An Overview of Wilderness Therapy for Addiction Treatment

two guys hiking

The development of an addiction means adopting a new, self-destructive way of life. Over the course of experimentation and abuse of alcohol or drugs, individuals experience an increasing number of profound effects, which include the decline of physical health, altered psychology and behavior, damage to or sacrifice of important relationships, and numerous other effects. As a result, the disease of alcohol and drug addiction turns good, ambitious people into unhealthy individuals who are capable of stooping to unimaginable lows if that’s what it takes to maintain a substance abuse habit.

There are many different treatments and therapeutic techniques used to help individuals overcome alcohol and drug addiction by addressing the many effects of the disease. The core components of most addiction treatment programs are counseling and psychotherapy, which are intended to identify some of the contributing factors to an individual’s development of an addiction, which might include such things as prior exposure to substance abuse or family history of addiction. However, there is often a variety of supplemental or complementary treatments offered as part of recovery curricula, allowing individuals to personalize their treatment plan to ensure that they receive comprehensive treatment. Of the many supplemental treatments that are available, wilderness therapy has received a lot of attention recently for being unique means of treating alcohol and drug addiction. The following serves as an overview of wilderness therapy for addiction treatment, defining this very distinct therapeutic technique and detailing some of its benefits.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

When an individual suffering from alcohol or drug addiction begins the journey of recovery, he or she will work with an addictions specialist or recovery counselor to devise an effective treatment plan and curriculum. Traditionally, much of the treatments an individual will receive will take place on-site in the treatment facility since the majority of the therapies and treatments used in rehabilitative programs are clinical in nature. However, there’s growing evidence that supports the use of treatments that involve settings that are alternative to a sterile, clinical drug rehab. Wilderness therapy grew from such a need, being a therapeutic technique that’s derivative of adventure-based therapies in that it encourages patients to explore and interact with nature. Though used for such things as diversion programs for youths and substance abuse treatment, wilderness therapy is a unique form of treatment in terms of its approach as well as in technique.

Each drug rehab that offers wilderness therapy will typically offer one or more types of this treatment, which can range from survival-based to a more organized, camp-like approach. For each type of wilderness therapy, participants will learn a specific set of skills. However, in each type of wilderness therapy, there’s a major focus on learning communication skills, fostering a self-sufficiency and a sense of independence, self-esteem, assertiveness, learning teamwork and cooperation, and becoming more connected with nature. Although wilderness therapy is used as a form of behavior modification, it’s more effective as a form of behavioral diversion since there are usually no so-called psychological manipulations such as contrived consequences, point or level systems, or any overarching modalities employed; instead, the effectiveness of wilderness therapy is a by-product of active participation in this form of treatment, much like a form of experiential education.

How Wilderness Therapy is Utilized for Substance Abuse Treatment

In traditional inpatient substance abuse treatment, individuals live on-site at the facility while participating in daily therapies for the duration of the program. Though intensive, the atmosphere of a drug rehab can sometimes give the impression of confinement, making individuals feel as though they’re being punished rather than in a place of healing. However, wilderness therapy takes individuals out of the facility and has them exploring and subsisting off the land. The duration of a therapeutic wilderness retreat can be short, lasting for only days, or as long as several weeks; however, individuals who have not yet overcome physical addiction in a detoxification program aren’t expected to overcome withdrawal while also participating in wilderness therapy. Instead, wilderness therapy typically begins after an initial intake period during which individuals can detox and receive some preliminary counseling and treatment. Guided by professionals who have experience as addiction counselors as well as in wilderness survival, wilderness therapy is a unique combination of a soul-searching camping trip and an addiction recovery program.

girl hiking

Benefits of Utilizing Wilderness Therapy in Recovery

With wilderness therapy, individuals are much more in control of their surroundings. Encouraged to explore and interact with their surroundings, those who have been in the throes of active addiction for many years—and, consequently, were unlikely to have experienced much nature—are able to reconnect with nature, which is an optimal environment in which to do the soul-searching involved in addiction recovery. Without the distraction of a sterile environment or things like cell phones and television, individuals can have in-depth discussions during group sessions and some one-on-one time with the experienced counselors who lead the group. Moreover, individuals participating in wilderness therapy have much time for reflection, able to think back on the circumstances that led to the development of chemical dependency in serene and tranquil locales.

Though not intended to be a replacement for a comprehensive treatment program, wilderness therapy can address many of the individual effects of addiction that are targeted by several different treatments and therapeutic modalities, but also offers participants a chance to learn important survival skills, strengthen communication and cooperation skills, and develop an improved self-concept and positive self-image.

Learn More About Recovery with Recovery Hub

Everyone is different and has different needs. Although there’s not a singular treatment that yields optimal results for everyone, wilderness therapy is a viable option for individuals in recovery who are enticed by the beauty and serenity that nature can offer, wanting to experience the wonders of the wilderness firsthand. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction and would like to learn more about wilderness therapy or other treatments, call Recovery Hub at 888-220-4352. We have a team of recovery specialists available to help anyone suffering from chemical dependency finds the programming that best addresses their recovery needs. Don’t wait—call us today.

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