Sending a child to a wilderness program is often the best and quickest way to start their journey back to family reintegration, affective equilibrium, and academic success. A month or two in the woods won't "fix" the child's deeper problems, but the insights gained by the student, the parents, and their advisors will be invaluable for planning and subsequent program recommendations.
No two wilderness programs are the same: the best are safe, smart and communicate well with the family's advisors. They have experienced clinicians in the field, usually with Master's or PhD certification, who can quickly drill down and help identify the drivers of many of the student's dysfunctional behaviors.
Some programs operate in desert ecosystems, others work in the Eastern woodlands; some focus on single concerns like drug or alcohol dependency, others deal well with specific issues of anger, or depression, or trauma, or self-destruction, or underachieving kids. The best programs can accept campers with a broad spectrum of presenting behaviors and shape the group into a deeply insightful and supportive treatment culture. Amazing things can happen in wilderness.
Some programs use single-sex peer groups; others are coed; some like a larger group - up to 12 youngsters; half that number will more often be the norm. Some programs are "continuous flow" with new students replacing those who have completed their trek; others begin and end all the students together. Most are open-ended with respect to the amount of time the child needs to be there.
Wilderness programs vary widely in their commitment to communication with parents, clinicians and educational consultants. Some are no-frills programs, while others provide a high level of creature amenities on the trail. A few are deeply spiritual in design. Some wilderness programs also include a modest academic offering. While less impactful than the "pure" wilderness experience, these "softer" programs are well-established in the continuum of outdoor options.
The quality and range of specialties practiced by the individual therapists (many of whom move around from program to program) varies tremendously. Mason Associates often selects a therapist, not a program, for individual clients. Knowing which therapists work well with what kinds of clients will greatly enhance the overall value of any wilderness experience.
Knowing which therapists work well with what kinds of clients will greatly enhance the overall value of any wilderness experience.