that come from living in nature are combined with a diet focused around holistic nutrition. It is not long before participants start to see the dramatic effects that diet and exercise can have on their body and mind, and find continuing these habits in aftercare instrumental in allowing them to self-manage their symptoms.

Rites of Passage can help to teach how to fight depression in a safe and healthy way. Call us at (800)794-0980 to learn more about our programs.


Can I Manage ADHD Through Diet and Exercise? ADHD Treatment Programs

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Poor diet and lack of exercise can intensify the symptoms of ADHD. Making the switch to a holistic diet and partaking in regular physical activity drastically reduces, and in some cases eliminates, the underlying indicators of ADHD. Individuals who follow a healthy diet and exercise plan are able to better manage their ADHD. When it comes to effective, ADHD Treatment Programs, Wilderness therapy, is also considered to be a highly effective solution.


ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting over six million American youths—almost 10% of school children—many of which carry it forward into adulthood. ADHD is categorized into three types, which are:

  • Inattentive ADHD (formerly known as ADD)
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD
  • Combined ADHD

The symptoms used to diagnose ADHD can manifest in a variety of combinations within an individual. Those who suffer from ADHD exhibit their symptoms over an extended period of time, and to a degree that they begin to interfere with the individual’s mental development and ability to interact socially.

ADHD and the effects of poor diet

ADHD is made better or worse with diet. Processed foods, gluten, sugar, artificial coloring and flavoring, lack of vitamins and minerals, all inflate the symptoms of ADHD. Lack of physical activity only adds to the problem. A successful approach to treatment must take this into account.

Sugar: Hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity are all increased with the intake of refined sugars. Sugar deprives the body of vitamins and minerals and prevents blood sugar levels from remaining stable.

Gluten: Many psychological and behavioral symptoms of gluten intolerance overlap with the indicators for ADHD, such as irritability and feeling fidgety. Removing gluten from the diet has resulted in significant improvements in behavior and ability to think.

Artificial Coloring/ Food dyes: Some studies have indicated that ingesting food dyes can trigger or exaggerate the symptoms of ADHD, particularly red dyes.  Eliminating food dye has been shown in some children to lessen the symptoms, especially hyperactivity.

Lack of vitamins and minerals: With the current average diet, most children are deficient in vitamins and minerals. B6 is needed to make and use the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—all chemicals that are out of balance in ADHD sufferers. Magnesium deficiency is characterized by irritability, decreased attention span and confusion, which again are underlying symptoms of ADHD. Omega-3 fatty acids are related to cognitive functioning. Zinc regulates brain activity and melatonin, which is linked to behavior. Addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies in a child can have positive impacts on reducing the symptoms of ADHD.

Physical Activity: Exercising outdoors is extremely beneficial to sufferers of ADHD. Sunshine, air, and exercise relieves stress, boosts mood, calms the mind and reduces feelings of aggression, all of which help to manage ADHD. Regular exercise also works to directly impact the symptoms of ADHD by improving alertness, concentration and general cognitive abilities.

The introduction of proper diet and physical activity is an effective remedy in lessening, and even eliminating, the symptoms of ADHD. Under the appropriate guidance of medical and health professionals, it is possible that proper diet and exercise can sometimes even replace medication. Depending on the individual circumstances, a significant lifestyle change can replace the need for medication if the underlying cause of the ADHD is predominately environmental.

Wilderness therapy is highly effective in treating ADHD by incorporating holistic nutrition and physical activity into the overall program.

ADHD is a complicated disorder in which environmental and nutritional factors play major roles. Wilderness therapy is an effective tool in treating and managing ADHD because it addresses both these factors, as well as the behavioral aspects, in its all-encompassing approach to treatment. The improvements that individuals feel and their increased ability to self-manage when they are following a holistic dietary plan and engage in physical activity is motivation for individuals to continue making healthy food choices when they return home.

When seeking natural ADHD Treatment Programs, Wilderness therapy, can be an excellent solution. Call Rites of Passage today at (800)794-0980 to learn how we can help.

‘Video Game Addiction’ is Real, and Dangerous: What Is Video Game Addiction Treatment?

Video game addiction is a very real problem amongst young people, that simply did not exist before the 1980s. It is estimated that up to 75 percent of young persons play video games on a regular basis. For most, this is not a problem. However, for others, gaming can become an addiction just as an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, or a gambler is addicted to gambling. There is no specific category as of yet in the DSM-IV for video game addictions, but its attributes clearly fall under the addiction umbrella when diagnosing.

How can you tell if your child has a problem with gaming? There are very specific things to watch out for if a parent is trying to discern if their child has a problem with gaming. Warning signs may include a child spending all of his non-school time gaming, gaming in private or secret, loss of interest in activities, poor academic performance, and responsibility avoidance. A child that spends too much time gaming may also suffer from headaches, nausea, insomnia, dry eyes, and other problems, and may also have a co-occurring disorder with food, eating too much or too little.

The key to combating video game addiction is complete abstinence and separation from the device. Parents at home may have a hard time doing this. Older kids can easily go to friends' houses to play, or to arcades. Here at Rites of Passage NW, there are no video game consoles or systems. We have no nearby cell towers, so even if mobile devices were allowed, Wi-Fi does not exist here. After some time rediscovering nature and life, our teens learn how to life live without the use of video games. Teens will also participate in group and individual therapy sessions to help get at the root of the addiction problem.

Drug Abuse & Behavioral Problems: Choosing a Drug Abuse Treatment Plan

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Prolonged drug abuse negatively alters both basic brain functioning and behavior patterns in children. Parents may begin to notice the gradual changes happening to their child but are often either misinformed or ill-equipped to manage the situation. Handling it properly involves: understanding how drug use reconfigures brain functioning, the ability to identify shifts in behavior associated with substance abuse and choosing a drug abuse treatment plan that can successfully address the problem.

The Brain and Drug Use

Sustained drug abuse alters important communication pathways in the brain and motivates the compulsive behavior that marks addiction. The brain is made up of many components that work in tandem to ensure proper functionality. The areas of the brain that are affected by drug abuse are the cortex, the limbic system and the brain stem.

  • The brain stem can be thought of as the basic control center—controlling heart rate, breathing and sleeping.
  • The limbic system is the reward circuit, regulating the ability to feel pleasure and the perception of emotions.
  • The cerebral cortex controls sensory function and is essentially the thinking center of the brain—powering the capacity to solve problems, plan and make decisions.

Communication occurs within a system of neurons—regulating everything a person thinks, feels and does. Because drugs are chemicals, they work in the brain by infiltrating the communication system and altering the way that information is processed. Drugs mimic the way that natural chemicals activate neurotransmitters by either inhibiting or over-releasing neurotransmitters in an abnormal way, modifying the communication system.

Drug abuse is a constant over stimulation of the brain’s reward system, producing an effect that generates an intense desire to repeat the behavior. Dopamine, a natural neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, is released at a rate 2 to 10 times that of a natural reward. The effects are immediate and substantial, and the brain learns to crave this.

The long-term health of the brain is compromised in the following ways:

  • Learning impairment
  • Inability to process emotion
  • Natural amounts of pleasure do not register
  • Feeling “lifeless”/“limp” /“numb”
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • Compulsive behavior

Behavioral Issues Associated With Drug Dependency

Drug addiction also manifests in negative behavioral changes. Over time family and friends will see a marked difference in the way that the person who is abusing drugs engages in family, academic and social life.

Patterns of behavior that are cause for concern:

  • General unreliability
  • Tardiness
  • Stealing or other criminal behavior
  • Lying or omitting
  • Poor academic performance
  • Negative interactions within the home and family
  • Mood swing, violent impulses
  • Arguing in conversation
  • Change or withdrawal in social group
  • Disinterest in former activities, like sports or music
  • Change in eating habits

Behavior indicators can range from mild to the more extreme. When dealing with a chemical dependency, because the pathways in the brain have been altered it can be a vicious cycle, and a difficult one to break without proper intervention.

Breaking the Cycle

How much a person’s behavioral problem stem from drug abuse, and how much are a result of an intrinsic problem? This question cannot be answered until the drugs are completely removed from the system. For instance, an evaluation of whether a child suffers from a condition such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) cannot be reliably performed while chemical drugs are present in the system. This is because drug addiction and behavioral disorders such as ODD share many of the same symptoms.

To complicate matters even more, drug addiction erodes a person's self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and manipulates perceptions of values and priorities. As a result, they will fight against treatment, but in reality the person who is underneath the addiction wants help, but is suffering from a distorted sense of reality.

Wilderness Therapy is a complete removal from the environment where negative habitual thought and behavioral patterns persist. It is an effective treatment of both substance abuse problems and behavioral issues because it operates under a multi-dimensional model that includes both Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Wilderness therapy focuses on reconfiguring thought and behavior patterns in a positive direction that empowers the individual through self-realization and the learning of life skills. 

Call Rites of Passage Wilderness at (800)794-0980 for information regarding drug abuse, and the drug abuse treatment plan offered by our organization including wilderness therapy.

Drug Abuse Treatment Programs and Identification

Programs for Troubled Young Adults

Labels are quick to be assigned today, and a child who is abusing drugs can get labelled with all sorts of mental health issues that he or she may not actually have. It can be easy to misdiagnosis a child or teen as the behavioral issues associated with drug dependency are symptoms found in many instances of mental illness. Drug abuse may lead a person to exhibit symptoms that are common to ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, oppositional defiant disorder and more—resulting in a misdiagnosis and prescription of medication. When the following symptoms are noticed, it is time to seek professional drug abuse treatment programs.

In combination, the following symptoms could be an indication of a number of different issues:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Poor academic performance
  • Social problems
  • Disengagement in extracurricular activities
  • Change in eating habits

A child may have been misusing drugs for multiple years before the symptoms arise, and when they do it is easy to read them as indicators for some other problem. Children who are suffering from bullying, abuse or stress may also display these behaviors in excess.

Taking medication reduces the symptoms, but it does not attempt to alter the conditions for positive change. The prescription of psychotropic drugs can also be dangerous during a child’s mental development.  By simply prescribing medicine and subduing the symptoms, it is easy to ignore what is really going on with the child. The only way to properly assess, diagnose and treat is to remove the drugs from the system completely for an extended period of time. In a wilderness therapy setting, participants go through a complete detox during the time of their stay. All chemicals are removed from the system, allowing them to become clean. In many cases, the symptoms that were associated with a mental illness lessen and even disappear completely.

Wilderness Therapy offers a different approach to managing behavioral problems and mental illness issues. A combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) in a natural setting, wilderness therapy re-programs harmful thought and behavior patterns by focusing on core values. The setting forces people to be self-reliant and self-aware under the treatment and supervision of therapists and program professionals. It also forces a reliance on group interaction. Drug abuse is a vicious cycle and wilderness therapy prepares a person for their aftercare by teaching them how to manage issues in a healthy and positive way. 

For more information on drug abuse, and drug abuse treatment programs including wilderness therapy, contact Rights of Passage Wilderness Therapy at (800)794-0980.

ADHD and ADHD Treatment: Does My Child Suffer from ADHD?

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. An estimated 11% (around 6.4 million) of children ages 4-17 in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011, and many continue to suffer from ADHD into adulthood. ADHD manifests in many negative ways involving school performance, friendships and behavior at home, but if diagnosed properly it is manageable through ADHD treatment.

There are three types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive ADHD (formerly known as ADD)
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD
  • Combined ADHD

The Symptoms of ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD develop over a period of time and must persist for at least six months to the point of being disruptive or inappropriate for the individual’s developmental level. The broad symptoms are:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity or restlessness
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Impulsivity

Any of these symptoms on their own, or in combination, may indicate ADHD. Impulsiveness and hyperactivity are often noticed first, but that may be because the child that is talkative or exhibits extrovert behavior is often noticed before the “inattentive daydreamer.” Indicators vary from child to child depending on the environment they are in—and what that environment demands of them.

Symptoms of ADHD are exhibited in most children or young adults at some point, so it is important to remember that just because a child may exhibit these symptoms from time to time does not mean that they have ADHD. Exhibiting these symptoms over an extended period of time is an indicator that they may suffer from ADHD, but there are other potential causes of this behaviour.

Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD

Hyperactive children are always “on the go” and continuously talk. Sitting still or being quiet can be difficult. Those who suffer from this type of ADHD are internally restless, often feeling the need to keep busy and do many things at once.  Hyperactive symptoms are often present at an early age.

Impulsive children cannot control immediate actions or reactions. They often do not “think before they speak” and show emotions without restraint. Those who suffer from this type of ADHD often act without a consideration of consequences. As an impulsive young adult a person may choose to engage in activities that offer instant rewards, rather than spending time with a more difficult but rewarding task.

Indicators of hyperactivity-impulsivity:

  • Feeling restless, fidgeting, squirming
  • Inability to sit still
  • Talking excessively and out of turn
  • Difficulty in playing quietly or engaging in quiet leisure activities

Inattentive ADHD

Children diagnosed with this type of ADHD have trouble focusing on any one task and may get bored with that task after only a few minutes, especially if it is new. They often have trouble organizing multiple steps or completing the job. These children have a significant problem paying attention and are regularly forgetful. They may process information more slowly and less accurately than other children. Children with this type are often better at socializing than those with Hyperactivity-Impulsiveness ADHD and may appear to be “quiet workers” which can make identifying the disorder difficult.

Indicators of inattention:

  • Inability to sustain attention on activities
  • Lacking attention to detail and making multiple mistakes
  • Becoming easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds
  • Inability to follow instructions
  • Does not finish tasks like chores or homework
  • Losing or forgetting things
  • Not appearing to listen when spoken to directly
  • Avoiding mental tasks that require concentration
  • Disorganized work habits

Labelling and Misdiagnosing ADHD

A child that suffers from ADHD may experience labelling as a result of his or her behaviour. For example, an impulsive child may be labeled a “discipline problem” or the “class clown”. A passive child may be described as “unmotivated,” “careless” or “spacey.” These labels can have a negative affect on a child’s self-image and self-worth.

Labelling a child with ADHD may also have a negative impact by covering up a different, more significant problem—such as drug abuse. There are symptoms common to a number of disorders and proper diagnosis is essential to a healthy future.

ADHD Treatment

The goal is to teach the child how to manage ADHD in a healthy and positive way so that it does not carry forward into adulthood. Wilderness Therapy provides a calming setting in which to teach participants behaviours, values and good habits that can make ADHD more manageable and less destructive. Holistic nutrition, meditation and physical activity are all components to a wilderness therapy program and have all been shown to have positive effects on managing ADHD. Often times, when participants embrace these components they no longer exhibit the symptoms associated with the disorder.

For information on ADHD, and suggested ADHD Treatment, call Rites of Passage at (800)794-0980 to learn how our programs can help.

Why Wilderness Therapy is so Fast and Effective

Wilderness therapy differs drastically from traditional therapeutic methods. The intensity and challenges of a wilderness therapy program results in major changes in participants over a relatively short period of time.

How are these approaches different?

Traditional therapy typically happens in an office setting. After an initial consultation, therapy is continued with regularly scheduled appointments—generally 45 minutes to one hour. Therapy happens in an isolated context following a particular modality of treatment (cognitive behavioral therapy being just one type) prescribed to address anything from depression, family issues, or a number of other mental illnesses.

The core therapeutic tool used in wilderness therapy is nature, allowing staff to step back from the traditional position of authority and let the challenges of nature drive the program. Wilderness therapy is multifaceted in its approach. Generally combining a number of treatment modalities (CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, experiential learning, holistic nutrition, mediation, etc), wilderness therapy is a more intensive type of treatment. The setting alone sets it apart from other kinds of treatment programs. Therapy happens in nature, and this alone can be challenging for some. Participants meet with therapists once a week, but the therapist generally spends 24 hours with the participants, which includes both individual time plus a group session. During these weekly sessions, participants are restocked with food and receive needed items and letters from home. Re-supply and therapy happen at the same time, allowing for a fresh perspective to meet the new challenges that will be faced in the upcoming week.

Why is wilderness therapy a more effective treatment?

Positive changes happen faster and more profoundly in this type of setting.

The peacefulness and the lack of stimulus that comes with nature provide the key location for participants to reflect and adapt. The complete removal from a former negative situation is one of the key factors in the effectiveness of these programs. Participants are out of their comfort zone, they are uncomfortable and they are forced to confront their issues. Because there are no distractions such as friends, school and technology, participants are more open to doing the work. They have also never been challenged to the extent that they are in wilderness therapy, and as a result participants are more accessible emotionally. They are raw, vulnerable and more willing to participate in individual and group therapy. Strong relationships are formed quickly, with both staff and peers, which promotes deeper and more meaningful self-reflection.

When participants return home they are much more likely to continue on the positive path that they developed in wilderness therapy. Aftercare may include community therapy sessions in a traditional setting, but there is no substitute to the profound effect that wilderness therapy has on its participants while they are in the program. In just a few short weeks a person’s entire character can be transformed.

Why ‘Rites of Passage’ & Wilderness Therapy Matter So Much

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‘Traditional societies know what we are rediscovering - marking the significant passages of our life brings focus to the journey ... and a realization that life is not one continuum but a series of meaningful steps.” - Stan Crow, 1939 - 2009

What is a “coming of age” moment, or a rite of passage?

A rite of passage is a ceremony, ritual or set of activities that marks the transition from one phase of life to another. It also encompasses the activities that help the process takes place. ‘Rite of passage’ may also refer to the process of change an individual goes through while moving from one stage or role in life to another. They define the roles and responsibilities that are to be taken on. A rite of passage formalizes the process of moving from childhood to adolescence to adulthood—in other words, growing up.

Why are rites of passage important?

A rite of passage is important because it is an event that marks a transition into a new phase of life. Habitual patterns do not change on their own. Something needs to happen to spark the change. Roles and responsibilities are not automatically defined. There has to be a marked event. This is why a rite of passage is especially important during the rehab stages of high-risk youth.

In initiation rites, roles are defined and redefined and help carve out a place in the world for the individual. In contemporary North American life, the tradition of intentional rites of passage is all but lost, often leaving youth to initiate themselves. When youth are left without a conscious marking and exploration of life transitions, they have difficulty creating positive change and growth in their own lives, not to mention taking that positive change into the world around them. Providing rite of passage experiences strengthens individuals, families and communities as a whole. The individual learns what it means to be a responsible community member while exploring unique, personal gifts that can be used to serve themselves as well as others.

How is wilderness therapy a rite of passage?

Wilderness therapy is an intense program that aims to transition participants from adolescence into adulthood. It provides participants with challenges in a safe and appropriate way, facilitating an environment for someone to have that “self-discovery”. Parents cannot always provide the environment or the tools to facilitate a positive transition. Wilderness therapy allows for: the removal from one’s normal environment, stillness and quiet, self-reflection, physical activity and routine. In an unfamiliar environment, participants must become self-reliant. They can explore new ways to overcoming current and future obstacles.

Participants leave wilderness therapy with:

  • Self-awareness
  • Maturity and self-reliance
  • A desire to engage in family and community life
  • The ability to manage stressful situations
  • The aspiration to make correct choices

The most important take-away from wilderness therapy is that participants leave with a positive direction in life.  Individuals are better able to foster meaningful relationships with friends and family when they return home. Academic performance improves, physical and social activity becomes important and employment is taken seriously. Participants of a wilderness therapy program graduate with the ability to self manage their lives in a mature and responsible way.

Rites of Passage Wilderness