Juvenile Boot Camps VS Wilderness Therapy for Troubled Teens

December 8, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

What do you do when you’ve tried everything to help your troubled teen? It can seem like a hopeless battle when nothing seems to work and it’s heartbreaking to feel that powerless. There’s a relatively new option that’s becoming more popular, although it does have a shroud of controversy attached to it. It’s wilderness therapy.

Don’t get it confused with juvenile boot camps, though. They’re very different from one another. Juvenile boot camp sprouted from the justice system and they use military-like techniques to get through to, break down and rebuild teens. These techniques often include intimidation and feeding on the teen’s fears. While it may work for some, for others it’s just too forceful and the techniques used are too rough to be effective.

This is where wilderness therapy differs the most. It’s compassion based. It uses nature as its main focus, with students being forced to face and overcome natural hardships, learning to be self-reliant and ultimately changing the way they view things. They’re never made to feel like they need “fixing”. As each day passes, they begin to realize that they’re simply loved and the distractions of everyday life aren’t there to get in the way.

While it’s commonly and probably most used for teens who are battling addiction, it’s also known to be effective for helping with numerous problems including emotional and psychological problems. There are two main types of wilderness therapy: contained and continuous flow. Contained wilderness therapy is normally a few weeks long and leaders stay with the group. Continuous flow setups are usually longer. They can last a couple months. Therapists make scheduled appearances for sessions and check-ins, but there are always wilderness guides with the teens.

It Isn’t Right for Everyone

Using wilderness therapy for troubled teens isn’t for everyone. It isn’t as simple as deciding it’s worth a try, simply signing up and your on your way. There’s normally an in-depth assessment to ensure that it is a viable option for your unique situation and that your teen will have a good chance of success with it. Once that’s established, then you work with the center to develop a customized treatment plan. Treatment often continues even after the teen returns home throughout the use of parenting plans and aftercare services.