Anger Management For Teens

Does your teen blow up every time you mention rules? Do they threaten themselves or others? Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells in your own home?

The teenage years can be a turbulent time. Teens are trying to find how they will fit into the world. It is usual for teens to desire more freedom. They will push boundaries, and can sometimes get out of control. Anger is a normal emotion. How people react to anger can say a lot about their emotional wellbeing. Anger can build over time if someone is passive or has not established solid boundaries with those around them. In other cases, teens can seem to go from 0-60 and lash out impulsively.

Like everyone else, teens experience complex emotions but often don’t have the coping skills to deal with those emotions. This article examines anger management for teens,  some of the common problems associated with anger, and anger management treatment options. This article is meant to serve as a guide for families and help them address anger management issues.

 

Table of Contents:

What do Anger Management Problems Look Like in Teens?

The first step in addressing anger management issues is identifying what an anger management problem looks like. Some teens have a more challenging time coping than others. When your teen’s anger becomes a problem, it can be expressed in many ways.

Internal Anger Expression

Poor self-esteem, negative self-talk, fixed mindset, and depression.

This is especially common when teens avoid confrontations and let the anger build up over time. This can look like sarcastic or backhanded comments but can also present indirectly with things like “forgetting” to do chores. This type of aggression can be toxic in a home.

Adventure therapy helps teens experience success and develop coping skills to help them control their anger | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
Adventure Therapy success story anger management for teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

External Anger Expression

Yelling, screaming, blaming others, and throwing things. Teens struggling with an anger problem can also become passive-aggressive.

How an anger management problem presents can vary widely depending upon the individual. It is also essential to understand that anger is generally a product of more profound emotional distress. This is critical because addressing the deeper emotion is often key to treatment.

Reasons Behind Teen Anger

Anger is often a sign that someone is struggling to process or cope with a more profound emotion. Anger is a common reaction for teens when they don’t know what to do or how to solve a problem. Teens can struggle with this more than others because they often lack experience or coping skills to cope with complex emotions. They also often lack the awareness of how to identify when something is a problem.

As teens develop, they gain more self-awareness. Learning to be self-aware can help teens cultivate self-control when they are angry. A recent study found that anger was especially common among men and younger adults and was associated with decreased psychosocial functioning. This can have serious consequences. Teens need to learn how to control their anger instead of letting their anger control them.

Almost 15% of children and teens suffer from depressive symptoms, and depression sometimes takes on the form of anger or irritability. Further, teenagers who have experienced trauma of some kind are more likely to react to situations with anger. Several psychiatric disorders can lead to increased anger outbursts for teenagers too.

These Disorders Include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality Disorders
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
  • Substance Abuse
  • Learning Challenges like Dyslexia or ADHD
Choose adventure therapy for teens who struggle with anger management | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

A recent study found strong associations between anger and bipolar disorder, drug dependence, psychotic disorder, borderline, and schizotypal personality disorders. Researchers also found that 1 in 12 adolescents met the criteria for Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). This disorder is diagnosed when a person repeats sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior, or angry verbal outbursts out of proportion to the situation. Other triggers can be grief and loss of a loved one or family issues like divorce or financial struggles.

While the reasons behind anger management issues can vary, one common theme is that they negatively impact a teen’s chances of success.

Wilderness Adventure Therapy Anger Management For Teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

What Anger Management Issues Can Lead to For Teens?

Anger management issues can often disrupt teens’ lives and knock them off track. Teens who struggle with anger management even face an increased risk of several mental health concerns.

Increased Risk of Mental Health Concerns That Include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Eating Problems
  • Problems With Relationships
Adventure therapy can help teens manage their anger and in turn, help them develop close relationships with their peers | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Teenagers who have trouble managing their anger tend to have fewer friends, more behavioral problems, and lower school grades. Studies suggest that excessive anger suppression or expression may be associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices early in life. As you can see, teenage anger management can become a problem as their anger issues cause them to feel more isolated.

In this section, you’ve learned about anger management problems in teens. This is a common issue that can knock teens off track. You’ve learned what anger management problems can look like, some of the reasons behind these problems, and some of the consequences that anger management issues can lead to for teens. While this is all great information to know, the next step is identifying whether your teenager has an anger management problem.

How do you Know if Your Teen Has an Anger Management Problem?

Anger management is a serious issue for many teens. The first step in addressing an anger management issue is recognizing that it is a problem.

There are several signs and symptoms to be aware of when trying to spot anger management problems in teens. These can vary depending upon the individual teen. It is crucial to be able to identify the signs of a potential anger management problem so that you can address it early on and effectively. 

The list above is not meant to be a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms of an anger management problem, but it is a start. Each teen is unique, and their anger management problems may present differently. It is important to be aware of these signs before the issue escalates from what might seem like a phase into a serious problem. Take the quiz below to help you identify if your teen has anger management issues.

Signs The Your Teen May Have Anger Management Issues:

  • Dysregulated Mood
  • Irritability
  • Explosive or Self-Destructive Tendencies
  • Pacing
  • Aggressive Posturing
  • Explosive or Self-Destructive Actions
  • Verbal Outbursts
  • Physical Acts of Aggression
  • Disciplinary Issues at School
  • School Suspension
  • School Underachievement
  • Isolation
  • Poor Self-Esteem
  • Loss in Friendships
  • Passive Aggressive Behaviors

Quiz -Does Your Teen Have an Anger Management Problem?

Is your teen quick to lash out when asked to do simple chores?
Does your teen punch walls, throw things, or hurt themselves when they are angry?
Does your teen seem to lose control during arguments?
Does your child get into physical fights with siblings?
Are you worried about your getting violent outside the home?
Do you feel scared or threatened by your teenager?
Have you thought about calling the police when your teen has gotten angry?

If you answered yes to three or more of the questions above, take the online assessment below to see if wilderness therapy is right for you!

Parenting Do's and Don'ts for Angry Teens

Parenting is a hard job these days. It is even more challenging if your teen is showing signs of having an anger management issue. Learning about common mistakes parents make can help avoid some heated arguments. It can also open up more communication for your child to express the root cause of their anger.

5 Common Mistakes Parents Make With Angry Teens

When you come home after a long day of work and find yourself in another heated argument with your teen, it can be hard to keep your cool. In these times, it is important to remember that parents can make a few common mistakes when communicating with angry teens.

Getting angry at your teenager will only escalate the situation. The interaction’s goal should be to connect with your child and help them process their emotions, not to win an argument.

Doing this during an argument will only make things worse. When consequences are given, this should be in a calm environment where the parent can clearly explain the consequence and the events leading to that decision. Consequences given in anger are likely to cause your child’s anger to increase.

There’s no need to get into a power struggle with your son or daughter in the heat of the moment. Taking a cell phone out of their hand or blocking them from leaving a room may escalate the situation.

When arguments arise, everyone wants to come out on top and for others to see their point of view. It is natural to want the last word, but this does not often lead to a mutual understanding. Instead, this can further perpetuate a conflict.

When an argument arises, make sure to stick with the facts and the problem at hand. It is easy for parents to get caught up in the moment and bring up past issues. Especially when it comes to your teen doing something that has broken your trust, the goal should be to de-escalate your teen so that a productive conversation can occur.

Avoiding these mistakes is easier said than done. Parenting teens is hard work, and no parent is perfect. Having a few go-to strategies is a great way to help your teen control their anger.

Tips And Tricks To Help Your Teen Control Their Anger

Coming up with strategies to help your teen control their anger on the fly can be challenging. Planning out an overall parenting strategy is key. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Be a role model for your teen. Managing your anger teaches your child how to do the same.
  • Give your teen time and space to calm down. Anger is a powerful emotion that can prevent someone from acting rationally. Anger is also generally a short-lived emotion. Just giving your teen time and space can let the intense emotions and angry behavior burn out.
  • Avoid power struggles. Power struggles between you and your teen are a recipe for disaster. Setting clear expectations can help mitigate power struggles.
  • Encourage your teen to communicate about their emotions. Emotional literacy is often an area where teens struggle. Being able to express one’s feelings appropriately keeps them from building up. Some easy ways to express emotions include journaling or statements starting with “I feel…”
  • Set up rules and consequences in advance. Rather than coming up with a consequence on the fly during a heated exchange with your teen, lay out the ground rules and the consequences for breaking them clearly and in advance. This way, your teen has a better understanding of how their actions will impact them.

If your teen is still struggling with anger management and you can’t seem to help them through it, it might be time to consider getting some professional help.

Parents choose Wilderness Adventure Therapy to help their children learn to manage their anger | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Knowing When to Get Help

If issues with anger management for your teen progress to the point where they are disruptive to their lives, it may be time to seek outside help. Types of professional help can vary from anger counseling to anger management programs.

Knowing when it is time for an intervention to treat teen anger management issues is not a science. Parents are usually in the best position to know when to make this decision.

10 Anger Management Warning Signs That Your Teen May Need Professional Help

There are several additional warning signs that your teen might have an anger management problem. It is hard to know as a parent when something has gone from a “phase” to an anger problem. Here are some warning signs that could indicate that this issue with anger management is more than a phase.

Adventure therapy helps teens develop anger management skills | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
  1. Difficulty learning new tasks
  2. Friend loss
  3. Throwing or breaking things
  4. Lacks accountability
  5. Are overly critical of others
  6. Threatening to harm themselves or others
  7. Harming themselves or others
  8. Irrational thinking or behaviors
  9. Criminal activity
  10. Substance Abuse

This section has provided a guide for recognizing if your teen has an anger management issue. If these warning signs are ringing a bell, then your child might be struggling with their anger. Parenting a teen with an anger management issue is difficult, but there are things that you can do to help your child. Next up are some helpful parenting strategies.

Anger Management Treatment For Teens

If your teen is struggling to manage their anger, despite all of your best efforts, it could be time to seek out professional help. If you have decided to seek outside help for your teen, there are a couple of important concepts to understand.

First, anger is often a sign that more is going on. Since anger is often more of a symptom than a cause, there isn’t a one size fits all kind of treatment for teens struggling to manage their anger. 

Teens and young adults can learn to manage anger through Wilderness Adventure Therapy and become happier in their daily lives | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

One consistent element of most treatment addresses how to express anger appropriately. Since teens are inexperienced in expressing complex emotions, they have to be shown how to do so. This coaching is best done in an environment that allows them to try out new coping skills and then evaluate how well they worked.

Second, coping skills vary from person to person. One common coping skill is taking some time and space to cool down. The goal of any anger management treatment is to help your son or daughter learn how to process their emotions. When they learn to process emotions they then can start gaining control of their actions. While eliminating anger altogether is often unrealistic, anger can be managed.

A therapist or other mental health professional will often integrate a variety of modalities into a teen’s anger management treatment plans. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness therapy, experiential therapy, and expression therapy. Treatment plans are most effective when tailored to the individual.

Types of Treatment for Anger Management

If you are considering getting outside help for your teen, here are a few common treatment types for a teenager with anger issues.

Teens and young adults can learn to manage anger through Wilderness Adventure Therapy and become happier in their daily lives | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Counseling 

Meeting with a professional trained in anger management counseling is a common treatment for teen anger management issues. Anger management counseling can take place in an outpatient or inpatient setting. They can also address any underlying mental health issues that your teen may be struggling with.

Stress Management Therapy

 Teen’s lives are increasingly stressful. With an ever-increasing number of social, academic, and professional inputs, teens are getting overwhelmed. This stress can often lead teens to struggle with anger management. So therapy aimed at reducing stress through relaxation techniques can be effective. This type of treatment can increase a teen’s ability to cope with new stress. Stress management therapy can give your child essential tools to address underlying issues that lead to anger management problems.

Experiential Therapies

A new and challenging environment can often be an anger trigger for teens. The stress can be frustrating and lead to angry outburst. Experiential therapies expose teens to novel environments and activities in a controlled way. They go through this while they are under mental health professionals’ supervision. With coaching, teens can learn to overcome their emotions. This can be an essential part of an anger management treatment plan.

Expressive Therapies

Expressive Therapies can help teens cope with anger productively. Channeling feelings of extreme anger into more creative activities can be effective. These can include things like dance, storytelling, art, or music. This type of therapy can often be an effective coping mechanism and help teens find a way to express their individuality.

Families are getting the help they need for teens with anger management issues | wilderness adventure therapy | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

All of these types of therapy can take place in a variety of settings. These include anger management counseling, outpatient therapy sessions, or more intensive inpatient programs. One of the most effective options for treating anger management in teens is Wilderness Adventure Therapy.

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Wilderness Adventure Therapy For Angry Teens

Wilderness Adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure can be an effective teen anger management program. For one thing, wilderness adventure therapy removes teens from their environments and allows them to focus on improving themselves. Wilderness adventure therapy also provides the space and time for teens to process through their angry feelings in a healthy way and under mental health professionals’ supervision.

Programs like Aspiro Adventure use a dynamic approach that is research-based. Their comprehensive approach includes cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management therapy, experiential and expressive therapies. Aspiro provides accurate mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your teen is getting the help that they need. These therapeutic methods create an environment of growth and learning that will help get your teenager get back on track.

Exposure to novel environments and activities at wilderness adventure therapy programs has also been shown to be an effective way to challenge teens. Exposing a teen to a difficult or new task can provoke some of the challenging anger management behaviors. In the right setting, this can give teens the chance to practice new coping strategies.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges, like summiting a large mountain, has been shown to improve resilience, grit, and self-efficacy. These are all critical elements to healthy teen development and are vital for overcoming an anger issue.

In all, wilderness adventure therapy is a smart option for teen anger management treatment. Wilderness adventure therapy’s unique environment provides customized treatment plans implemented by mental health professionals. If your teen struggles with anger management, you might want to consider Aspiro Adventure as a treatment option.

“My son went from angry, depressed, and unaccepting of his challenges to happy, and motivated to continue working on his social skills.”
Parents learn the best ways to support their teens who are struggling with anger management | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
Aspiro Parent

Helping Teens Overcome Anger Issue

Many teens struggle with anger management. Anger problems may look different depending upon the teen. It’s important to realize that anger is usually a sign that someone struggles to process and cope with a more complex emotion. Early recognition of anger issues in teens is key to avoiding further mental health issues.

The first step in helping your teen with their anger issues is identifying that there is a problem. Knowing that there is a problem means being able to spot common signs and symptoms. These include dysregulated mood, irritability, and explosive or self-destructive tendencies. It’s also critical to keep an eye out for warning signs like irrational behavior, criminal activity, and substance abuse. Once you know that your teen has an anger management problem, you can try to manage it at home. This means avoiding common mistakes. These include escalating the situation and implementing strategies like avoiding power struggles. If you are struggling to manage your teen’s anger at home, it may be time to consider professional help.

There are many treatment options available, from counseling to wilderness adventure therapy. This article provides a basic guide to understanding teen anger management problems. It emphasizes what you can do as a parent to help your child overcome them. If you are considering professional counseling and think that wilderness adventure therapy might be a good fit for your teen, reach out to the Aspiro Adventure admissions team. They are available any time to answer all of your questions. 

About the Author

  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO

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 for teens 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

How to Navigate Learning Disabilities in Teenagers & Young Adults

Learning Disability in Teenager and Young Adults | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

This article is written for parents, teachers, school counselors, or anyone needing advice or help navigating learning disabilities in teenagers and young adults. At Aspiro, We focus on helping adolescents and young adults through a variety of struggles, including, but not limited to learning disorders and any mental health or low self-esteem issues that may arise from them.

Helping You Help Your Child

​When children are having difficulties in school, parents are often the first to notice; however, knowing what to do, where to start, and where to find help can be confusing and overwhelming for many parents. If you suspect that your son or daughter has a learning disorder, early recognition and diagnosis is key to getting your kid the help they need.

Learning disabilities are more prevalent than many think. According to the U.S. Survey of Income and Program Participation, an estimated 4.67 million Americans ages six and older have a learning disability. However, only 2.4 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities, and receive services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means there are millions of students with undiagnosed learning disabilities.

As your child’s advocate, it is vital that your son or daughter receives early intervention to develop the skills needed to learn based on their strengths and way of learning. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your child’s success.

Learning Disabilities in Teenagers and Young Adults Infographic | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

What Is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a neurologically-based processing problem that may impair an individual’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, read, spell, and do math. In addition to interfering with basic learning skills, a learning difference may also interfere with higher level learning skills, including organization, long or short-term memory, attention, impulsivity and time management.

A learning disability is not a learning problem stemming from visual, hearing, or motor deficits. Learning disabilities however often coincide with other neurological disorders, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Learning disabilities often run in families, as they can have a genetic component. A learning disability is a lifelong obstacle; while children don’t “grow out of it,” they can learn skills to compensate for their learning disorder. Early recognition, diagnosis, and getting proper help early on is key to your son or daughter’s academic success.

Types of Learning Disabilities:

Dyslexia – dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s ability to learn to read and interpret words, letters and other symbols. Because dyslexia affects reading comprehension, it is colloquially called a reading disability or reading disorder. Dyslexia is by far the most common type of learning disability affecting between 5% – 17% of students in the United States.

Dyscalculia – dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to learn math facts, understand numbers, make calculations, and solve math problems. It is estimated that dyscalculia affects between 5% – 7% of students in the U.S.

Dysgraphia – dysgraphia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s fine motor skills and affects writing skills like handwriting, typing, and spelling. It is estimated that dysgraphia affects between 7% – 15% of students.

Processing Disorder – a processing disorder occurs when a person isn’t able to use all of the data collected by the senses.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) – students with auditory processing struggles can’t process what they hear the same way other people do. This can affect how they recognize and interpret sounds.

Language Processing Disorder (LPD) – Language Processing Disorder is a specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder. Students with a language disorder have extreme difficulty understanding and processing the speech and language they hear and have trouble expressing what they want to say.

Visual Processing Disorder – someone with a visual processing disorder struggles to interpret the visual information coming through their eyes. It is different from needing glasses since the eyes can work perfectly. The difficulty is how the brain processes the information coming through the eye.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NLD or NVLD) – Students with NVLD have trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination. This can happen when a person has strong verbal/language process abilities paired with visual-spatial processing abilities.

Other Struggles Related to Learning Difficulties

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) & Executive Functioning – while there is a lot of debate as to whether or not ADHD is a learning disability in the technical sense, there is no doubt that attention disorders impede learning. Between 5% – 11% of students have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Developmental Coordination Disorder (also known as Dyspraxia) – students with DCD are often called “clumsy” or “awkward” due to their poor general coordination and hand-eye coordination needed for everyday tasks. “By definition, children with DCD do not have an identifiable medical or neurological condition that explains their coordination problems.” Developmental Coordination Disorder occurs in 5% – 6% of children when there is a delay in motor skills development.

Memory Deficits – working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory are all crucial tools the brain utilizes in the learning process. If the brain encounters any problems when trying to store or retrieve information, it may be unable to process both verbal and non-verbal information.

It is important to recognize that learning disorders are not an intellectual disability. People with learning disabilities are not dumb, in fact, they are often extremely intelligent. Students with learning disabilities simply have brains that work differently than someone who doesn’t have the same learning problems.

Does My Child Have a Learning Disability? Know the Signs

The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that 1 in 5 children in the US have a learning disability. The first step in getting help for your child is recognizing the signs of a learning disability. The following are some signs to look for in your child’s behavior and cognitive performance:

Cognitive Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Often spelling the same word differently in a single assignment
  • Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • Poor reading and language comprehension
  • Weak memory skills
  • Difficulty in adapting skills from one setting to another
  • Slow work pace
  • Difficulty grasping abstract concepts
  • Inattention to details
  • Excessive focus on details
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Trouble filling out applications or forms
  • Easily confused by instructions
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Mental health problems like depression or anxiety

Behavioral Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Complaining about the teacher
  • Reluctance to engage in reading/writing activities
  • Saying the work is too hard
  • Not wanting to show you schoolwork
  • Avoiding assignments/homework
  • Saying negative things about his or her academic performance, such as: “I’m dumb”
  • Disobeying teacher’s directions
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Cutting class and skipping school (in adolescents and teens)
  • Bullying

If your son or daughter is displaying some of these cognitive or behavioral symptoms, it is time to take the next steps.

I Think My Child Has a Learning Disability. What Do I Do?

Once you suspect that your son or daughter has a disability and have recognized some signs of a specific learning disorder in their behavior, it is time to take action:

1. Talk to Your Child’s Teacher About Your Concerns

Share your concerns with your child’s teacher; chances are, he or she may have noticed some of the same things you did. Use this opportunity to collect information about your child’s academic performance and communicate openly about your son or daughter’s performance.

2. Find Out about Pre-referral Services

Before you have your son or daughter formally evaluated by a psychologist, his or her school may have an established process for providing you and your son or daughter with support. Find out what your child’s school can do or is doing for your child.

3. Keep Diligent Records of Your Child’s Education

Keep your own notes on your child’s academic development and meetings with their school’s personnel. Additionally, be sure to add all communication about your child’s academic performance from the school: test scores, report cards, and written comments from teachers. Keeping your son or daughter’s academic records organized will help you and their educators monitor his or her progress and will be crucial for their evaluation.

4. Know Your Rights

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), you, as a parent, have a right to request a free, formal evaluation for your child. Once you make a formal request for evaluation, IDEA puts a set of legal requirements and procedures into motion for his or her school district.

5. Request for Formal Evaluation under IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents the right to request a free, formal evaluation of their child. If you decide to make a formal request for evaluation, ensure that you put your request in writing.

Your local school district is responsible for the IDEA-mandated formal evaluation, even if your son or daughter is home-schooled or enrolled in private school. If your child is referred for evaluation by their school, you will receive written notice of the referral and will need to give your consent in order to proceed with the evaluation.

Under IDEA, schools have several requirements once it has been established that your son or daughter will be evaluated by the school district. The law requires:

  • You will be given a copy of the “Procedural Safeguards Notice,” which outlines your legal rights to ensure that your child receives the services he or she needs. This document is extremely important; be sure to read it carefully and know your rights as a parent.
  • The school district is required to complete the evaluation within an established period of time; IDEA requires that the evaluation is conducted within 60 calendar days of receiving parental consent; however, timing guidelines may vary by states.
  • The law sets certain requirements for evaluations. The evaluation must use a variety of scientifically proven procedures, strategies, and tools to examine each area in which a disability is suspected.
  • The school must present you with the plan for your son or daughter’s evaluation before the evaluation begins.
  • As a parent, you have the right to object to certain assessments or tests. In addition, you have the right to request that additional assessments or tests are added to the plan.

You also have the option to have your child privately evaluated, as opposed to having an evaluation facilitated by the school; however, if you choose to go with a private evaluation, the school is not responsible for the cost. As the parent, you have the right to choose whether or not to share the results of a private evaluation with your child’s school.

After your son or daughter’s evaluation, the school is required to provide you with a copy of the evaluation report. It is very important to request a copy of the evaluation report in writing.

My Child Has a Learning Disability. Now What?

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out about their son or daughter’s diagnosis; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. The key to success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based.

In addition to individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectation (of themselves and from others) are two key aspects to success. It is vital that, as a parent, you are an advocate for your son or daughter. In order to become an effective advocate for your son or daughter, you should become informed about their learning disability, their rights under the law, and ways to help him or her succeed.

What Laws Give My Child Educational Rights?

There are three federal statutes that you should familiarize yourself with. These laws guarantee your son or daughter’s access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The three federal laws include:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides special education services for public school students ages 3 to 21 who have disabilities; however, having a learning difficulty doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for special education. He or she must first go through an eligibility evaluation.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and activities which receive federal funding.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects individuals with learning disabilities from discrimination in schools, the workplace, and other settings.

Once your child is formally diagnosed, he or she may receive an IEP or a 504 Plan; however, not all students who have disabilities require specialized instruction. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, he or she may receive a specialized plan.

What Is an IEP?

IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is required under IDEA for every student who receives special education services to make sure that each student receives individualized instruction and services. The IEP is written for each student by a team, which includes his or her parents, classroom teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, and a school district representative who has authority over special education programs.

What Is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is designed for students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or an attention deficit who do not meet the eligibility requirements under IDEA. Since Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has a more expansive definition of a learning disability than IDEA does, students who do not meet the criteria to qualify for an IEP may be eligible to receive accommodations under a 504 plan. Like an IEP, a 504 plan is also a plan written specifically for each student to ensure his or her success in the classroom.

What Is the Difference Between 504 and IEP?

For students who do require specialized instruction, IDEA controls the requirements, and an IEP is developed for that student. The program document is in-depth and outlines the child’s present academic performance, annual academic goals, special services the child will receive, how the institution will track the goals, standardized testing protocol, accommodations, and modifications. The IDEA process requires documentation of measurable growth and specialized instruction.

504 plans are less involved and are designed for students who do not require specialized instruction. While a team of at least five or six people are required to develop an IEP, a 504 plan can be developed among the child’s parent(s) and teachers. They are designed to ensure the student receives equal access to public education and services. ​A document is usually created to outline their specific accessibility requirements and names of who will provide each requirement or accommodation.

Accommodations vs Modifications

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out that their child has been diagnosed with a learning disability; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. When children are diagnosed with a learning disability, parents can sometimes be overwhelmed by the educational options; depending on their diagnosis, a child could receive an IEP or a 504 plan. In addition, a child’s curriculum could have accommodations or modifications to meet his or her specific learning needs; but, what’s the difference? Here is an overview of accommodations vs modifications, and examples of how each could be applied to your son or daughter’s academic curriculum.

What Is an “Accommodation”?

Accommodations are instructional or test adaptations that allow the student to demonstrate what he or she knows without fundamentally changing the targeted skill being taught in the classroom or measured during testing sessions. Accommodations do not reduce performance expectations; they simply change the manner or setting in which the information is presented, or how the student will respond.

Generally, many accommodations can be grouped into five categories:

  • Timing: ex. giving extended time to complete a test item or task
  • Flexible scheduling: ex. giving two weeks, rather than one to complete a project
  • Accommodated presentation of material: material is presented for the student in a different manner than traditionally presented
  • Setting: ex. completing a task or test in a quiet room
  • Response accommodation: ex. allowing the student to respond orally to a written test

What Is a “Modification”?

Modifications are instructional or test adaptations that change the targeted skill and often reduce learning expectations. They may affect the content in such a way that what is being taught or assessed is fundamentally changed.

Modification may lower performance expectations by:

  • Reducing the number of items required
  • Reducing the complexity of the items or task required
  • Simplifying the material, including vocabulary, principles, and concepts
  • Changing the scoring rubric or grading scale

While parents can get wrapped up in the details of their child’s educational plan, it is important to remember that the key to your son or daughter’s success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based. Aside from individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectations (of themselves and from others) are vital to ensuring that children with learning disabilities succeed academically.

How Can I Help My Child Succeed at Home?

There are many ways you can help your son or daughter succeed– aside from being involved with their education plan and progress. Here are some ways to help your child reach their full potential:

1. Educate Yourself about Your Child’s Learning Disability

Find out as much as you can about teen learning disabilities. Learn about what kinds of tasks will be difficult for your son or daughter, what resources are available to aid him or her in overcoming those obstacles, and what you can do to make learning easier for your child.

2. Use Your Child’s Strengths to His or Her Advantage

Search for indications of how your son or daughter learns best, paying special attention to his or her interests, talents, and skills. Use these strengths to help them learn in a way that is most enjoyable for them. For example, if your son or daughter has a hard time reading information, but can easily comprehend things when listening, take advantage of this. Allow your son or daughter to listen to a book on tape or watch a video to take in new information.

3. Use Media Constructively and Creatively

Television, videos, podcasts, and other forms of media can actually be learning tools. If you can help your son or daughter select valuable programming to watch or listen to, this can be a great use of time. By watching a video or listening to a podcast, your son or daughter can learn to carefully listen, focus, sustain attention, and increase their vocabulary.

4. Increase Your Child’s Self Confidence

It is important to foster and grow your son or daughter’s self-confidence and maintain high expectations for him or her. While it is vital not to underestimate him or her, it is also important not to set unrealistic expectations. Rather than focusing on his or her shortcomings, focus on his or her strengths. In addition, make sure books are on your son or daughter’s reading level. Many children with a learning disability are reading below grade level. Foster your child’s love of reading, while making sure they do not become frustrated by ensuring that he or she is reading books on an appropriate level.

Conclusion

If you suspect your son or daughter has a learning disability, the best thing you can do is to get them the help necessary to be successful. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your son or daughter’s success.

Being an advocate for your son or daughter involves being involved in the testing process, knowing which laws your child is protected under, and helping your teenager succeed in and outside of the school environment.

Resources

Additional Resources

For additional resources on helping your child, please visit our website’s resource section: https://aspiroadventure.com/family-resources/suggested-reading/

This article is sponsored by Aspiro Adventure, the pioneer of Wilderness Adventure Therapy. Aspiro Adventure offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for adolescents and young adults with learning differences.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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Aspiro Adventure’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 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.

By Josh Watson, LCSW, CMO at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program
  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO

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

Defining Level 1 Autism: Distinguishing Why Different Levels of Care are Needed for Different Traits

Understanding the levels of autism, especially Level 1 Autism by Defining the Traits and Behaviors of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

By: Carl Smoot, PhD, Shane A. Whiting, Ph.D., LMFT, Brandon Moffitt, LPC

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as having persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.

Levels of Autism

The current DSM-5 diagnostic manual has separated the disorder into three varying degrees:

  • Level 1: Requiring Support
  • Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
  • Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

In this article, we will focus specifically on level 1 autism, distinguishing traits of level 1 autism, and how specialized treatment such as a wilderness adventure therapy or a residential program can help.

Defining the Traits and Behaviors of Level 1 Autism

Individuals with level 1 autism, without proper support, will display noticeable impairments in social communication. Common behaviors in individuals with level 1 autism include:

  • Inflexibility in behavior and thought
  • Difficulty switching between activities
  • Problems with executive functioning which hinder independence
  • Atypical response to others in social situations
  • Difficulty initiating social interactions and maintaining reciprocity in social interaction

Theory of Mind in Specialized Treatment Programs for Level 1 Autism

One of the most effective ways to treat level 1 autism is through utilizing the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind and adaptive skills-based treatment that targets executive function, emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, social communication skills, and anxiety reduction. These are all critical aspects in the field of Level 1 treatment, particularly in specialized treatment programs such as Vantage Point, Black Mountain Academy, and Daniels Academy.

Theory of Mind is the ability to accurately predict or attune to the thoughts, intentions, feelings, and perspective of another person. Individuals with autism have delays in this particular development. As a toddler, a neurotypical child will transition into a phase of cooperative play in which theory of mind begins to develop. Ideally, the child begins to be aware of the needs and feelings of those around them.  When a theory of mind does not develop, early adolescence is marked with delays in social maturation, social/emotional problem solving, and cognitive flexibility all of which play a crucial part in adaptive function.

Enrolling a teen in a specialized program that both understands and executes Theory of Mind can help these individuals with ASD become more aware of other perspectives in addition to learning social skills and adaptability.

“Our 16-year-old daughter was depressed, anxious, suicidal, and had recently been diagnosed with ASD. We were in desperate need of a miracle. The team at Aspiro made our lives whole again. My daughter THRIVED at Aspiro and made gains we never thought possible. My only regret is that we did not send her sooner. Aspiro gave my family hope again.”
Christina M.
Aspiro Parent, Florida

Wilderness Adventure Therapy and Specialized Residential Programs as Treatment for Level 1 Autism

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Additionally, for teens with level 1 autism, a credible wilderness adventure therapy program, such as Vantage Point by Aspiro, or a smaller residential programs such as Daniel’s Academy or Black Mountain Academy, can be a highly effective treatment option in helping these individuals improve their social skills, establish healthier patterns, and learn how to make smooth transitions.

Vantage Point: Short-Term Program as Treatment for Level 1 Autism

Short-term wilderness adventure therapy programs such as Vantage Point should be considered as an intervention, foundation, and starting point for level 1 autism treatment.  When students first begin treatment in a specialized program like Vantage Point, they participate in a variety of adventure activities, service, and community involvement. This helps lay the foundation for them to establish a connection with the people and the world around them. This is especially effective in a short-term specialized treatment program because of the novel and new environment.

Daniels Academy and Black Mountain Academy: Long-Term Care for Level 1 Autism

With Vantage Point and other short-term programs serving as a starting off point, long-term programs such as Daniel’s Academy and Black Mountain Academy provide students with ongoing reinforcement, application, and long-term efforts to solidify new skills. A long-term residential program is able to teach teens with ASD these skills on a long-term basis through project-based learning systems as a way to collaboratively solve problems that have real-world applications.

Ultimately, both long-term and short-term programs help teens with ASD break through boundaries, build awareness, and establish healthier cognitive and behavioral patterns. Students with ASD who enroll in a specialized treatment program learn how to reduce their stress through coping skills and learn how to increase their flexibility and improve their social skills. The students are able to make lasting change and internalize these skills through cognitive behavioral, collaboration and communication, consistency, active training, verbal praise, and encouragement.

Conclusion

Each individual with autism is unique. The level of disability and combination of symptoms can vary dramatically on the autism spectrum which makes it essential for every child and teen with ASD to get a proper diagnosis and the treatment they need. For teens with level 1 autism, a credible wilderness adventure therapy program or residential program can help refine and teach these individuals how to work through their executive function deficits through individualized care and research-based model to facilitate lifelong growth and lasting change.

This article is brought to you by Aspiro Group. To learn more about the authors of this article, click here.

About Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

The Aspiro Adventure programs are 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 all of the Aspiro group programs understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

All of our programs focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various 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. Aspiro group programs include Aspiro Adventure, Daniel’s Academy, Vantage Point, Pure Life,  Black mountain Academy, and Outback.

To learn more about level 1 autism, we recommend the following resources:

About the Author

By Carl Smoot, Ph.D, Director of Clinical Assessment at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program
  • Carl Smoot, PhD
    Carl Smoot, PhD
    Director of Clinical Assessment

The Life-changing Power of Adventure Therapy

The life-changing power of adventure therapy | Aspiro

Here at Aspiro, we have a unique adventure therapy program model. This article explains how adventure activities at Aspiro contribute to our students’ growth and how we use each activity as a catalyst for lasting change.

At Aspiro, we go beyond traditional therapy and incorporate adventure into the therapeutic model. Adventure is healing because it combines the power of nature with the tenacity of one’s own will to achieve success. Without challenge, little growth happens. Adventure is a unique and dynamic way to break through boundaries and create challenges.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential therapy that uses challenging adventure activities to aid the therapeutic healing process. Adventure therapy helps promote healthy identity development, self-efficacy, grit, and a growth mindset.

At an adventure therapy program, students get the opportunity to engage in various new activities and experience several novel environments during their stay. Adventure therapy activities at Aspiro are facilitated in an intentionally therapeutic manner. Students are doing more than just rock climbing or skiing. They learn to listen, keep themselves safe, learn emotional regulation skills, and develop grit as they push themselves to overcome challenging tasks. The challenges students face through Aspiro’s adventure programming are designed to forge an identity, build resiliency, and improve self-efficacy.

A unique element to Aspiro’s outdoor adventure therapy model is that students do not just participate in the activity; they learn how to do it themselves. This is called experiential learning and has proven effective with troubled youth. Aspiro students are not just taken rock climbing; they are learning all parts of how to rock climb.

Other key elements unique to Aspiro is that field guides have been trained to facilitate adventure themselves. The same guides that live with students all week, building rapport and making connections, are then able to instruct students during their adventure activities.

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential learning or experiential education?
Created by AEE.org

To ensure safety, our field guides are trained to the standards set by the leading professional organization related to each activity. Additionally, all of our policies are overseen by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE), which ensures that Aspiro meets the highest standards for teaching adventure activities safely and effectively.

Therapeutic Benefits of Adventure

Each student comes to Aspiro with their own story and challenges. While treatment plans are unique to each student, adventure is a part of all of them.

When we include adventure as part of a wilderness treatment plan, we see several benefits:

  • 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 for needs
  • Accurate clinical assessments

While each student comes with their own story, the adventure therapy model is versatile enough to meet each student at their level.

Aspiro students go through a process of learning, facing challenges, failing, getting back up, and eventually succeeding. This process is then combined with an advanced clinical approach. The combination has proved to be highly effective at addressing a variety of mental and behavioral health issues.

Foundational Principles Behind Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is extremely effective at helping clients develop these foundational psychological principles.

Identity Development

Identity refers to one’s sense of as an individual and how they define themselves in terms of values, beliefs, and role in the world. Self-identity in adolescence forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life.

 

Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our ability to succeed in a particular situation, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully. Self-efficacy plays a role in not only how we feel about ourselves, but whether or not we successfully achieve our goals in life.

Grit

Grit is “the combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Grit is when you’re able to harness the power of passion and turn it into resolve, persistence, stamina, and tenacity, working toward goals that endure over time. In short, grit is: consistent. hard. work.

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the underlying belief people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

A Look at How Individual Adventure Activities Help the Healing Process

Aspiro is unique because it offers a variety of high adventure activities, and a variety of locations to practice those activities. All the adventure activities are facilitated by experienced field guides. This section will give an overview of some of Aspiro’s adventure activities and their therapeutic relevance.

Aspiro Activities Rock Climbing icon

Rock Climbing – Climbing puts students into a place where they need to confront their fears, physical challenges, lack of confidence, and many other obstacles to success. They face a seemingly insurmountable wall, and through thorough planning, coaching, effort, and practice, they reach new heights. This is a powerful metaphor for them to generalize to the rest of their life.

Adventure Therapy Activities: Alpine Skiing

Skiing – Skiing challenges students to think less and be in the moment. Students learn about “flow theory” when they enter a mental state where they react to their changing world without time for anxiety or fear. This natural high is both a healthy coping mechanism and a counter to anxious thoughts.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Canyoneering

Canyoneering – Success in canyoneering is dependent upon teamwork. Team-building and creative problem-solving are critical skills taught to students while canyoneering. Taking the first step in treatment is always the hardest, and stepping into a rappel is an effective way to learn to control one’s fear and trust in oneself.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking – Mountain biking challenges students to assess risk accurately and pushes them to react to challenges as they approach. Students may find that they do not have the time to think about what the next obstacle in the trail is, and instead, trust their instincts and training. Mountain biking builds trust in themselves and allows them to learn or practice being in the moment.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Backpacking

Backpacking/Hiking/Navigation – Backpacking is a fundamental outdoor activity at Aspiro. It teaches grit and can be used as a platform to build a group culture. Aspiro students can improve their interpersonal and social skills as they experience what it is like to be a part of a group that works together to complete a common goal like reaching the top of a 10,000 ft peak.

Adventure Activities Leadership Initiatives

Challenge Course – Aspiro’s on-site challenge course is a low ropes course that strengthens group cohesion and teaches social-pragmatic skills. Student groups work together through a series of challenging tasks. All tasks require effective communication, leadership, listening, and cooperation to overcome. Through failure, coaching, and perseverance, students learn what it takes to be a team player.

A Look at How Adventure Therapy Helps Common Mental Health Struggles

Adventure therapy is highly versatile in treating a variety of mental and behavioral health diagnoses. This unique approach is useful in different ways for people struggling with different challenges.

Click on each subject below to read about how adventure therapy helps with common struggles that teens and young adults face.

For students struggling with anxiety and depression, adventure can be an essential avenue for treatment in part due to the benefits of physical activity on their mood.  For people struggling with depression and anxiety, bringing exercise into their routine has been shown to create better treatment outcomes and improve physical health. At Aspiro, students develop good habits surrounding the daily exercise routine as they learn how to do a variety of adventure activities.

Aspiro students walk away with the skills to continue any of the activities in their post-treatment lives. They will also be able to experience the benefits of physical activity on their mood.

Students struggling with anxiety and depression show particularly good treatment outcomes when incorporating adventure activities that trigger flow theory concepts. Mountain biking and skiing meet many of the requirements to regularly trigger a mental “flow” state where students learn to eliminate the thought cycle between sensory input and action. They read and react to the terrain in front of them without worrying about possible outcomes. This is nearly the opposite of anxiety. Mountain biking can create a borderline euphoric experience that is highly effective at treating depression and anxiety.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges like climbing a rock wall or rappelling off a cliff helps these students build self-efficacy. Increasing self-efficacy is one of the building blocks that can contribute to teens and young adults overcoming anxiety and depression.

Wilderness adventure therapy is well suited to address poor self-esteem/self-efficacy. For a variety of reasons, youth often struggle to see themselves in a positive light. They may have developed self-defeatist internal narratives or learned to dislike themselves.  They may have learned an attitude of helplessness in life and expect to fail.

Wilderness adventure therapy has consistently shown to improve self-efficacy through a process by which youth are exposed to seemingly impossible challenges, in novel environments, and through guidance, hard work, and grit, they can find success. This process is backed up by several studies. Including one that showed statistically significant positive outcomes over 3.5 times greater than alternative therapy methods in the area of self-concept. Another study showed that improvement in self-efficacy translated from the outdoors to academics.

This suggests that wilderness adventure therapy’s outcomes are generalizable to other aspects of life. A foundational work on self-efficacy indicates that efficacy beliefs are the best predictor of future performance; therefore, by addressing these issues through wilderness adventure therapy, one can effectively improve the chances of future success.

Relational conflict can take many forms, but one of the most common is conflict within the family. Family units are the most important structures for youth as they develop into adults. Maintaining positive and healthy relationships within a family unit, while at times challenging, is critical to overall healthy development. When relationships are unhealthy, it may be time to seek help.

Aspiro addresses relational and family conflict through the adventure therapy model. Recent research has shown that adventure therapy has a positive effect on outcomes for overall family development. These positive effects were greater than other alternative therapies. Clinicians at Aspiro take a whole family approach and try to facilitate healing on behalf of students, parents, and other family members.

Identity development is a crucial step for youth and is tied closely to ideas of self-concept and social development. Developing a clear concept of who you are, your values, and where you fit into the social world is central to achieving success and happiness. Many young people find that they struggle to define these areas and may fall behind in terms of identity development.

In a recent study, adventure therapy was shown to have significant positive effect outcomes on factors that contribute to identity development. These include; social development, self-concept, and morality & spirituality. Further, these positive effects were more significant than non-adventure-based therapies. Finally, these effects show no post-treatment regression.

This study attributes the lasting positive change effects to the adventure therapy model. It also singles out experiential education’s “active and direct use of client participation and responsibility” as a critical treatment element. The study indicates that key programmatic elements for adventure therapy included

  • the presence of, and interaction with nature,
  • use of perceived risk to heighten arousal and to create eustress (positive response to stress)
  • meaningful engagement in adventure experiences
  • solution-based focus on positive change (present and future functional behavior)
  • ethic of care and support holistic process and effect on participants.

Understanding how wilderness adventure therapy can apply as a treatment for school failure means looking beyond the academic failures and delving into the reason behind them. School failure can be a symptom of a variety of issues, from anxiety to depression to trauma.

While each case of school failure is unique, wilderness adventure therapy has shown to be an effective treatment. In a large study, adventure therapy had a statistically significant positive impact on school failure. Further, the impact was over four times greater than that of alternative, non-adventure model therapy. School failure can be a significant barrier to future success, and the adventure therapy model has shown to be a highly effective treatment.

The adventure therapy model at Aspiro is grounded in creating seemingly impossible challenges, and guiding students through the difficult, but rewarding process of overcoming those challenges. Studies have shown that this process has led to “large to very large, statistically significant improvements in behavioral and emotional functioning.” Behavioral issues can vary widely. However, the adventure therapy approach appears to be versatile in meeting each student where they are at.

All of the adventure activities at Aspiro are conducted in a group setting including group therapy. They all require cooperation, communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. These are all skills that many of our neurodiverse students are working on while at Aspiro.

Whether a student is struggling with symptoms associated with being on the autism spectrum, or from another neurodevelopmental disorder like a non-verbal learning disorder, Aspiro can provide individualized treatment plans to meet them where they are at. The adventure therapy setting creates authentic social interactions that can be tailored by staff to meet the group’s needs and allows for processing and debriefing of behaviors. Karoff et al. breaks down the reasons that adventure therapy is effective for youth on the autism spectrum or with other neurodevelopmental disorders into three elements:

  • Adventure therapy is inherently unpredictable. This provides ASD youth with frequent opportunities to engage with peers in an authentic, uncontrived way. They can engage with peers in the way while in an environment of support and trust.
  • Adventure therapy is a group-driven process that is, by nature, flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of the group and individuals within it.
  • Adventure therapy is a here-and-now approach that creates space for youth to cognitively process how behaviors and feelings experienced in the moment relate to participants’ lives beyond the treatment setting.

Karoff et al. sum up the value of Adventure Therapy in treatment for those on the autism spectrum writing, “The power of Adventure Therapy lies in experiencing real behaviors, in real-time, and reflecting on how they are either helpful or limiting to a participant’s life, and then learning new ways of behaving, thinking or feeling, and providing a space to practice those new behaviors before trying them out in the real world.”

Eating disorders present unique clinical challenges and are often difficult to manage in the home. While the presentation of eating disorders can vary, a common thread is often an issue with body image.

Wilderness adventure therapy can be an effective treatment option for eating disorders with proper planning and supervision of eating habits to address and mitigate health concerns. A research journal article (focusing on women) describes the wilderness treatment process as an opportunity to reconnect with one’s physical body.

The author emphasizes that “the wilderness experience alone is not sufficient to create a major transformation. Other critical elements are the therapeutic effect of the group process and risk-taking activities, such as hiking and team-building exercises, which contribute to breaking down the stereotypes concerning women and their bodies.” 

Eating disorders present unique treatment and health challenges, but evidence supports that wilderness adventure therapy is an effective therapeutic intervention for various presentations.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are known to cause behavioral, cognitive, and executive functioning impairments. Cognitive rehabilitation for TBIs traditionally consists of a context-sensitive method like the Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) approach.

Context-sensitive approaches aim to enhance the quality of life and minimize problem behaviors by expanding the patient’s range of behaviors. These approaches emphasize that cognitive rehabilitation must take place in natural environments. Wilderness adventure therapy can effectively facilitate cognitive rehabilitation by allowing students to practice behavior skills in novel environments.

One study on treating TBIs with a wilderness adventure therapy model indicates that “wilderness adventure therapy (WAT) relies on teaching through experience in natural contexts and, consequently, can also be considered a contextualized intervention.”


The critical elements of wilderness adventure therapy that make it an excellent option for the treatment of TBIs are:

  • That the client becomes a participant rather than a spectator in therapy.
  • Therapeutic activities require client motivation in the form of energy, involvement, and responsibility.
  • Therapeutic activities are real and meaningful in terms of natural consequences to the client.
  • Reflection is a critical element of the therapeutic process.
  • Functional change must have present as well as future relevance for clients and their society

Wilderness adventure therapy is, therefore, able to leverage its fundamental components in a way that makes it an excellent option for those looking for a contextualized intervention based in cognitive rehabilitation for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can significantly impact youth’s lives. ADHD is often associated with academic issues and school failure, relational issues, and behavioral issues. Evidence has shown that wilderness adventure therapy is both an effective treatment for ADHD, and for many of its associated issues.

A study assessing nature interactions and ADHD found that 7 out of 13 high-quality studies identified a significant relationship between increased nature interactions and decreased ADHD symptoms. Further, the study found that increased accessibility to nature showed significant positive findings in six out of nine cases and that increased exposure to nature showed significant positive findings in seven out of nine cases.

While this study looked at the overall efficacy of including nature in treatment for ADHD, other studies look more closely at some of the issues associated with ADHD and treating them with experiential therapy. One of these studies found that adventure therapy had significant positive outcomes on academics, behaviors, and social development. It is, therefore, possible to address both ADHD directly, and many associated issues in a wilderness adventure therapy model.

When someone experiences trauma, they can get stuck in what is called a heightened or arousal state. They start to feel a heightened state of fear similar to that that was felt at the time of the initial trauma. Many people hold on to that state of fear and do not have a chance to finish the arousal cycle. This is supposed to be four stages ending in a stage where they feel safe again.

For those who get stuck in this fear stage, high adventure activities can be an effective treatment. They can mimic feelings of fear and anxiety, by introducing perceived risk, and then help students complete the last phase of that cycle to where they feel safe. Any adventure activity that provokes this fear response, including rock climbing, skiing, canyoneering and mountain biking, is particularly useful in treating trauma.

One study on treatment of posttraumatic chronic stress disorder found that Nature Adventure Rehabilitation (NAR), a component of wilderness adventure therapy, had positive impacts on:

  • perceived control over illness (PCI)
  • emotional and social quality of life
  • hope
  • and functioning

Further, the study indicated that NAR “seems to work through a process of behavioral activation, desensitization, gradual exposure to anxiety evoking situations, and gaining control over symptomatology.” By engaging outdoor therapy activities, students who have experienced trauma can learn to control their lives.

Adventure therapy is an excellent tool for addiction treatment because it provides healthy, non-substance, natural high for the student. These are skills that the student can take with them into their post-treatment life. It is a healthy alternative to substance seeking behaviors and often lets them access a new network of friends who are also participating in the adventure activity. This can draw them away from negative influences that may encourage substance abuse relapse and assist in addiction recovery.

Adventure therapy has proven effective in treating youth with addictions. This is particularly effective in raising awareness of strengths, allowing for a healthy dialogue between students struggling with similar issues, promoting positive family relationships, and increasing resilience related to maintaining sobriety.

Wilderness therapy has proven highly effective in treating oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), It provides space separation to members of the family unit, slowing down the parent-child communication process, and makes room for relationship resolutions and restoration. Further, this research has shown that in strong-willed adolescent males, especially those with co-occurring ADHD, ODD can emerge in an environment where parents are unable to hold firm boundaries or set clear expectations. At Aspiro guides can provide those clear instructions, set achievable goals, and allow natural consequences to take effect. This, combined with the other factors mentioned above, contributes to the efficacy of wilderness therapy for youth struggling with oppositional and defiant issues.

Conclusion

Aspiro’s adventure model effectively addresses a variety of mental and behavioral health issues with a particular emphasis on increasing levels of self-efficacy, identity development, resilience, and grit. By achieving a seemingly impossible goal, students learn to push themselves to new highs. If you can climb a mountain, what challenges can’t you overcome?

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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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

  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO

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

Wilderness Programs For At-Risk Youth

wilderness programs for at-risk youth - Aspiro Wilderness Therapy

This article will address factors that contribute to a youth being at-risk, common behaviors of at-risk youth, and the warning signs that your teen needs professional help. We will then take a look at how wilderness therapy addresses various problems at-risk youth face and how wilderness therapy can also help their families.

This article is written for at-risk youth, their parents or caregivers, counselors, and anyone seeking help for their youth exhibiting negative behaviors that will affect their long-term path to a successful adult life.

What is an At-Risk Youth?

It can be hard to imagine defining your child as being “at-risk.” As a parent or guardian, you have done your best. You have given your child love and support. You have tried to set a good example, and you want what is best for your child. It is often easy to ignore the signs that your child may need help.

At-risk youth definition: adolescents who are less likely to transition successfully into adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Experts say that youth today face more severe challenges than ever before, with school violence, deterioration of structure in families, substance abuse, electronic addiction, and pressure from the media. Teens who have trouble adapting and overcoming these stressors can turn to destructive or unhealthy behaviors. The result of unhealthy behaviors can be detrimental to their futures. These behaviors can derail a once aspiring young person and send them down a risky path.

It can be challenging for parents who have an at-risk youth in their home. There can be more conflict that interrupts the family routine. This conflict often causes a constant feeling of walking on eggshells. Parents do anything to avoid sparking another argument with their struggling teen. Parents often wait to address these issues until things progress to a boiling point. But parents don’t have to wait until the situation is out of control. With proper interventions and treatment, there is hope. Your home can once again become a happy place, filled with trust and healthy relationships. Credible treatment options like wilderness therapy incorporate several methods to help at-risk youth. You can find peace in your family by helping your child increase their self-efficacy and better understand themselves. These increases translate positively into their home life and give you peace of mind as a parent. It helps to know that you did everything that you could to keep your child safe and their future bright.

Common Behaviors of At-Risk Youth

If your child’s behavior takes a negative turn, it may be a sign that something bigger is going on.

Every at-risk youth is different, but there are some delinquent behaviors that programs and schools use as indicators. Frequent absences from school, leading to suspension or expulsion, history of abuse or trauma, and drug use are some examples of apparent signs. Other common behaviors are not as easy to identify, yet they are just as prevalent. It can be critical to identify that your child needs help. Underdeveloped reading skills, isolating behaviors, and lying to parents are some examples.

What is essential to recognize is that some at-risk youth internalize their emotions while others express their feelings externally. Those who internalize emotions often have negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and a distorted view of themselves. It can be challenging for parents to watch their child suffer in this way. It can seem that no matter how many positive things you say to them, they cannot be happy with themselves.

On the other hand, some at-risk youth express their feelings externally. These children often have frequent outbursts of anger towards family members. They can become resistant towards anything that a parent suggests. This resistance can leave the parent feeling helpless. Both internal and external expressions of dysregulated emotions are warning signs for parents. They could be an indication to seek professional help. 

20 Signs Your At-Risk Youth Needs Help

If your teen exhibits more than 4 of the following, they could be at risk for some of the outcomes previously discussed. These can be detrimental to at-risk teens and their long-term success and health.

Common External Behaviors of At-Risk Teens:

  • Experimenting with substances or substance abuse 
  • Youth being verbally abusive to those around him or her
  • Bad peer group association
  • A struggle with basic rules and expectations 
  • Disrupted school year: school suspension, expulsion, truancy or drop in grades
  • Problems with the law or court
  • A parent is ‘walking on eggshells’ when speaking with the youth to avoid conflict
  • Sexual promiscuity and/or risky sexual behaviors 
  • Manipulative or deceitful behavior
  • Stealing from family or others
  • Lying about their whereabouts or activities

Common Internal Behaviors of At-Risk Teens:

  • Difficulty motivating the youth to do household chores and homework
  • Contemplating dropping out of high school
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies, activities, or friendships
  • Depression or withdrawal from others
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Change in personal hygiene or appearance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Severe contempt for self or others

Factors Contributing to a Youth At-Risk

Teens can find themselves in the at-risk youth category due to a variety of factors, including:

  • An underlying mental health diagnosis 
  • Family conflict or stress  
  • Community factors 

Examining the contributing factors to youth being at-risk can help to determine the best course of action for you as parents.

Personal Factors Contributing to an At-Risk Youth

Individual diagnoses can contribute to youth being at-risk. A teen diagnosed with depression may be more at risk for suicidal thoughts. Similarly, a teen diagnosed with a personality or mood disorder may be more at risk for verbal or physical outbursts. A recent trauma a teen may have experienced, such as the death of a loved one or a disruptive life event may also be a contributing factor. It is also essential to know that teens can find themselves at-risk regardless of their background. Sex, race, religion, economic status, gender identity, and sexual orientation do not exclude any teen from being at-risk.

Family Risk Factors Contributing to an At-Risk Youth

Teens can also be at-risk because of family risk factors outside of their control. These sometimes include single parenthood, divorce, financial hardships, family dysfunction, and parents who struggle with mental health conditions. These factors can put undue pressures on developing teens and can contribute to problematic behaviors

Community Risk Factors Contributing to an At-Risk Youth

Teens can be at-risk on a community level for many reasons. When they fall in with the wrong friend group, they experience bullying, exposed to pressures of social media, and succumb to peer pressure. Youth at-risk is becoming an increasing problem in the United States. It can be hard for parents to know when it is time to seek counseling and professional help for your at-risk teen. Treatment programs vary in their measurement of what precisely an at-risk youth is. If your teen exhibits the above behaviors, they could be at risk for some of the outcomes previously discussed. These can be detrimental to their long-term health and success. The positive results of youth empowerment programs are improved social skills, improved behavior, increased academic achievement, increased self-esteem, and increased self-efficacy.

Help for Families With At-Risk Youth

It can be challenging for parents who have an at-risk youth in their home. There is almost always an increase in conflict. This conflict interrupts the family routine and harmony. It can be uncomfortable for parents when they try to avoid sparking an argument with their struggling teen.

Living in such an environment is not sustainable, nor is it healthy for anyone involved. This problem should be addressed sooner rather than later. With proper intervention and treatment, there is hope. Your home can once again become a happy place. It can be filled with trust and healthy relationships. Credible treatment options, such as wilderness therapy, incorporate several methods to help your at-risk youth strengthen their self-efficacy and understanding of themselves. These results translate positively into their home life and also to your peace of mind.

Wilderness Programs For Troubled Youth

Wilderness therapy addresses many of the behavioral outcomes present in at-risk youth. Furthermore, wilderness therapy is effective at getting to the root cause of problem behaviors, rather than just treating symptoms. Wilderness therapy can increase self-efficacy, self-esteem, and problem-solving skills. Students in wilderness therapy programs often report decreased levels of depression and anxiety.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Self-Efficacy and Builds Confidence in At-Risk Youth

Building Self-Efficacy: Some credible wilderness treatment programs incorporate high adventure activities and therapy in a wilderness setting. By including high adventure activities programs aim to create challenging scenarios for students. In these scenarios, students have the opportunity to learn skills and overcome seemingly impossible challenges. While engaging in these various physical activities, the trained staff give students positive verbal encouragement and feedback, which also helps to increase their personal efficacy. 

This process has proven highly effective at building self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy, as defined by Bandura, is “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute a course of action required to attain designated types of performances” (Bandura, 1986, p. 391). Research has shown that changing one’s belief in oneself is necessary for changing behavior on a long-term basis. This is different than just building confidence. Self-efficacy is about knowing one’s ability to overcome challenges. This is based on past performance. It is more successful in focusing on the intrinsic motivation to change. Rather than just focusing on improving the behaviors themselves. 

High self-efficacy can contribute to a positive perception of one’s actions. This positivity increases motivation to persist through adversity. This increase in motivation is a positive change for a youth who is at risk. Changing someone’s perceptions of their efficacy is the most effective. It can transform at-risk youth into a thriving adolescent or young adult. 

Let’s take a moment to understand where personal efficacy is derived from:

  • Past performance
  • Perceptions of one’s ability or others with similar abilities
  • Verbal feedback
  • The person’s physical state while performing the task 

Wilderness therapy incorporates these four factors in programming and treatment models. These four factors create a unique environment that builds self-efficacy. At-risk youth start to believe in their ability to be successful. As this belief grows, the negative behaviors that were seen in the home environment begin to diminish.

Building Confidence: Confidence is a derivative measure rooted in self-efficacy. A credible wilderness program leverage the past performance factor mentioned above to work towards a stable confidence level in students. This increased confidence happens when someone proves to themselves that they can overcome obstacles. Research shows that this newfound confidence translates beyond the wilderness setting to emotional, behavioral, and academic success. They can take pride in who they are and what they can accomplish. Processing and debriefing are tools often used to help youth internalize the wilderness experience. Program facilitators lead discussions that allow students to acknowledge their progress. Students then relate these experiences to their own therapeutic goals.

Wilderness Therapy Provides a Novel and Therapeutic Environment for At-Risk Youth

A credible wilderness therapy program will provide unique opportunities for personal growth through mental health treatment. They do this while incorporating the healing effects of the outdoors. Being away from the distractions that are present in a typical adolescent and young adult life is an ideal environment, where they can realize their true potential. Research shows that merely spending time outside can improve both physical and mental health. Wilderness therapy is not just playing outdoors, nor is it a ‘boot camp.‘ Instead, therapists assess the at-risk youth’s varying needs. With this information, they can direct each step in their care. Therapists create a unique treatment plan for each student. This treatment plan is implemented throughout the process. 

Credible wilderness therapy programs take a whole person approach towards treatment. For example, at Aspiro, instead of focusing on a single problem like school failure, therapists strive to build a relationship with each client. They then can address the root causes of behaviors rather than just the symptoms.

A credible wilderness therapy program will use a variety of methods to help at-risk youth have a successful future. Aspiro, for example, uses a 

  • Research-based and results-driven model
  • Individual and group therapy
  • High adventure therapy
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Relational approach 
  • Positive psychology modalities
  • Family systems therapy
  • In-depth assessment tools
  • Transitional support/ long-term recommendations

All of these methods have been shown to increase success for those people who were once at-risk youth. Overall, wilderness therapy programs increase the chances of long-term success for at-risk youth. 

Wilderness Adventure Therapy Can Help Your Family Emerge Better Than Before

Wilderness therapy can help not only the youth-at-risk but also their families. Research shows that parent-adolescent conflict correlates with some at-risk behaviors. Therefore, the relationship between the parent and youth is an essential factor in preventing at-risk behaviors, along with sustaining healthy patterns once achieved. A family assessment and integrated family therapy are critical to the success of any credible wilderness camp.

Wilderness Therapy Addresses Family Dynamics and Patterns

Some wilderness therapy programs incorporate families into the treatment process. Working with parents and other family members can set the youth up to succeed better once they return home from treatment. Programs like Aspiro invite parents to multi-day family workshops. Families typically come after the teen has completed a significant portion of the program. This way, they can see the progress the youth has already made. Parents and teens find new ways to succeed in their relationships and as individuals during treatment. The parent workshop includes several sections. One of those sections teaches parents to limit conflict between themselves and their teens. Less friction leads to a more harmonious home. In addition to the family workshop, parents engage in family systems therapy weekly at Aspiro. Addressing the whole family system is seen as critical to the overall treatment plan for the at-risk youth.

Wilderness Therapy Leads To Healthier Families

When the parent-youth relationship deteriorates, at-risk behaviors often follow. As a way to achieve healthier patterns within the home, wilderness therapy works with the whole family system. Family units work with each other to overcome the toxicity that often exists in the house before treatment. All members of the family are guided through this process by a clinician. Once everyone can take a step back and get themselves to a healthier place there is less conflict within the parent-child relationship. As the relationship with parents improves, values become more aligned. Often this equates to fewer arguments and more communication, in addition to an improved quality of life. These changes can make all the difference.

A recent study found that youth returning from wilderness therapy programs reported significant improvements in their mood and behavior. These once struggling youth have higher levels of self-efficacy, improved confidence, and in turn, improved relationships with their families.

Conclusion

A teen can be at-risk for a variety of reasons. However, regardless of the cause or individual circumstance, it is always extremely heartbreaking and challenging for parents to have an at-risk teen in their family. As a result, many parents feel overwhelmed about how they can best help their teens. However, the road to recovery for your loved one begins with identifying your ‘at-risk’ teen, then seeking out the help they need. 

Credible wilderness therapy can provide you with peace of mind. Knowing your teen will be on a better path to health and long-term success. They achieve this by increasing at-risk youth’s self-efficacy and confidence. They can help him, or her, overcome the negative aspects of their life that have dragged them down. 

With proper support and care, your teen and your family can emerge happier and healthier than ever before.

About Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

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Aspiro Adventure’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 parents through difficulties that occur when various 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

  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO

How to Develop Grit: Perseverance And Passion For Long-term Goals

How to Develop Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

We all want our kids to grow up and be healthy, thriving, independent young adults. One of the primary indicators of whether our kids will thrive after leaving home is something called grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

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What is Grit Exactly?

So, what is grit anyway? I think it’s something that we’ve heard a lot about maybe the last 10 or 15 years or so. Ivy League professor and best-selling author, Angela Duckworth, defined grit “as the combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Grit is when you’re able to harness the power of passion and turn it into resolve, persistence, stamina, and tenacity, working toward goals that endure over time. In short, grit is: consistent. hard. work.

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Examples of grit are someone:

  • developing a hobby or interest
  • learning to play a musical instrument like the piano
  • learning to dance or play a sport.
  • working toward graduating high school or college.

Grit shouldn’t be mistaken as short bursts of intense energy. It isn’t grit if a student was able to finish a school project over the weekend. They may have worked for hours and hours, the project was amazing, and they earned a great grade. That’s great work, but different than grit. Grit strives to delay gratification until your child’s goals are achieved. It is a mindset, a focus on consistent effort over long periods of time perfecting your craft. Grit is a willingness to embrace the daily grind in order to achieve long-term goals.

Grit is a little different than IQ which tends to be a little bit more fixed. Grit is something that actually can be developed, harnessed, taught, and most certainly improved throughout the course of someone’s life.

Benefits of Developing Grit

There are two benefits that come to mind when I think about developing grit. The first thing that stands out for me, is that grit prepares and conditions us for long-term success. That can be carried over into graduating college, career development, family relationships.

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A second natural benefit is that grit absolutely can overcome talent deficiencies. However, it is on rare occasions that I’ve seen that talent can overcome grit deficiencies. Here are a couple of examples of how grit may apply. Let’s say someone struggles with some academic learning, you may have a child that really struggles in that way. so what grit can teach is the ability to figure out things like taking notes is really hard, how do I figure out how to study 50 pages for an exam? How do I take out the themes or highlight the points? And then I can continue to improve and get better at those particular tasks and develop a growth mindset that will take me through high school or college graduation and prepare me for a career.

What if you have a child who struggles with some social or emotional learning? Or somebody who might be really bright but struggles socially with school? Maybe they’re very anxious, struggle with performance anxiety, or social anxiety really hinders school. How can grit help them?

I think that for most of us, when something is uncomfortable, or when we are not good at something, we I would shy away from them. Grit helps to bring about an opportunity to practice over a consistent period of time dealing with the very things that might be difficult. Again, contrary to the notion that we should shy away from things we’re not good at, grit would have us develop the skill necessary to become competent in those areas.

What if your child has a lot of talent and gets good grades? You may still be a little concerned about how much grit they have. What if they haven’t been challenged enough academically, socially or emotionally? And what happens when they get to college and school isn’t easy anymore? I think that’s the fear for all of us.

Grit becomes really critical to help insulate our kids in these challenging situations.

How to Develop Grit

Far too soon, our kids will be out in the world, deciding what activities to spend their time all on their own.  If our children are able to master this self-directed focus while living at home, in an environment that is safe for them to fail and learn, then they will thrive when they go out on their own.   Something we need to remember that as parents we can’t actually control our children. We can’t make someone develop grit.  We can persuade and influence and we can punish and reward. But in the end, if our kids don’t want to do something, we can’t physically make them do it.

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For example, if you have a piano player in the house who does not enjoy practicing. You as a parent may decide, “I am going to help them develop grit because I will make them go to the piano practice.”  Probably the only person in that scenario that may be developing grit would be you, the parent. You are the one who has to deal with the arguments, the frustrations, even the tantrums about practicing the piano.

However, there are several things you can do to create an environment that fosters grit development.

1. Start with Passion

If you are just starting to help your child develop grit, try focusing on an area they are passionate about.  If you want them to strengthen their intrinsic motivation, it helps to start with something they already want to do. If they love music, get them playing an instrument.  Or if they love sports, sign them up for a team. But guide them toward something that will take consistent & prolonged effort.

The goal is not to make them hate life, it is to help them understand that it is okay to sacrifice comfort to get something they passionately want.

2. Use Commitments & Contracts

For most of us, the first time an activity is hard or difficult, or we make a mistake, or we feel embarrassed, the tendency is to think, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore.” It is in these moments when your son or daughter may say, “Hey, I went. I hated it and I’m never going back again.” They’ll want to quit an activity, not because they stopped wanting the outcome, but because the effort is hard.

Rather than allowing them to quit in midstream, try anticipating this situation talking about ahead of time. Make an agreement with your child before signing up for a particular sports team, hobby, or interest.  Let them know that there are two price tags for these types of activities: a financial price tag and a time/effort price tag. Let them know that you may be willing to pay the financial cost, but only if they are willing to pay the cost of time and effort.  Then talk about how it needs to be a sustained effort for whatever time period you are comfortable with. Maybe it’s three or four weeks, or maybe it’s three months depending on the activity. Just help them commit to an honest effort and attempt.

Again, the goal is not to make them suffer, but to help them be okay with discomfort while striving for something they want.

3. Help Them Understand Delayed Gratification

You could say that grit is just our ability to delay gratification, to sacrifice immediate gratification so that we can achieve long term goals.  When your son or daughter wants to quit something because it is hard, first help them remember why it is they started in the first place. Try to help them visualize what it will be like to win the championship, walk across the stage to get the diploma while their name is being called over the speakers and everyone is standing up cheering for them or to play that difficult musical arrangement at the next recital. This is why it is so important to start with setting a clear goal, something your child wants to accomplish.  It gives them something to hold in their imagination and look forward to when times get tough.

Second, help your son or daughter recognize and be mindful of the immediate rewards they are already receiving.  Can they recognize the value of the friendships they are making by being a part of a team? Or can they find joy in the fact they did better this week than last week? Most experiences are not all good or all bad.  When we validate our kid’s struggles while helping them find the good, it makes it much easier for them to persevere.

4. Develop Self-efficacy

It is difficult to keep working toward a goal if you don’t believe you can actually accomplish it.  Self-efficacy is the belief that one can accomplish difficult things. Higher levels of self-efficacy are linked to greater motivation and positive thinking skills.

Your son or daughter can develop self-efficacy just by trying to do things they previously thought were impossible. We see this all the time with the students at our program. These adolescents and young adults believe that “If I completed all of these difficult tasks during wilderness therapy, I can do other difficult things!”  Our students do things they never thought possible before coming to an adventure therapy program. They master many activities that initially terrify them, including rappelling, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. With each activity, their belief in themselves grows. They not only believe they can do hard things, they know it.

Upon returning home, this confidence in their ability to do hard things helps fuel their commitment to school, family relationships, and other goals.  Self-efficacy is key to developing grit.

5. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Similar to self-efficacy, a growth mindset is a belief that one’s talents & abilities aren’t fixed.  This means that knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities can all be grown and improved depending on how much effort we put into developing them.  For example, someone with a fixed mindset may say, “I’m not good at math.” But someone with a growth mindset would say, “I’m not good at math yet.”  Here are two ways to develop a growth mindset and build grit:

Value Effort over Talent

Students today, particularly in our society, are highly praised for their achievement, test scores or talent. Instead, we may want to focus more on praising their effort. As parents we must ask ourselves, can we value hard work, can we value effort more than talent?  

I think we tend to get sort of enamored with talent and how amazing our kids are. If they start to see success, instead of focusing on how their achievement or talent, try honoring, praising, and rewarding their perseverance.  You may say, “Wow, you have practiced that a lot! No wonder the recital went so well” instead of commenting about how smart or talented they are. Continue to focus on the effort and tenacity that it took to achieve the goal.

Change How We See Failure & Stop Rescuing

This is kind of a paradigm shift for a lot of us, but to help our children learn a growth mindset we might need to let them fail.  An effective way to treat anxiety is called exposure therapy. This therapy slowly exposes people to their fears in incrementally increased doses until a thing no longer holds any power over them.  When we let our kids fail, it is kind of like providing a form of exposure therapy. We’re able to reframe failure from something to be feared and turn it into something that is necessary to learn and grow.

Let failure be an event, not a person. By allowing the process of failure to be a catalyst for teaching, our kids develop even more stamina and resolve.  Many of us have heard of the example of Edison and the light bulb. And it wasn’t about that he failed 1000 times, but that he found 999 ways not to make a light build.  By positively exposing your son or daughter to failure at an early age, you prepare them to handle the difficult situations they will face when they go out on their own.

And as a parent myself, I get it. This process is painful for us as parents. We want to rescue our kids from the pain of failure.  However, I don’t know that there is a better teacher than pain or failure or shortcomings. What we must not do is lift them up and carry them beyond those limitations and those failures.  We must not be helicopter parents or lawnmower parents, but rather failure to be the great learning experiences that can teach grit and long-term success. And success is growing/going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm

6. Validate Painful Emotions While Showing Encouragement

Despite the fact we want our children to be comfortable being uncomfortable, we don’t want to negate what they are feeling.  Trying new things is hard. Failure is painful. And having grit doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain. It’s okay to feel hurt or frustrated.  We all have those feelings. The difference is that people with grit push through the discomfort and pain until they achieve their goals.

If your son or daughter is struggling to push through the struggle, first try to validate what your child is feeling.  Share with them your experiences trying new things.  Let them know that you understand how they feel. But, your goal is not to rescue them from the hard feeling but to strengthen their ability to handle difficult emotions.

Secondly, tell your son or daughter that you are confident they will be able to succeed.  It can be helpful to share specifics as to why you are confident. For example, you may say, “I know how difficult this is for you.  Learning new things can be hard and scary, even for me. I remember how you practiced so hard for your last recital and it turned out wonderfully.  I know if you keep practicing, you can master this piece too. I believe in you.”

And here is the hard part, our actions also need to show we are confident in their abilities.  We can’t tell them they are capable and then rescue them by helping them escape the discomfort or doing the task for them.

Conclusion

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Your child’s grit, or their ability to focus their perseverance and passion for long-term goals, might be a better predictor of future success and academic achievement than their intelligence. And while you can’t force your child to develop grit, through deliberate practice you can help your child develop grit.

Please contact us at (801) 349-2740 to learn more about how wilderness adventure therapy can help your son or daughter develop grit, overcome behavioral struggles, and heal your family relationships.

Additional Resources

About the Author

  • David Mayeski, LCSW
    David Mayeski, LCSW
    Family Services Director

Why is Teen Identity Development Important?

Why Teen Identity Development is Important | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

The importance of identity development for teens is huge.  The development of a confident and stable sense of self is one of the key tasks of being a teenager. The teenage years are usually the first time an individual begins thinking about how their identity may affect their future and their life. This results in many teens becoming extremely self-conscious about themselves and the way others see them and can result in a self-discovery and experimental stage.

Some teens are able to learn to develop and discover their identity in a healthy and age-appropriate way. However, for other teens, the time of identity formation results in participation in risky and promiscuous behaviors that could potentially have a negative and lasting effect on their lives.

Participation in harmful and inappropriate behavior can be very concerning for parents of troubled teens. However, it’s important for parents of troubled teens to remember that all teens can become healthy and happy once again with proper treatment. A credible adventure therapy program teaches teens healthy patterns of thought and action that can replace harmful and risky behaviors with positive and healthy attitudes, relationships, and a greater sense of self.

What is Teen Identity Development?

Identity refers to one’s sense of as an individual and how they define themselves in terms of values, beliefs, and role in the world. Self-identity in adolescence forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life. A teen’s identity is the result of various internal and external factors. Though a teen has some control over their identity development, teen identities are also formed by environmental forces outside of their control: peers, family, school, ethnic identity, and other social environments. A developmental psychologist, James Marcia, advocates that teen identity development occurs in response to crises in domains such as school, relationships, and values.

Teen identity develops as teens try out different roles and attitudes in different settings, such as home, school, and social atmospheres which allows teens the opportunity to explore their own values, belief systems, personal ethics, spirituality, sexuality, and gender.

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Why is Teen Identity Development Important?

Identity formation in teens is about developing a strong sense of self, personality, connection to others and individuality. Therefore, a positive teen self-identity is vital because it shapes a teen’s perception of belonging not just for their teen years but for most of their adult life. In addition, a positive self-identity is correlated with higher self-esteem. Positive reinforcements of effort, good choices, and perseverance from parents can help adolescents develop a strong sense of self.

Erik Erikson, a psychologist, argues that if a teen does not establish what their personal beliefs and values are then they will have an identity crisis. Erikson believes identity development is a key process for teens and that a failure to establish identity leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self later in life.

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5 Common Ways Troubled Teens Display Their Self- Identity Issues

As a way to navigate the stress and confusion that comes with identity development some teens, turn to outside signs and symbols to help them define their identity. Les Parrott, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, developed the five most common ways in which teens demonstrate their struggles with identity.

Examples of Identity Issues

The 5 most common ways teens display issues with self-identity include:

  • Seeking Status Symbols: Includes clothing and possessions to create a sense of positive affiliation
  • Forbidden “Grown-up” Behaviors: Some teens believe that appearing mature will bring acceptance, so they begin engaging behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and sexual activity.
  • Rebellion: Many teens use rebellion as a way to show that they are different from their parents and to be accepted by their peers.
  • Idols: Some teens may identify with a famous person and as a result, try to become like that person. As a result, they lose hold of their own identity.
  • Cliques: Teens who are forming their identity will often form cliques because they do not want to be associated with anyone with undesirable characteristics.

Again, there are a variety of ways that teens experience identity formation, some experiences being more harmful than others. In the sections below, we discuss the more serious issues in teen identity development and how parents can help.

How Parents Can Help Their Teenager Form a Positive Self-Identity

Parents are very important in terms of teen identity development. Teens with close relationships with their parents have lower rates of experimentation with drugs and risky sexual behaviors (Teen Connection, Mental Health, and Youth, PBS). For your teen, the process of teen identity development can be a stressful time and can lead to one feeling overwhelmed and unsure. Providing your child with a caring and accepting adult influence, whether you are a parent, relative, or teacher, is critical in securing a healthy identity development. Simply spending time with your troubled teen is one of the most important roles you can play in their life. The consistent and caring influence and presence of adults in an adolescent’s life is one of the best ways to ensure a seamless transition to adulthood.

Parents can help their troubled teen develop a positive self-identity in the following ways:

  • Model healthy lifestyle habits and skills to manage stress
  • Teach healthy ways to handle life disappointments
  • Avoid making comparisons between your teen and others
  • Give your teen compliments or positive reinforcement
  • Encourage and promote healthy sleep habits for your teen
  • Hold boundaries with your child while communicating love for them as a person

When parents have exhausted the above methods and still continues to see their teen struggle to form their identity, it may be time to seek professional help. One of the best treatment options in helping struggling teens develop a positive self-identity is through a credible adventure therapy program. Adventure recreation has a long history as an intervention used to promote positive change in promoting healthy identity development in teens.

How Can a Wilderness Program For Teens Help Your Family?

Though it can be hard for parents to let go and acknowledge their teen needs external help, a credible adventure therapy program can relatively quickly and positively change your son or daughter’s life for the better. Psychologist Erik Erikson advocated that teen identity development is fostered by experiences that allow individuals to express their individuality and receive feedback and validation from others.

Adventure therapy programs provide experiences that promote healthier relationships and positive identity formation in teens. A credible adventure therapy program can also positively affect a teen’s self-perception, confidence, and leadership skills by providing unique experiences and challenging opportunities that develop competence and confidence from within.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Healthy Teen Relationships

The activities of a wilderness therapy program include unique experiences such as rappelling, rock climbing, and mountain biking. These experiences provide a novel and prime opportunity for teens to develop their identity and learn how to relate to others in a healthy and positive way. Research shows the scope of adventure activities led individuals to drop their social facades and allow teens to become more open to self-reflection and feedback from others (Taniguchi, 2004). Furthermore, a credible adventure therapy program allows troubled teens with a unique opportunity to develop meaningful friendships with peers and adult therapists because many of the activities require participants to work together in teams in order to succeed.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Confidence in Teens

Adventure therapy also promotes confidence in teens. When a teen participates in a challenging activity, they see they can overcome obstacles and activities that seem difficult at the start, such as rock-climbing, hiking, or backpacking. Pushing past a physical boundary can increase the youth’s self-esteem and teach them they can do hard things.

In learning that they can overcome difficult odds, their perceptions of themselves and their personal abilities are improved. They can take pride in who they are and what they can accomplish. While engaging in these various physical activities, the trained staff give them positive verbal encouragement and feedback which also helps to increase their personal efficacy. Processing experiences during and after activities with therapists help teens internalize the experiences they are having and relate them to their sense of self.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Positive Identity Formation in Teens

Research shows that providing teens with opportunities for self-expression, feedback from others, new experiences, skill acquisition, and self-reflection can help facilitate positive identity development in teens (Duerden, Mat. Widmer, Mark. “Adventures in Identity Development: The Impact of Adventure Recreation on Adolescent Identity Development, 2009). A credible adventure therapy accomplishes this through organized adventure activities that challenge the individual just enough to promote positive identity development. Within this spectrum of organized activities, a credible adventure therapy program teaches teens how to overcome challenges and develop a sense of competence, both of which promote identity development in teens.

Additionally, the recreational activities in an adventure therapy program, such as hiking or biking, can play a critical development role for teens because it provides a context to participate in a challenging activity that will positively contribute to identity development and self-confidence. Along the way, a credible adventure therapy program will provide the teen with experienced and caring therapists to provide helpful tools and feedback that can positively impact their identity development.

Conclusion

The process of forming an identity is a critical task of adolescence. Teen identity formation involves one learning how they want to express themselves and their personality in their own unique way. This process can lead to some teens making choices that disappoint the expectations of some of your family or friends. Parents of troubled teens should ensure they are providing their teen with love, support, and healthy boundaries that promote healthy development.

However, when the choices your teen makes become harmful to themselves or others, it may be time to seek external help. A growing body of findings suggests that the organized activities a credible adventure therapy program offers can provide teens with lasting benefits in establishing healthier patterns and can assist teens in positive identity formation. With proper help, your teen can become their best self and feel content and confident in their own skin.

To learn more about why teen identity is important, download our FREE white paper today by following the link below.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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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

  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO
Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.

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.

Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.

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.

Carl Smoot, PhD
Director of Clinical Assessment

Carl began working in mental health in 1990 and soon thereafter entered a Ph.D. program in Psychology at the University of Utah. After completing his degree, he supervised three school-based mental health programs around the island of O’ahu. Carl moved back to Salt Lake City because of his love of the outdoors and opportunities to work in wilderness programs completing psychological evaluations. He has an in-depth knowledge of learning and developmental disorders, as well the ways they interact with mental health and other adjustment problems. At Aspiro since 2012, Carl runs a weekly supervision meeting, mentors field guides, consults on difficult cases, and completes psychological evaluations.

Away from work, Carl enjoys fly fishing and duck hunting. He has been married for twenty years to Dr. Tracine Smoot. Together they have three children and one grandchild.

Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.

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.

Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.

David Mayeski, LCSW
Family Services Director

Also specializes in: Family Systems Work / Understanding Family Roles, Dynamics and Power Struggles / Genograms

David comes to Aspiro with almost 20 years of experience working with families in therapeutic programs. Originally David received his Bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics and went on to earn his Master of Social Work.

Prior to joining Aspiro, David served in many capacities at highly respected residential treatment centers as a primary therapist, Admissions Director, and Clinical Director. After working as a primary therapist for two years, he was awarded his License in Clinical Social Work (LCSW) in 2003 and has continued practicing therapy with students and their families. His desire to help families heal and overcome obstacles, his years of experience, and his clinical sophistication, make him the perfect match as the Family Services Director where he continues to help families heal through parent coaching, therapy sessions, webinars, and during groups over Aspiro’s Parent Seminars.

David is passionate about helping others and guiding families through their journey of connecting and healing as a system. David enjoys talking politics, playing a round of golf, and especially cherishes time with his beautiful wife and three children.

 

Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.