Recently a reputable wilderness therapist presented on the effectiveness of wilderness therapy at the American Psychology Association conference. Upon his return he shared his presentation was grouped in the same category as dance therapy! This is an amusing illustration of the confusion in defining wilderness therapy. A growing number of behavioral healthcare professionals are asking what should and shouldn’t be considered “wilderness therapy.” With interpretations ranging from boot camp to adventure trips there is an obvious need for a clear definition of wilderness therapy. A clear definition provides universal understanding of what wilderness therapy is and the extensive benefits gained from it.
Irvin Yalom1 identified eleven factors that contribute to healthy functioning in group therapy, which therapists may use to facilitate meaningful and effective interventions. Application of these factors to the wilderness therapy experience allows clinicians to both understand wilderness therapy on a more sophisticated level and to design interventions that serve to highlight or develop any of the factors.
The sun was setting on this particular balmy evening in October. A gentle breeze rustled through the juniper trees and brought wafts of sweet smelling sage across the open field near where the group was camped. The temperature was that perfect in-between: not real warm or real chilly. It was altogether different than the images of red rock formations and sprawling cactus that comes to mind when one thinks of the southwest, but then this was autumn in the high desert.