“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

The implementation of wilderness therapy (treatment) as a type of health care approach dates back to the 1940s when the Outward Bound outdoor education program was launched in Wales, UK. It uses an adventure-based method in a wilderness setting as its foundation.

In relation to addiction-related treatment, healing powers of nature are aimed at helping those with substance abuse problems to reclaim control over their actions and lives, to learn to deal with emotional turmoil and everyday challenges, and to get back their desire to live and strive to be happy.

Through this therapy, patients deal with challenging situations in nature and, therefore, learn new life skills, as well as recover from their addiction. Being close to nature and working with others not only helps to recover from the addiction, but also improve self-esteem, confidence and responsibility.

Wilderness therapy also integrates other forms of therapy like:

– CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) which helps the patients to replace their negative thoughts with more positive ones, thus changing the way they think;
– DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) which helps the patients to learn to overcome challenging situations and become better at relationships with others;
– Family therapy, which helps the patients to sort out problems in the family;
– Motivational interviews, which help the patients become more motivated towards changing their lifestyles and getting over their addictions.

Wilderness Treatment Benefits:

The Change of Location and Setting

Wilderness therapy is unique in the sense that both the therapist as well as the patient are participating in activities together in a shared natural environment, far from the hustle of the city life and the familiar scenes that could trigger a relapse. Generally, participants spend a specific amount in the wilderness along with other recovering addicts, counselors, professional psychologists, and therapists, which helps to start a recovery way from clean slate. Participants also go through therapy sessions, learn life skills, and figure out a plan to follow, after the wilderness therapy is over.

The Improvement of Physical and Mental Health

Wilderness therapy can help cure many different mental conditions, like anxiety, depression, addiction, personality disorder, bipolar disorder, disruptive behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.

Wilderness therapy generally also helps patients to improve their physical health through exercise and diet, since surviving the wilderness and completing the challenges need physical strength and stamina.

The Feeling of Personal Accomplishment

Wilderness therapy is also called adventure-based because the recovering addicts are engaged and exposed to the activities in the nature that are therapeutic. Patients in the wilderness program complete many challenges in the wilderness, thus giving them a sense of accomplishment and reminding them that they can be successful when they are focused and persistent. Various wilderness programs may work differently, but basically all of them follow the same pattern – the participants spend time in the wilderness and are engaged activities like hiking, building fire, setting up tents, and so on, while trying to maintain direction, focus and connection with others in the group. Thus, they improve and build the sober life skills, while getting over the physical and mental withdrawals from the use of a substance.

Problem-solving Skills Set-up

Surviving in the wilderness, hiking through mountains, completing different activities and overcoming challenges aren’t always a cakewalk and, therefore, the patients must learn the necessary skills in order to finish the therapy. The wilderness provides natural obstacles for the group, while the therapy is designed to create more challenges that would help to build problem-solving skills and acumen in the participants. By the end of the therapy, a patient would have more self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and the courage to tackle difficult situations in life that could have easily led them to rely on substance use before.

The Improvement of Coping Mechanisms

Being exposed to the wilderness and overcoming the challenges without the interference of any substance helps to build healthy coping mechanisms (such as self-encouragement, relying on the close people for support and advice, meditation, healthy thought-flow, and so on) to be able to deal with stressful situations in real life. Also, the improved sense of worth and awareness of the self helps the recovering addicts to become stronger when dealing with relapse triggers, and, also, realize the negatives of the addiction.

The Establishment of Relationships with Others

Through talking to the therapists and spending time teaming up with the others in recovery to successfully survive the wilderness and complete the tasks, participants improve their social skills and learn to develop better reactions to emotionally stressful situations in relationships with others. Throughout the therapy, they have to cooperate, communicate and help each other, thus building the necessary skills to create, develop and manage real-life relationships outside the wilderness.

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