Finding effective treatment options for teens and young adults can be a daunting task for parents, especially when dealing with issues like addiction, behavioral problems, or emotional struggles. One approach that has gained popularity over the years is wilderness therapy. However, despite its growing acceptance, numerous myths and misconceptions continue to surround it. This blog post aims to dispel these myths, highlight the benefits of wilderness therapy, and guide parents and teens through the process of understanding and considering this unique treatment option.

What Is Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness therapy is a form of outdoor behavioral healthcare that combines traditional therapeutic methods with outdoor activities. It is designed to help individuals overcome personal challenges, build resilience, and develop essential life skills. The therapy typically involves a structured program where participants engage in activities such as hiking, camping, and team-building exercises, all while receiving counseling and support from trained professionals.

Benefits of Wilderness Therapy

1. Enhanced Self-Awareness and Confidence

Wilderness therapy encourages participants to step out of their comfort zones and face new challenges. This process helps them develop a deeper understanding of themselves, build self-confidence, and gain a sense of accomplishment.

2. Improved Communication and Social Skills

Group activities and collaborative tasks in wilderness therapy foster communication and social interaction. Participants learn to work together, resolve conflicts, and build healthy relationships with their peers and mentors.

3. Connection with Nature

Spending time in nature has been shown to have numerous psychological benefits, including reduced stress, improved mood, and increased overall well-being. Wilderness therapy leverages these benefits to create a healing and restorative environment for participants.

Myth 1: Wilderness Therapy Is Only for “Bad” Kids

One common misconception is that wilderness therapy is reserved for “bad” kids or those with severe behavioral issues. In reality, this therapy can benefit a wide range of individuals, including those dealing with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and family conflict. The therapy’s focus on self-discovery and personal growth makes it suitable for anyone seeking to make positive changes in their life.

Myth 2: Wilderness Therapy Is a Punitive Boot Camp

Another myth is that wilderness therapy is akin to a boot camp, where participants are subjected to harsh conditions and punitive measures. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Wilderness therapy is designed to be supportive and nurturing. The goal is to create a safe and positive environment where participants can reflect on their behaviors, set goals, and work towards personal growth without fear of punishment.

Myth 3: Wilderness Therapy Puts Participants at Extreme Risk

Safety concerns often arise when considering wilderness therapy. Critics argue that spending extended periods outdoors, especially in extreme weather conditions, poses significant risks. However, reputable therapy programs prioritize safety above all else.

Ensuring Safety and Well-Being

At Star Guides Treatment Centers, we take several measures to ensure the safety and well-being of our clients:

  • Comprehensive Screening: Each applicant is prescreened by our clinical team based on consultations with parents, educational consultants, and home clinicians, as well as a thorough review of the student’s behavioral history and psycho-educational testing.
  • Ongoing Medical Assessments: Students receive complete physicals before entering the field and ongoing medical assessments every 14 days by a physician, EMT, or RN.
  • Trained and Certified Staff: All staff members undergo extensive training, including CPR, first aid, wilderness first responder certification, crisis intervention, and emergency preparedness.
  • Proper Gear and Nutrition: Students are equipped with high-quality gear and provided with a diet rich in fresh fruits, meats, vegetables, grains, nuts, and safe water.
  • Emergency Preparedness: We use satellite phones, two-way radios, cell phones, GPS units, and have 24-hour on-call support staff available for emergencies.

Myth 4: Wilderness Therapy Involves Hiking All Day

While hiking is a component of many wilderness therapy programs, it is not the sole activity. Programs often include a variety of therapeutic and recreational activities, such as team-building exercises, individual counseling sessions, and creative projects. The goal is to provide a balanced experience that promotes physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

Myth 5: The Food Is Not Healthy

Contrary to the belief that wilderness therapy programs provide subpar food, nutrition is a key component of the treatment. Participants are provided with well-balanced meals that are dietitian-approved and include organic, vegetarian, and vegan options. Proper nutrition is essential for overall wellness and supports the therapeutic process.

Myth 6: Participants Have No Hygiene Standards

Maintaining personal hygiene is an integral part of wilderness therapy. Participants are required to bathe, brush their teeth, and change into clean clothes regularly. Field staff and therapists work closely with participants to ensure they understand the importance of self-care and develop healthy hygiene habits.

Myth 7: Wilderness Staff Are Unqualified Babysitters

Qualified and experienced professionals administer reputable wilderness therapy programs. At Star Guides, every field staff member undergoes extensive training, including CPR, first aid, and simulated field training. Licensed therapists oversee each participant’s treatment plan, and medical professionals manage prescribed medications.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Erin Allen’s Experience

“Star Guides was extremely professional, incredibly kind, and compassionate, and their program met our son right where he was. They have done a wonderful job and their program has been an incredible blessing to our family. Our family has been restored, and our son is smiling and feels so confident in himself after completing this program. I would recommend their services to any family struggling to connect with their child. They really know what they are doing; our entire family is stronger as a result of this experience!” – Erin Allen

House of Juls’ Experience

“Our son needed serious intervention and help, which is so hard as a parent. Star Guides was the answer we needed. They had a smooth intake, weekly conversations with his therapist, twice a week we got updates and a weekly picture. Our son sent home petrified wood, carved spoons, and letters. There was a parent weekend with education which helped us understand what he was learning and how we could support change. We just had a wonderful graduation weekend with him; it was really special. The thing that’s immediately obvious is the respectful, happy, cooperative attitude that has been delightful. We had a good cry together and feel more hopeful than ever.” – House of Juls

Myth 8: Wilderness Therapy Is Not Safe in Extreme Weather

Ensuring the safety of participants in extreme weather conditions is a top priority for reputable wilderness therapy programs. At Star Guides, we use the highest quality outdoor gear and equipment to protect participants from harsh weather conditions. Additionally, we provide access to heated tents during extreme weather to ensure participants’ comfort and safety.

Myth 9: Participants Are Isolated from Their Families

Family involvement is a crucial component of therapy. Programs like Star Guides encourage regular communication between participants and their families through letters, phone calls, and family therapy sessions. This ongoing connection helps to strengthen family bonds and supports the overall therapeutic process.

Myth 10: Wilderness Therapy Lacks Clinical Sophistication

Wilderness therapy programs are as clinically sophisticated as traditional treatment programs. Licensed therapists oversee each participant’s treatment plan, and medical professionals manage prescribed medications. The combination of outdoor activities and clinical support creates a comprehensive treatment approach that addresses participants’ physical, emotional, and psychological needs.

Myth 11: Wilderness Therapy Is Not Effective

Numerous studies and success stories support the effectiveness of wilderness therapy. Participants often report significant improvements in their mental health, behavior, and overall well-being. The unique blend of outdoor activities, therapeutic support, and personal growth opportunities makes wilderness therapy a powerful and effective treatment option for many individuals.


Wilderness therapy offers a unique and effective treatment approach for teens and young adults struggling with various challenges. By dispelling common myths and understanding the true benefits of this therapeutic method, parents and teens can make informed decisions about whether wilderness therapy is the right choice for their needs.

If you are considering therapy for your child or yourself, we invite you to learn more about Star Guides Wilderness Therapy. Our experienced and compassionate team is dedicated to providing a safe and supportive environment for personal growth and healing. Contact us today to start your journey towards a healthier and happier future.