Boot Camp for Kids: There is a Better Way

Boot Camp for Kids | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for troubled teens and young adults

Every parent wants to see their child succeed. They want their child to be happy, healthy, and to become a thriving adult. When your child struggles to meet expectations or lacks the motivation to succeed, it can be heartbreaking. You believe in them and wish that they could see themselves the way that you do. In this article, we will discuss several options to help your child get back on track. We will inform you of the risks of boot camps, and highlight more effective treatment options that have been proven to help teens and their families.

What is a Boot Camp Program For Kids?

Classic boot camps are often depicted as having strict rules, drill instructors, and extreme physical challenges. Often someone’s image of a juvenile boot camp is that of Marine’s Corps basic training. One thing that is very clear in this depiction is that it doesn’t look like a summer camp. The idea for private boot camps originated from military boot camps that were designed to prepare soldiers for war. A military boot camp’s intent is to harden civilians into soldiers to engage in combat. Military-style boot camps push recruits to fall in line, take orders, and train them to endure the trauma that accompanies war.

Boot camps for kids share some of these components. They are designed to “toughen up” their residents. They do this through a strict set of rules and punishments. These can include rising before dawn, extreme physical activity, and mental manipulation. People who work at these camps take no excuses and attempt to push kids to their limits to “break” their habits.

Why Do Parents Send Their Kid To Boot Camp?

Teenagers today face an enormous amount of pressure in today’s society and sometimes struggle to handle it. It often seems like they live in a different world and have to face different challenges than generations before them. They have no memory of what the world was like without smartphones. Social media dominates social interactions. The pressure to succeed and to fit in has never been higher.

Some kids might succumb to social pressures and try to cope by drinking alcohol or falling into substance abuse. They may display oppositional behaviors like pushing back against authority figures or may struggle with academic underachievement.

Teenagers also have a hard time expressing their feelings to their parents or other adults in their life. Instead of communicating, they often display a secondary emotion – anger. This leaves parents believing that they need harsh rules and structure like a boot camp experience to correct these behaviors.

Unfortunately, strict discipline isn’t always a good thing for kids who are struggling. There may be underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression. According to the CDC, for children aged 3-17 years with behavior problems, more than 1 in 3 also have anxiety and about 1 in 5 also have depression.  Helping your kid with underlying mental health conditions may require mental health treatment to help correct their behavior.

Who Goes To A Kids Boot Camp?

You might be wondering if your child would qualify for an intervention like teen boot camp, military school, or other similar programs. Maybe you are seeing some behaviors and are on the fence about if things have gotten “bad enough.” Typically boot camps have low selection criteria and are parent-driven. This means that most participants are there against their will.

Issues That Teens Struggle With:

  • Behavioral Problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Trouble with the law
  • Defiance
  • Issues at school
  • Anger outbursts
  • Disrespecting authority
  • Dangerous or bad behavior

It is not an easy choice to “send your child away.” Many parents do so because they feel that they are unable to keep their child safe and that extreme measures must be taken. Your child’s actions and behaviors may have you feeling that you have to do something about them before they spiral more out of control. You may be asking yourself how I can help my struggling teen? While signing your child up for a boot camp experience is one option to address behavioral issues, other options have been proven to be more effective.

Adventure therapy is an alternative to boot camp for kids that is researched backed | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

How Can I Help My Troubled Teen?

When parents start to feel that extreme measures need to be taken to keep their child safe, they often think a boot camp setting would be right for them. They may believe that their child needs “tough love.” Sometimes that is the case, where a teen can benefit from having more structure and accountability, but there also might be something else going on that is resulting in their behaviors. There could be an underlying mental illness that increased structure and discipline would not address. It could even make things worse.

If your teenager shows signs of any of the issues, it is important to consider the root cause of the problem before taking the next step. The best thing for your teen may not be a boot camp setting. There are other options like wilderness adventure therapy that could be more effective.

Issues That Your Kid Might Be Struggling With:

  • Poor Self-Esteem
  • Mental Health Concerns
  • Bullying
  • Overwhelming Pressure to Succeed
  • Learning Challenges
  • Self-Harm
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Drug Abuse

What Are Boot Camps Designed To Do?

Boot camps are designed to instill discipline through structure. Many parents believe that their kid will improve with a firmer hand. They think that they have been “too soft” as a disciplinarian and that this has led to problem behaviors.

Benefits You Might Be Looking For:

  • A Strong Work Ethic
  • Purpose
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Structure
  • Discipline
  • Respect 
Adventure therapy is an alternative to boot camp for kids that is researched backed | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

While parents have the right intentions, sending a troubled teenager to a boot camp can cause more harm than good. Instead, an alternative treatment that addresses the causes of behavior can often be more appropriate.

Boot camps are often a poor choice for addressing behavioral issues because they can create trauma rather than treating the root cause. Generally, behavioral problems are rooted in a struggle with mental illness. Sending your child away to a boot camp program where they are subjected to strict discipline does not address them. Instead, the act of sending your child away is likely to cause mental and emotional trauma. The whole process seems like a punishment when they are already struggling. Alternatively, a non-punitive program is likely to be a better option for your child.

The Problems Associated With Boot Camps For Troubled Teens

Boot camps are known for creating extreme environments for their participants. Although these types of programs have been around since the 1880s, they have not proven to be effective for helping teenagers. Boot camps do not address the underlying issues that lead to problem behaviors. To address these issues, advanced clinical assessments and interventions are necessary. These types of interventions are generally not available in boot camps. Instead, they are available in a wilderness therapy program or adventure therapy program.

Ultimately parents want what is best for their child. Boot camps are designed to “toughen them up” or scare them straight. This can sound appealing, but many parents of boot camp teens find themselves facing the same and often worse issues when their child returns home from a boot camp setting. Toughening someone up isn’t effective at addressing clinically complex mental health issues.

Philosophy Behind Boot Camps

To encourage long term lasting change for struggling kids, a program needs to address intrinsic motivation. One of the main issues with boot camps for kids is that they motivate change by external means. Instead of teaching your child to want to change their behavior for themself, boot camps encourage kids to change to avoid consequences. Your child might find success within the program, but studies have shown that after the intensive structure is taken away, many teens go back to their old behaviors.

Further, boot camps do not address the family system. Many problem behaviors come from issues in the family system that include elements outside your child’s control. While boot camps motivate teens through means of behavioral modification and for eliminating their locus of control, they fail to address the deeper causes of their problem behaviors and fail to give them and their families the coping skills they need.

There is an alternative for boot camp for kids, adventure therapy | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Locus of Control & How it Relates To Teen Development

How people interpret success vs. failure has a lot to do with an individual’s belief system. Centrally, this focuses on the factors to which that person attributes to success or failure, also known as Locus of Control. This is important to understand when considering treatment options that lead to lasting change for your child.

The Locus of Control concept is divided into internal and external categories. When a person has an internal locus of control, they attribute their success to their abilities, which means that they believe in overcoming challenges and are open to the learning process. On the other hand, external locus of control attributes success to factors outside of the individual’s control. This can lead to anxiety because of the feeling that they lack power over their lives. People with an external locus of control often feel that they are not at fault and point their fingers at others to blame.

Boot camps promote an external Locus of Control. Participants are expected to “follow orders” and discouraged from making independent decisions. Without choices, teens won’t learn to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, building up self-efficacy, where your child believes that they can overcome obstacles and succeed in challenging circumstances, is critical for lasting change.

Boot Camps Use of Behavior Modification Techniques

Behavioral modification uses positive and negative reinforcement in a variety of ways to encourage a person to change their mindset on their behaviors. Boot camps use behavior modification as a catalyst for change; however, experts are now finding that these programs do not work for four reasons.

  1. The main reason is that they often do not provide a therapeutic component to their programs, and teens struggling with underlying mental health issues are left untreated.
  2. Bootcamps also lack robust pre-admission screening. Some programs are going to work better for different people. Without robust screening procedures, participants will likely end up in programs that don’t meet their needs.
  3. Boot camps are often not long enough to lead to lasting change. Habits take time to form, and these short boot camps are not allowing time for this to happen. A shorter program can be an excellent tool for assessment, but expecting a several week program to “fix” your child is unrealistic. Instead, looking into programs that specialize in intervention, evaluation, and treatment is a better approach.
  4. Boot camps use aggressive tactics that are meant to break a person down. This may help train people to go into the military but is not effective for a teen who was forced to be in a situation that often creates trauma. Breaking the will of your child is not healthy. Instead, it would be best if you worked with your child and mental health professionals towards a positive outcome. Treatment does not need to be a power struggle; it can be a positive and healing experience for your family.

Why Are Boot Camps Ineffective?

Military-style boot camps claim to offer a transformational experience for your child in just a few short weeks or months. One reason this is ineffective is that boot camps are “one size fits all” types of programs. Regardless of what your child is struggling with, a bootcamp will generally approach them the same way as participants from all sorts of backgrounds and issues. A more effective approach is individualized treatment plans tailored to your child’s and your family’s needs.

Studies have shown that treatments that provide therapy for the family unit are more effective and have better outcomes for everyone involved. When families start to work together, they can begin to form a stronger bond and learn how to best support each other.

Meeting The Unique Needs of Teenagers

Teenagers have unique needs, especially when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing. Kids today are faced with many unique challenges and often have different struggles than adults.

Currently, 1 in 5 young people suffer from a mental illness. Additionally, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, but most cases are undetected and untreated. This is why early intervention and screening is important for teens. Teens also face a higher stress and more competitive environment than ever before. It is therefore not surprising that high school students today have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s. When adolescent mental health conditions like these are not addressed, they can extend into adulthood and limit a child’s ability to lead a successful life. This further reinforces the importance of mental health treatment for struggling kids.

Mental health treatment for teens needs to be designed to meet the unique needs of this population. Whether it is academic considerations or a mental health professional that is experienced working with youth, teens will get the most benefit out of treatment if that treatment is tailored to their age group.

"Aspiro was life-changing for our son. While he was in the wilderness therapy program, his self-esteem and confidence increased significantly, he developed more perseverance and "grit", all while doing very intense therapeutic work with the staff..."
Aspiro Alumni Parent

How Can I Best Support My Teen?

Your teen could be struggling with a variety of issues. One of the most important steps is to get an accurate assessment from a mental health professional to help understand what those struggles are precisely.

Overall, kids should develop 5 core competencies that can lead them down a healthy path.


Identity Development

Teenagers strive to find a clear concept of who they are, their values, and where they fit into the social world. Many young people find that they struggle to define these areas and may fall behind in terms of identity development. Formulating these aspects of their identity has been shown to lead to greater success and happiness for teens.

Self Efficacy

Self- Efficacy is the belief that someone has about their abilities. Foundational research on self-efficacy indicates that efficacy beliefs are one of the best predictors of future performance. By choosing a program that aids in the development of self-efficacy like a wilderness program, you can improve your child’s chances of success.

Life Skills

One of the main goals of many boot camp alternatives is developing healthy coping strategies and social skill-building. When teens are given a chance to learn and practice these strategies and skills, it can help them make changes in attitude and behavior and develop strong social skills.

Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset is a belief that one’s talents and abilities can improve. People with a growth mindset believe that with effort and hard work, they can succeed.

Grit

Grit is defined as the “combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” In short, grit is: finishing what you start, being consistent, and putting in the hard work to succeed. Teens who have grit are more likely to find success. Check out the video below to learn more about grit. 

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Alternatives to Boot Camp For Kids

It is a difficult decision when to have to send your kid somewhere to get help. When you are facing this difficult decision, it is essential to consider all the options. Other types of therapeutic programs include:

Residential Treatment Center

These are mental health treatment facilities where patients live while engaging in various therapies. Residential programs are, by definition, inpatient programs. Critically, these programs take place outside of a hospital setting in a designated facility. Treatments include traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and living in a structured and often highly supervised environment.

Boarding School

This option removes your child from their environment and introduces them to a new one with a new social network and structure. While a new environment can be beneficial, a boarding school will not address underlying issues and can lead to behavior relapses, especially on home visits.

Therapeutic Boarding School

These are live-in facilities that offer education and mental health treatment for residents. Therapeutic boarding schools are for teens that struggle with behavioral problems and emotional challenges. They can also address cognitive learning challenges and have a more holistic approach than the traditional school environment. Often, therapeutic boarding schools require prospective students to have completed an assessment program like wilderness therapy to determine whether they are a good fit for the school.

Wilderness Therapy

A Wilderness therapy program is a mental health treatment strategy that combines therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment. Many programs like Aspiro Adventure are research-backed and accredited. These programs go beyond talk therapy and have individualized treatment plans for adolescents with maladaptive behaviors like substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. A wilderness therapy program like Aspiro Adventure can include an adventure therapy model. These programs leverage high adventure activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, and canyoneering to assess and treat various mental and behavioral health conditions.

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What to Look For in Programs For Troubled Youth

There are several boxes that you should look to check when considering a program for your child. Programs that are the most effective use what is known as a relational approach. They do not use punitive measures to motivate teens but instead guide them in finding the internal motivation to change behaviors. It would be best if you also looked for programs that offer individualized treatment plans that can be tailored to your child’s unique needs. These will be more effective at helping your child get back on track.

Another essential question to ask is if the program is accredited? Several organizations, like The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs and The Association of Experiential Education, provide comprehensive standards for common practices in the industry. Programs that meet these standards are known for following safe and ethical practices so that you can be confident in making a safe choice for your child. Lastly, programs that incorporate adventure into their programming, like Aspiro Adventure Therapy, have proven to be effective in helping teenagers overcome many challenges they face.

Benefits of Adventure Therapy:

  • A decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Improved executive functioning
  • Improved interpersonal skills
  • Identity development
  • Improved grit
  • Trauma resilience
  • Learning to self-advocate
  • Accurate clinical assessments

What is the Youngest Age For a Kids Boot Camp?

Bootcamps are a variety of costs depending on the length of the program. Boot Camps typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for the 30-day stay. However, as mentioned throughout this article, boot camps do not create lasting change and are not necessarily a sound investment in your child’s future. It is worth investing in a high-value program like wilderness adventure therapy that is researched, backed, and accredited.

While costs associated with wilderness adventure therapy are likely higher than those of a bootcamp, these programs provide a greater value because they create lasting change by addressing the root causes of problem behaviors rather than coercing change through punitive measures.

Boot Camp for Kids | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Why Choose Wilderness Adventure Therapy?

Wilderness Adventure Therapy is a unique and dynamic way to break through boundaries and create lasting change. Programs that implement a wilderness adventure therapy model like Aspiro Adventure Therapy can create challenges for students so they can start to forge an identity, build resiliency, and improve self-efficacy. When this is combined with traditional therapeutic methods like individual and group therapy, it is a powerful combination.

Wilderness adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure Therapy provide comprehensive, clinically sophisticated treatment in concert with adventure activities. This allows clinicians to get past symptoms and address the root causes of problem behaviors for adolescents and young adults. Wilderness adventure therapy has been shown to improve self-efficacy through a process by which youth are exposed to seemingly impossible challenges in novel environments. Through guidance, hard work, and grit, they can find success. This approach is more effective than boot camps, which use behavioral modification models that only address behaviors and do not have a holistic approach.

Further, adventure programs can address the issues in an individualized way. They are not one size fits all approach and include the whole family in the process.

Finally, with the combination of services provided at programs like Aspiro Adventure Therapy, teenagers experience lasting change.

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

Wilderness Treatment Center: Is it Right for My Family

Wilderness Treatment Center for Teenagers and Young Adults | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

What is a Wilderness Treatment Center?

Wilderness treatment centers provide a unique approach to treatment for teens and young adults who are struggling with their mental, emotional, or behavioral health.

Each wilderness treatment program is different in its approach, but typically combine an immersive nature experience with:

    • Individual Therapy
    • Intensive Clinical
    • Assessment
    • Family Therapy
    • Group Therapy
    • Adventure Therapy
    • Psychological Testing
  • Therapeutic Journaling
  • Medication Management
  • Healthy Diet
  • Regular Sleep Patterns
  • Regular Physical Activity
  • Treatment Plans
  • Positive Coping Strategies

A wilderness treatment center can serve as a therapeutic intervention to remove teenagers and young adults from unhealthy environments. Often known as wilderness therapy programs, wilderness treatment centers are designed to assess mental and behavioral health issues and provide robust treatments. Further, wilderness treatment programs are effective at bringing students’ attention to problem behaviors. They do this by highlighting how their actions are impacting those around them. They are often compared to therapeutic boarding schools or a residential treatment program. These programs are similar because they serve as a treatment facility that offers solutions for troubled teens and young adults. It is common for young adults and teens to first complete a wilderness therapy program prior to residential treatment or a therapeutic boarding school due to a wilderness program’s ability to provide an accurate clinical assessment and determine what program will best suit the needs of the patient.

What Makes a Wilderness Treatment Center Unique?

A unique characteristic of most wilderness treatment centers is that they provide a fully immersive and intensive version of therapy. Programs tend to last 2-3 months. They offer long term assessments with 24/7 observation by highly trained staff members. Staff are overseen by clinicians or are clinicians themselves.

Attending a wilderness treatment center generally involves living outside and being a part of a group. This is a profound experience for young people who are forging their identity. In this setting, they can take a step back from their troubled lives and soak up the world around them. Some programs integrate high adventure activities into their programming. For example, Aspiro Adventure incorporates skiing, rock climbing, backpacking, canyoneering, and mountain biking. Research shows that incorporating activities that are challenging, yet achievable can produce long term positive results for young adults and adolescents.

What Are The Different Types of Therapy?

Individual Therapy – This is your typical talk therapy with a masters-level clinician. The therapy type can vary depending on the therapist’s training and the modalities that they choose to use. Some typical therapeutic techniques that wilderness therapists use include: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) 
  • Positive Psychology 
  • Motivational Interviewing 

Family Therapy – Wilderness treatment centers offer a unique type of family therapy. Communication is mainly done through letter writing while your child is at the center. By communicating this way, families can be intentional with their words. Each party can process their emotions before expressing them in a return letter. Many programs also offer a parent seminar. Parents are invited to spend time with their son or daughter and go through in-person family therapy. Further, many programs are integrating online elements into their family therapy, like webinars.

Group Therapy – Group therapy in the wilderness setting is a great way to break through boundaries. Teens and young adults often feel alone in their struggles with mental health. By providing group therapy, often multiple times in a week, students in wilderness treatment centers can relate to others struggles and overcome what has been holding them back.

What Treatment Approach Does Wilderness Therapy Use?

Wilderness therapists use many approaches that are as varied and unique as their clients. They commonly go beyond traditional talk therapy and add a “hands-on component.” This hands-on component emphasizes an experiential approach. Research shows that experiential therapy is an effective way to break through barriers with young clients and promote lasting change.

Wilderness therapists specialize in working with teens and young adults and can adapt to each client’s needs. High adventure activities are used to not only break through barriers but also as an assessment tool. By observing clients participating in high adventure activities, wilderness therapists can get a better feel for what they are struggling with and how they cope with challenging situations.

What is Life Like in a Therapeutic Wilderness Camp?

At a wilderness treatment center, students will generally experience the benefits of a regular routine. They will eat healthy food, get plenty of sleep, and experience outdoor living, all within a group of students who they relate to in age and struggles. Each morning involves waking up to the sunrise, packing up camping equipment, and eating a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is often oats or granola with fresh fruits. 

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Depending upon the treatment program, students cook their own meals on individual camp stoves. Some programs might utilize the opportunity to cook group meals. What students do during the day varies between programs. Usually, the day consists of individual or group therapy, therapeutic assignments, academic work, and outdoor living activities.

Some programs, like Aspiro, focus on a variety of high adventure activities. These activities are a dynamic way to introduce novel environments and new challenges. Research shows that this process produces positive outcomes. Other programs often focus on primitive/survival skills, and/or backpacking as the primary activity. 

The groups of students will break for lunch before or during activities. Once activities are finished for the day, groups will eat dinner. To wind down, students do journaling, academic, and/or therapeutic group work. Wilderness programs generally require students to move as a group. This dynamic offers ample opportunity to work on interpersonal challenges that come up.

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Additionally, this daily routine is in line with most people’s natural circadian rhythm. Students wake up with the sunrise and go to sleep shortly after the sunset. Having this schedule promotes healthy sleep patterns, which go a long way towards better mental health.

How Do Outdoor Therapy Programs Work?

Outdoor therapy programs are a unique and dynamic way to help young adults and adolescents overcome mental health challenges.

6 ways wilderness programs affect change:

  1. Removing young adults and teens from an environment that is not working for them and replacing it with a healthy, safe environment where they can thrive
  2. Providing a holistic therapeutic approach with individual, group, and family therapy
  3. Accurate assessment of therapeutic needs
  4. Development of a thorough treatment plan
  5. Creating situations where students can overcome challenges to promote lasting change
  6. Referrals to further treatment facilities

These factors, combined with the unique pieces of each wilderness program, help create a foundational experience for young people struggling with mental and behavioral health issues.

What Is The Difference Between Wilderness Therapy and Adventure Therapy?

Wilderness therapy consists of traditional therapeutic modalities implemented in a wilderness environment. These programs draw on nature’s ability to provide perspective, natural consequences, and transcendence.

Adventure therapy is a subcategory of wilderness therapy. It draws on the benefits of participation in high adventure activities in addition to traditional wilderness therapy modalities.

Types of Therapeutic Wilderness Programs

When focusing on therapeutic wilderness programs, there are three main models to choose from: 

Nomatic Model – This model involves backpacking or hiking between several campsites. This model is set in the belief that treatment centers can separate teens and young adults from negative environments where they are not thriving. This model is designed to give students time to work through their thoughts and emotions. Physical challenge through backpacking, mixed with programmatic structure, and reliance on natural consequences form the backbone of the nomadic program treatment model.

Basecamp Model – This model is designed for students to stay or return regularly to one area. These programs often have different phases or parts of the program. The base camp model offers a home away from home to students and creates both consistency and variety for students. The variety is created by participating in different activities or traveling to different locations, and the consistency is maintained by returning to a predictable basecamp environment.

Adventure Model – While including aspects of the nomadic and basecamp models, the adventure model uses high adventure activities as the main “agent of change.” Students get the opportunity to participate in high adventure activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and skiing. These types of programs combine adventure with aspects from the traditional nomadic model like backpacking and hiking. This combination is an effective way to introduce novel environments and activities. Further, it creates new and challenging opportunities for students to practice coping skills and overcome obstacles. This has been shown to have many positive effects, including improved self-efficacy and lasting change.

Who Should Receive Wilderness Therapy?

Who is a Good Fit For Wilderness Therapy?

Teens and young adults who have been diagnosed or who are suspected of having a mental or behavioral health disorder would be a good fit for a wilderness therapy. Teens and young adults who are acting out, struggling socially or academically, failing to meet developmental landmarks, or falling behind their peers are also a good fit for outdoor therapy. Wilderness therapy is an especially good choice if teens or young adults are resistant to mental health treatment. Wilderness therapy generally has positive outcomes for those who were originally treatment-resistant.

Should Your Teen Be Sent To a Wilderness Camp?

If your teen or young adult is struggling, a wilderness camp could be a great option for your child and your family. It is an especially good option for those who have tried other treatments prior and have not found success. A wilderness camp can help the most by providing an accurate assessment of what is going on. It can be powerful to combine actuate assessment, with expert recommendations for continued treatment. Also if your child is currently behind, wilderness camps are an intensive therapeutic intervention that can help them catch up.

Should You Pull Your Child Out of School For Wilderness Therapy?

Many wilderness therapy programs offer some high school credit to students while they attend the program. These credits can often be transferred to any accredited school. For example, Aspiro Adventure offers high school credit. Therapists also observe how a student learns and processes information. This information is included in their overall clinical assessment. The majority of wilderness therapy students are struggling academically. Programs can give recommendations to lead them to an educational environment where they can succeed.

Challenges That Wilderness Therapy is Successful in Treating

Wilderness therapy is successful in treating many different mental and behavioral health disorders that affect teens and young adults. Wilderness programs are designed to provide individualized care tailored to each person’s unique situation and needs. Often, programs can place students in groups with peers who are struggling with similar issues. The feeling that your child is not alone in their struggles is healing in and of itself.

Below are some common diagnoses of people who seek wilderness treatment:

Benefits of Wilderness Treatment

How Can An Outdoor Wilderness Program Help Your Troubled Teen Or Young Adult?

Teens and young adults are in a critical stage of their development. They are putting together the pieces of who they are and who they want to become. Developing a strong identity at this age is critical to future success. Research has shown that wilderness programs aid in the development of self-identity in six steps. These include:

  • new experiences
  • mental/physical challenges
  • supportive relationships
  • increased self-confidence
  • new self-perception

When wilderness therapy students begin to experience these things, they start to forge a positive self-identity. 

Students start to replace negative coping strategies with positive ones. They learn how their negative coping skills are affecting them and those that are around them. Finally, they learn how positive coping skills can change their lives for the better.

With this comes an improvement in social and emotional learning. When students can “hit the pause button” on life, they can listen to honest feedback about their behaviors. They can put together how they affect people they love and learn what has been holding them back from fostering positive relationships.

Many wilderness programs include a family therapy component. Families start to learn their role in negative communication cycles. They can start to learn and practice improved communication. This leads to improved family cohesiveness and better outcomes for your child.

Many studies have shown that wilderness camps increase in self-esteem and self-efficacy in participants. Many young adults and troubled teens struggle with finding confidence in themselves, leading some to spiral academically and socially. In wilderness programs, participants achieve goals they never thought to be possible, like getting to the top of a rock wall or summiting a mountain. Whatever it is, they learn that they are capable and worthy of success.

Why Choose Wilderness Treatment Over Other Programs?

Wilderness treatment centers specialize in working with teens and young adults. They are experts in the area of mental and behavioral health. They often have clients who have tried many different types of treatment before without success. This can be because many treatment programs are not designed for this age group. Further, many programs are ill-equipped to handle treatment-resistant students. Wilderness treatment centers specialize in this area, as well.

How Effective is Wilderness Treatment?

Do Wilderness Programs For Teens Really Work?

Wilderness programs provide a transformative experience for young adults and teens. They offer a unique holistic approach to mental health care. This approach is thinking outside the box when it comes to reaching this population. For most teens, it is exactly what they need. Wilderness treatment is flexible and dynamic enough to address their unique struggles. Wilderness programs also address teen’s and young adults’ need to feel comradery with like-minded people. For teens struggling beyond the usual bumps in the road, wilderness therapy is likely just the thing that they need to turn things around.

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Does Science Support The 'Wilderness' in Wilderness Therapy?

The science does support that wilderness therapy is an effective treatment for most people who complete a program. A large study was done by The Outdoor Behavioral Health Council that followed participants who had completed wilderness programs 2-3 years prior.

Here are some of their results:

  • 83% were doing better, and 58% were doing well or very well. 17% were still “struggling.”
  • 81% rated outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment as effective.

More research is ongoing as more people strive to quantify the positive results that others are experiencing from wilderness programs. In recent years there has also been an interest in studying the effectiveness of wilderness adventure therapy. This form of treatment was pioneered by Aspiro and has been transformative in the field of mental health.

Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Aspiro Wilderness Therapy is a company that stands out among wilderness programs. They pioneered and perfected the Wilderness Adventure Therapy model. At Aspiro, teens and young adults participate in a variety of high adventure activities. These include mountain biking, skiing, canyoneering, backpacking, and rock climbing. All of these activities are done in novel environments. As novel environments and activities are introduced, students have the opportunity to overcome challenges.

Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will help develop the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

Navigating a 5150 Hold for Minors: A Guide for Parents

Navigating a 5150 Hold For Minors: A Guide for Parents

When your child is struggling, your whole world can get turned upside down in an instant. This is especially true when your child is struggling with their mental health or has a mental illness. If your child’s needs become critical, the situation can seem out of control, and as parents, it can feel as though you are helpless. You can find yourself in a situation where you fear for your child’s safety and know that you need some kind of crisis intervention.

Seeking help can come in many forms but sometimes includes a hospital visit, contact with a mental health professional, or law enforcement. Depending upon how these interactions go, your child may be deemed a threat to themselves or others. They could be placed on a 72-hour hold, commonly referred to as a 5150 or 5585 hold, for their safety. The need for an involuntary commitment can be terrifying for any parent and child. It is important for you to recognize that this involuntary hold is intended to ensure the safety of your child and to give professionals time to assess your child’s needs during this psychiatric emergency.

Generally, a 5150 or a similar involuntary mental health hold is just one step in a longer process. It is often after a 5150 hold that parents consider more intensive treatment options, including wilderness adventure therapy. Here is a guide for parents if you find yourself in this situation.

What is a 5150 Hold?

A 5150 hold is a common term used to describe a 72 hour hold or involuntary commitment. This type of involuntary hold is implemented by a professional concerned that your child may be a threat to themselves or others. While the names of this type of involuntary hold may vary, the intent is to provide crisis intervention to ensure your child’s safety. An additional benefit of the involuntary commitment is that it gives time for mental health professionals to assess your child’s needs so that you know what to do next.

Having your child placed on a psychiatric hold is difficult for any parent. That said, involuntary treatment is an opportunity to get professional insight into how to best help your child. Listening to mental health professionals now could be the thing that saves your child’s life.

Every state has their version of a 5150 hold. Most are 72 hours long, though this can vary. The time that your teen or young adult is being held depends on the state you live in, your health insurance plan, or your child’s symptoms. During this time, it is essential to reflect on the fact that your child is safe. Also, it is time to pay close attention to your child’s needs.

A 5150 hold is an indication that your child needs professional care. Know that you are not alone. While grounds for a 5150 hold vary case to case, some of the most common reasons for teenagers include suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt. In fact, “suicide rates almost doubled in youth aged 17 years and younger during the past 10 years and… more than tripled in girls aged 10 to 14.”

While a 5150 hold is a serious situation for your family, it can be an opportunity for positive change. While the professionals do their work to assess your child, there are some steps that you can take to support your family unit during this difficult time.

What Your Child is Experiencing and How They Might Be Feeling

Know that your child is safe. This is the most important thing right now. Also, it is important to recognize that your child is likely not thinking clearly. They are probably having a hard time seeing the big picture and often don’t understand how to help themselves.

Your child is most likely feeling isolated and may not see how others could help them through their struggles. They may take their emotions out on you or other loved ones. This is normal and not something to be alarmed by. Your child may not understand why they are being forced into involuntary hospitalization. Chances are they are not being completely rational and could be hyper-focused on getting out of their current situation.

Unfortunately, this means that your child may not be comfortable fully disclosing details of their emotional state. They may instead try and “say the right thing,” to get themselves out of the hospital. It is still important to acknowledge what your child is feeling and support them as best you can.

3 Ways to Support Your Child While They are in the Hospital

Here are some strategies on how to best support your child during a 5150 hold:

1. Actively listen to your child.  Active listening is a technique where you acknowledge what your child is saying to ensure mutual understanding before including your opinions. For example:

Child: I hate it here and just want to go home.

Parent: I am hearing that you are not liking the situation that you are in and that you want me to sign you out. Let me check in with your therapist, I want to see what they think is in your best interest before making any decisions.

2. Validate their feelings. Let your child know that it is okay to feel sad or embarrassed about what happened. Maintain a hopeful and forward-looking tone. This does not mean you need to counteract negativity with positives. That might frustrate your child. Instead, try and keep the tone of the conversations hopeful and oriented towards a better future. Advocate for your child’s needs during this time. If you feel that they are at risk for another psychiatric emergency, and it is not safe for them to come home, consider other treatment options available.

3. Practice Self-care. It is essential during this turbulent time that you take care of yourself. You can not burn the candle at both ends and be able to give your full self to your family. It is essential to do whatever it is that you need to recharge. Whether it is taking walks around the neighborhood or going to a weekly yoga class. Give yourself permission to take care of your own needs, in addition to your child’s.

Actions to Take While Your Child is on a 5150 Hold

Ask for documentation regarding changes in your child’s medication. While your child is on the 72-hour hold, a psychiatrist will call you to prescribe a new medication or to request the discontinuation of a medication.

While this seems like common sense, it is not as widely known that psychiatrists may increase or decrease the dose of already prescribed medications without notifying you. As such, it is important to ask for documentation of all changes to your child’s medications so that your child can get the best psychiatric care.

Additional Documents to Ask for Regarding Medical Care Include:

  • Lists of any known side effects of new medications.
  • Copies of any psychiatric evaluation that may have been done while they were in the hospital. This evaluation is conducted by a mental health professional. It can inform you if your child is suffering from a mental disorder. It can be useful when trying to plan for what happens after your child is discharged.
  • A discharge summary which includes essential information from the assessment conducted while your child was on the involuntary psychiatric hold.

Post Discharge Planning and Preparing for Next Steps

As your child’s discharge approaches, it is essential to start considering further treatment options to begin planning the next steps for their care. The 5150 or other holds are intended to be temporary to stabilize and assess your child. It is necessary to continue treatment beyond the 5150 hold to ensure lasting change.

This is a critical time in your child’s life, and the decisions that you make now can have an immense impact on their future. Your child might not be in favor of getting further treatment. They might not understand the benefits and instead focus on the restrictions on their daily life. That said, resolving mental health issues while your child is still young, and while you have parental control, often shows positive long-term results. As a parent, you also have a variety of treatment options.

Main Types of Treatment:

  • Outpatient
  • Hospital Inpatient
  • Wilderness Therapy
  • Residential

Outpatient: This consists of regular mental health appointments while living at home. The structure of outpatient therapies varies widely in terms of the number of appointments and duration of the program.

Hospital Inpatient: Inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital usually lasts less than 30 days. Care occurs in a mental health facility that is a part of a hospital. This is considered the highest level of care and is generally reserved for the most acute cases where patients are experiencing a crisis and are a threat to themselves or others. Inpatient hospital programs can help a patient who is experiencing a psychiatric crisis and needs psychiatric evaluation and stabilization.

Residential Treatment: This is a mental health treatment facility where the patient will live and engage in various treatments. Residential programs are, by definition inpatient programs, but take place outside of a hospital setting in a designated facility.

Wilderness Therapy: Wilderness therapy is a mental health treatment strategy for adolescents and young adults with maladaptive behaviors. Wilderness programs combine therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment to “kinetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels.” Many programs are designed for crisis intervention.

The Goal of Wilderness Therapy is to Provide:

  1. Therapeutic assessment
  2. Intervention and treatment of problem behaviors
  3. Safety & stabilization
  4. Lasting change

Some wilderness therapy programs incorporate adventure therapy into their model. For example, Aspiro, the pioneer of this strategy, uses adventure therapy to offer more opportunities for assessment, skill-building, and knowledge acquisition than traditional therapy programs. Additionally, these are opportunities to learn transferable skills that are necessary steps for healthy identity development. Finally, adventure therapy provides opportunities to experience success, leading to improved mental health, increased self-efficacy, and lasting change.

In conclusion, this is the time for you to advocate for your child’s mental health care needs. It is essential to follow your intuition after your child has been in an involuntary hold and do what you feel is best for your family and your child.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

At Aspiro Adventure, we focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

COVID-19 Update

Aspiro Adventure Therapy is continuing to support families through this unprecedented time. We are closely monitoring information related to COVID-19 and have implemented additional safety precautions to mitigate risks. Our enhanced admissions screening and program guidelines are informed by the CDC and Utah department of health. To learn more, contact us at (801) 349-2740.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.