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What is a wilderness camp and how can it help my teen?

Parents searching for residential camps for their defiant or troubled teenager may find the list of camps and the type of camp available, somewhat bewildering. They need to persist with the research; variety is good, it means that somewhere there is a camp that will suit the teenager. The parents also need to be absolutely honest about their teenagers' problems, this is not the time to make excuses, or underestimate the extent of the issues. Some camps are more or less suitable depending on what the nature of the problem is, and how long it has been going on, and the age of the teenager.

Wilderness camps, as can be surmised from their name, are located far from cities and towns. The programs they offer will vary, but all utilize the location as part of the therapy; arguing that many teens find the noise and pace of city life an inhibitor when trying to put their lives in order. Nature is an important element to a wilderness camp, and forms a significant aspect of the therapy. Some wilderness camps take a program driven treatment model, others a clinically driven treatment model.

Deciding which approach to choose for the teen is a matter of personal preference and of matching the program to the teens needs. Not all teenagers are suited to the wilderness camp approach; some with significant medical problems, or acute psychotic behavior, may compromise the safety of others in the camps and the camp supervisors may feel that the teens' own safety could be at risk.

Most wilderness programs combine therapy and counseling with learning outdoor skills and self sufficiency. The numbers on a camp are usually small, the teens living quarters are modest, and they learn to look after themselves, by fishing and cooking on open fires. The bonding that takes place between the teens is part of the process of survival. The teens will take part in a lot of physical activity, such as hiking, climbing and boating.

They will be supported by a counselor and therapist and will learn to trust as they have to rely on each other to function in the outdoor environment. Being close to nature, away from the pressures of home, the teen is able to reflect on their own behavior and focus on what is really important in life. Wilderness programs can be fully residential, weekend or summer camps; there is a lot of choice. It may be worth considering sending the defiant teen on a short wilderness break to see if they respond to this sort of therapy.

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