To understand the great benefits wilderness therapy programs can offer struggling teens and at-risk young adults, it may be helpful to review the “Stages of Change.” The Stages of Change is a model created to track behavioral refinements in people.
Known in its clinical form as the Transtheoretical Model, there are six stages to track. Keeping these stages in mind while your troubled youth is enrolled in a wilderness camp can be eye opening and offer insight into how they communicate at different points in their transformation. This model isn’t rigid, though your struggling teen may just go through each stage as clearly as they’re laid out below.
Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation: This is the stage your child is when they begin a wilderness rehabilitation program. It is defined as someone not being aware that their behavior is a problem at all and therefore, there is zero intention of making any changes in behavior.
Stage 2: Contemplation: They’re starting to get it—your young person at this stage is beginning to really understand the reality of continuing their behavior or what life would look like if they discontinued or changed their behavior.
Stage 3: Preparation: This is the stage where real intention is made known. The intention to change behavior is clear and obvious to the individual and they share it with others.
Stage 4: Action: At this stage, poor behaviors are clear choices and therefore a teenager at this stage in a wilderness therapy program are taking action by modifying and changing behavior on their own. In other words, no coercion, no bribes, and no threats were made to change unsatisfactory behavior—your young person is autonomous in the particular behavior being modified.
Stage 5: Maintenance: As the stage implies, this is the point at which your teenager or struggling young adult has a pattern of continued behavior modification. This may be experienced more fully after your teen has returned home from a wilderness therapy program.
Stage 6: Termination: This is a full reversal of poor behavior. Termination essentially means the bad behavior is eradicated and it is clear it won’t be used again as an option even when old temptations or triggers arise.
Knowing these stages of change can help explain some of the communication you receive from your young person both while they’re at camp and once they’re home. The benefits of a wilderness therapy program are the accelerated pace at which participants move through the stages of change.
Wilderness therapy programs are not to be confused with boot camps. The structure of a wilderness camp for struggling teenagers offers a crucial balance between working in and with the natural world and engaging in professional therapy. There are no scare-tactics or emotional-wearing measures. Wilderness therapy programs assist in creating the opportunity for hurting young people to have the space to discover themselves.
Getting to the point of understanding oneself or even just one particular facet of oneself is a monumental feat. If a problem teen comes away from a rehabilitation camp having worked through the stages of change in just one behavior that would be wildly deeper than many high-functioning adults have gone into understanding their own behaviors.
If your teen is hurting, struggling, angry, depressed, with behavior that is damaging to themselves and others, a therapeutic wilderness program can be beneficial. It is an approach that centers on equipping a young person with realistic tools for managing themselves in the many situations life can bring.