Wilderness Therapy: Healing Through Nature

Nature has been seen as a natural healing source since the dawn of time, and has been a long held belief of most cultures and generations. A wilderness therapist uses that natural healing power to rehabilitate people with addictions, aggression, or other mental health challenges.

Wilderness therapy is an offshoot of adventure-based psychotherapy. Adventure-based therapy creates treatments that involve physical and emotional challenges in the wilderness. Wilderness therapy focuses on learning to cope, as nature’s unpredictability presents its own challenges. Patients in a group camp and hike with their wilderness therapist, and throughout the program, they learn primitive skills, have group discussions, and explore their own destructive patterns. The lessons and tools they learn give them the ability to cope better when they return to their regular daily living.

Wilderness therapy is often thought of as another style of boot camp, which could not be further from the truth. Boot camps often use military style discipline to change the behavior of its group. It tends to be aggressive, as it manipulates its group into new behaviors. A wilderness therapist develops relationships with his or her patients based on compassion and respect. Nature is used as the teacher to promote healing of toxic thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. Using nature to learn how to cope with unpredictable circumstances gives patients more confidence and self-reliance. Wilderness therapy works with the natural order of things, whereas boot camp controls and manipulates.

The professional practice of using nature as a healing tool is relatively new; dating back to only 20 years ago. People typically find their way into this field in one of three ways. They may already be a nature enthusiast, they may be working for an adventure company and become interested in how nature can be used as therapeutic healing, or they may already be a therapist who sees the value in using nature to promote healing. Sometimes a person with no background in nature or therapy becomes interested after hearing someone that benefited from it or simply reading an article about it. Most people are interested in earning their degree in psychotherapy, so as to have the flexibility of working where they choose. Still others may find guided learning is enough to take their career where it needs to go. These are often people who are already established within a company that doesn’t require higher education for their nature therapy program.

People often talk about the stillness they feel when alone in nature. It quiets their mind and provides a sense of peace. It is this stillness and peace that helps to promote healing. From this space, patients can do the required work needed to change their destructive behaviors. Nature is a judgment free zone that is completely unpredictable. When challenges arise, patients are required to face them head on. This creates a confidence that allows them to step forward and face the old thought patterns that led them to where they are. Learning how to work through these challenges and thrive despite them gives them the self-reliance that they can work through anything life sends their way.