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Becoming a “Treatment-Kid”

Posted by Rick Heizer, Partner and Program Director on August 01, 2014

Rick Heizer 17It can be a difficult decision to have your daughter or son leave home to participate in a therapeutic wilderness program. There can be elements of the unknown, thoughts that “my child is not that sick” or overwhelming feelings of uncertainty, shame or guilt. Frequently your child doesn’t want to go, they think they don’t need help, don’t want help, or believe they can get the help they need at home. While home treatment can absolutely work for some, others can be so lost they need to create some physical separation, so the child can truly focus on their own personal well-being. In a recent blog article, a previous student of a wilderness therapy program, referring to herself as a “treatment-kid”, expressed her feelings before leaving home:

“I was drinking at school and taking money from my parents to buy. I decided that if I was going to die one day, I should make the most of it. I couldn’t be the best of the best, so I decided to be the worst of the worst. I wanted to be more troubled and crazier than everyone else. I honestly believed there was no way to be healthy and happy. For me, happiness was unrealistic. The next best thing was being numb. I had lost myself and had given up. I didn’t care what happened to me, and I truly believed I was worthless.”

These are normal feelings. It is natural for anyone to want to avoid the hurt or sadness we carry inside. Physical separation from home provides separation from the regular routine, regular unhealthy coping mechanisms and what have become common unhealthy beliefs of self. And wilderness therapy is a great way to allow one to reflect and process these feelings in a very healthy way.

It isn’t easy. Those feelings of not needing help, or wanting to stay in that semi-comfortable place are strong, to some degree they have worked and have become bearable. Once at the wilderness program, this student wrote:

“I wrote my parents a long letter about how I was sorry. I said that I believed I needed help (which I did not believe at all) and that I thought the best option was for them to take me home and get the help there. I was so hung up on getting back to my boyfriend and friends. All that mattered was getting my old life back. When, in reality, most of those people stopped caring about me the second they found out I was sober.”

Eventually the separation from home, family, regular past routines, unhealthy coping mechanisms becomes secondary to the child’s present. They learn to live in the here and now, learn to communicate, begin to find hope, and begin to love themselves again. She goes on to share:

“After resisting most of the advice I was given, I finally started working – at least a little bit. I began to open up to my therapist. I started to process my trauma and put the blame where it belonged. I slowly started to realize that I could move on from my past, although I was still very hesitant. A large part of me was not ready to change. I had myself convinced that the life I was living was as good as it would get. As I started looking deeper into my abuse, I started to learn that I had used my trauma as an excuse to mess up. None of those boys had the right to take advantage of me like that, but I didn’t seek help. I decided to self­-destruct. My therapist had me write my parents a letter telling them about my experiences, most of which they knew nothing about.
And, I thought I was on the right track. I tried to work on my core beliefs about myself and being more open with people. It sort of worked. I was still too caught up in the past or the future, my mind couldn’t stay in the present. All I wanted to know was where was I going next, would I go home? Could I talk to my friends? All of the questions that were unnecessary at the time. I read an amazing book about what it means to be present, aleapernd I started to grasp the idea of it. But I wasn’t even close to mastering it.
Wilderness is like the emergency room, it is meant to stop the initial bleeding, the time to let everything out.”

To read the complete blog series by this student, and learn how she achieved her inner peace and happiness, please visit Learning to Live Again on

Rick Heizer is the Program Director/Partner at Second Nature Entrada.


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