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 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 an at-risk youth program. 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

Boot Camp for Teens: Is There a More Effective Solution?

Boot Camp For Teens There is a Better Solution | Asprio Adventure Therapy

​When a child is struggling, there is nothing a parent wouldn’t do to help. And when parents have exhausted all of their resources and don’t know where to turn, some decide to turn to more extreme treatment methods, such as a boot camp for teens, to help their struggling child.

Teen boot camp programs are designed to emulate the tactics used in military schools and boot camps. The troubled teen program offers fast results for parents who have lost control of their son or daughter. While boot camps are effective at building strength and discipline, teen boot camps typically do not have a therapeutic model to address the underlying issues behind teen defiance and rebellion. This leaves many asking, “Why do parents send their troubled teens to a boot camp in the first place?”

In many cases, at-risk youth are sent to private boot camps to remedy an undesirable behavior. Whether the behavior is substance abuse, anger, defying authority, academic underachievement, or breaking the rules, there is likely a deeper, underlying emotional issue that should be addressed.

What is a Boot Camp for Teens?

Teen boot camps are short-term, highly structured military-style rehabilitation programs. They are designed to use military training, authoritative teaching methods, rigorous exercise and physical activity, and strict discipline to turn around defiant, angry, or even destructive children. The hope is that the troubled teen will go back home with the attitude of a “good soldier.”

Designed to teach troubled teens to respect authority and to learn to deal with their consequences, boot camps push teens to their physical extremes. Sometimes, however, they may push too far. While these programs may prove effective for teens who want to attend to become more disciplined, teen boot camps are not an effective therapeutic treatment program for teens who are truly struggling– whatever their struggle may be.

Why Aren’t Boot Camps Effective in Helping Troubled Teens?

If a teen is truly in crisis, a boot camp program is not the most effective treatment program for him or her. Boot camps lack the sophisticated clinical model and individualized treatment plans that other, more therapeutically effective treatment programs have. The following are reasons boot camps are not effective in helping truly troubled teens.

Since boot camps are not a sustainable model for troubled youth once they are back in the “real world,” teen boot camps do not deliver lasting results. Additionally, teen boot camps stress following orders and do not foster a sense of autonomy, responsibility, or well-being in their participants. These are all vital aspects and the foundations behind achieving life-long change.

2. Boot Camps for Teens Do Not Involve the Family

Since teen boot camps do not involve the entire family in treatment, they do nothing to improve the family dynamic; improving the family dynamic is likely a large part of why teens are sent to boot camps in the first place. In addition to not addressing the family dynamic, sending a teen in crisis away may make him or her feel misunderstood or deserted in their time of need.

3. Boot Camps Do Not Teach Coping Strategies to Help Teens Through Struggles

Since boot camps use exercise, structure, strict schedules, and punishment to motivate teens, rather than using counseling and therapy to work through their struggles, teens leave boot camps without the proper coping mechanisms to help deal with their individual struggles in the “real world.”

4. Boot Camps are a “One-size-fits-all” Approach

While every teen in crisis has a different struggle, background, and story, boot camps have one method to treat each individual. In fact, Keith C. Russell, a leader in outdoor behavioral healthcare research, has noted that recent research shows that “boot camp approaches are not effective in treating adolescents with substance abuse disorders, and that practices used in boot camps can be considered cruel and unusual.” (Russell 2001)

5. Boot Camps for Teens Do Not Directly Address Troubled Teens’ Real Problems

Teens who attend boot camps are often sent to remedy an undesirable behavior, such as substance abuse, anger, defying authority, academic underachievement, or breaking the rules; however, with these behaviors there is likely a deeper, underlying emotional issue that should be addressed.

A teen who is acting out and running away or experimenting with drugs and alcohol may be covering up a more serious undiagnosed mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. A teen who is performing poorly at school or skipping class may have an undiagnosed learning disorder or attention deficit. Boot camps do not address these potential underlying issues.

Signs a Troubled Teen Needs Treatment

Teenage years can be rough for parents and teens alike. Often times, it can seem like teens are on an emotional roller coaster, as this is a dynamic time in one’s life. It is perfectly normal for teens to display typical teen behavior, such as mood swings, an increased peer influence, and a changing appearance; however, there are some red flags that parents should keep an eye out for.

While teens are likely to turn to their friends rather than their parents for advice on making choices, a sudden change in their entire peer group could be a red flag, especially if the newfound friends are having a negative influence or encourage bad behavior. In addition, young people may want to express their newfound individuality by dying their hair or trying a new style of clothing; however, an extreme change in appearances, such as an extreme weight loss or gain could signify a bigger problem. Here are some other red flag signs to look for in a troubled teen:

  • Secretive behavior, deception, or lying
  • Unexpected/unexplainable decreased or failing academic performance
  • Spending too much time sleeping
  • Significant changes in appetite or eating patterns (skipping meals, avoiding food)
  • Excessive Isolation
  • Regularly missing curfew
  • Stealing
  • Skipping school
  • Body image issues
  • Promiscuity
  • Significant disregard for personal hygiene
  • Withdrawal from favorite sports or activities
  • Excessive outbursts
  • Self-mutilation (cutting) or mentioning hurting him or herself
  • Extreme defiance
  • Bullying others
  • Experimenting with alcohol and drugs
  • Loss of self-esteem/extreme self-loathing

If a teen is displaying some of these red flag signs, it may be time to think about an appropriate treatment program, as these could be signs of a mental illness, destructive behavior, substance abuse problem, or eating disorder. While some parents may be tempted by the quick turnaround that many teen boot camps offer, these serious issues should be addressed more therapeutically.

Are There More Effective Therapeutic Treatment Options?

If your son or daughter is truly struggling with a mental illness, substance abuse, emotional, cognitive, or developmental issues, a teen boot camp may not be the most ideal or effective treatment option for him or her.

There are more effective and therapeutic programs out there for teenagers who need personalized care to work through their issues. Depending on the type and severity of issue(s) your son or daughter is facing, there are many therapeutic options available.

If your teen’s issues are severe enough that you are considering placing him or her in a teen boot camp, you should know that there are many types of therapeutic residential treatment programs available. Residential treatment centers and therapeutic programs have proven effective at getting to the root of the issues that teens face.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

One of these treatment options is a wilderness therapy program. The popularity of wilderness therapy programs has increased over the past few decades. The increase in wilderness therapy’s popularity is due to its ability to aid individuals in overcoming emotional, behavioral, and cognitive issues.

A large part of the effectiveness of wilderness therapy programs is due to the individualized, therapeutic methods of helping each teen work through his or her own personal issues. In fact, “the design and theoretical basis of a wilderness therapy program should be therapeutically based, with assumptions made clear and concise in order to better determine target outcomes and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention” (Bandoroff & Scherer, 1994)

What Makes Wilderness Therapy so Effective in Helping Troubled Teens?

There are several attributes of wilderness therapy that make this type of treatment especially effective in addressing the underlying issues troubled teenagers face while creating lasting change.

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Using the Wilderness and Unfamiliar Environments to Create a Unique Experience

One aspect that makes wilderness therapy an extremely effective method of treatment is the use of the wilderness and adventure activities to challenge teens. Living in the wilderness is such a novel, unfamiliar environment and experience for many teenagers, allowing them to leave the pressure and stress of their everyday lives behind them. Research has shown that simply being exposed to the wilderness has positive effects on individuals’:

  • self-discipline
  • executive functioning
  • attentional functioning
  • ADHD symptoms
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking

Giving Teens an Opportunity to Form New Bonds and Relationships

Wilderness therapy offers teens the opportunity to form both peer bonds with other teens and mentor/mentee relationships with wilderness therapy staff. Since wilderness therapy takes place in a group setting, each struggling teen has the opportunity to bond with other teens who are going through similar struggles and facing the same obstacles through wilderness therapy. The group setting allows group development processes to facilitate learning.

In addition to the close bonds formed with other teens participating in therapy, wilderness therapy provides troubled teens the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with positive role models in the form of wilderness therapy guides and counselors.

"My life is amazing. Aspiro has changed everything. I now know how to climb every mountain. Thank you Aspiro for making me realize so much about my life and how to deal with anger."

– Brian, a former student at Aspiro

Allowing Teens to Experience Natural Consequences

Another aspect of Wilderness Therapy that makes treatment so effective is exposing teens to natural and logical imposed consequences. Recognizing and experiencing the natural consequences and logical imposed consequences have a great impact on developing intrinsic motivation. Teens must understand how the consequence relates to their actions for this to develop. An effective wilderness therapy program should help students understand the connection between their choices and consequences; cause and effect.

As such, it is vital for wilderness therapy programs to utilize natural and logical consequences. These facilitate intrinsic change and greater insight for self-governance. Programs for troubled teens should allow, as long as it is not a safety risk, the natural consequences of a student’s choice to occur.

A natural consequence is a direct result of a choice, without any imposed consequence. For example, if a student chooses to not build a shelter when the staff tell them it is going to rain, the consequence is they and their belongings get wet.

At times, logical consequences may be necessary to impose, if it makes sense for the offense. For example, a group’s members are dawdling when it is time to pack up camp in the morning, causing them to get out of camp late; a logical consequence is the group wakes up earlier to allow for the group to get out of camp by the set time.

Offering Adventure Activities to Challenge Teens

Some wilderness therapy programs offer an added component of adventure activities to their therapeutic offerings. By participating in adventure activities, such as rock climbing, rafting, or mountain biking, teenagers in wilderness therapy programs can see that they have the ability to adapt and thrive while overcoming new challenges. This fosters a strong form of self confidence in teenagers.

By focusing on adventures and emphasizing skill building, wilderness therapy programs which offer the added component of adventure help to develop personal strengths and promote self-efficacy within each teen. Building on each individual’s strengths, rather than simply treating symptoms, promotes long-term success for each teen in crisis.

The added component of adventure and the variety of appealing activities in wilderness adventure therapy also leads to an increased buy-in to therapy from teens who may be unreceptive to or apathetic about more traditional, behavioral therapy methods.

What to Look for in a Reputable Wilderness Therapy Program

While there are a plethora of “wilderness experience programs” and wilderness camps out there, there are characteristics that make a wilderness therapy program a truly therapeutic experience. There are several characteristics and processes that a credible wilderness therapy program should implement to ensure that they are following best practices within the industry.

1. Licensure/Accreditations

A reputable wilderness therapy program should obtain state licensure. Individual and group therapy sessions should be lead by a licensed mental health professional. In addition, to implement and maintain clinical best practices, and to maintain the integrity of the wilderness lands they use, reputable organizations partner with applicable regulatory and accrediting organizations.

If the organization offers school credits to their participants, the wilderness therapy program should be accredited by an academic organization to ensure that the credits are transferable.

2. Medical Care

A credible wilderness therapy program conducts a medical examination upon admission, and routine medical check-ups to monitor participants’ well-being.

3. Formal Evaluation

A credible wilderness therapy program should evaluate their clients upon admission; routine formal evaluations of the effectiveness of the treatment path should also be conducted periodically to ensure that the treatment is effective.

4. Adequate, Expert Supervision

The wilderness therapy field guides should operate under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner or clinical social worker. In addition, wilderness therapy program participants should have individual or group therapy sessions with a licensed therapist.

5. Family Involvement

A reputable wilderness therapy program involves the family in the healing process since families are vital to the process of change that takes place. With both student and parents on the same path, the entire family begins to heal. The wilderness therapy program should work with the family to help them understand each participant’s issues, goals, and treatment path.

6. Specialized Training

All wilderness therapy field guides should be trained and certified in CPR, first aid, and first responder certification. In addition, therapists should be trained in their area of expertise or specialty (i.e. substance abuse treatment, depression and anxiety treatment, family therapy etc.)

7. Individualized Treatment Plans

At a reputable wilderness therapy program, all clients should receive an individualized treatment plan based on their personal needs, goals, and issues. The individualized plans should be carefully monitored by a licensed mental health professional.

8. After Care and Transitional Support

Progress doesn’t stop the day a client leaves treatment. As such, therapeutic staff members should ensure that the teen has a smooth transition back into the “real world.” In addition, the family and the client should receive adequate aftercare services to ensure that the progress made during treatment is a lasting change.

9. Clinical Model

While every teen should receive an individualized treatment plan, a reputable wilderness therapy program should have a clearly defined clinical model that is based on mental health field best practices.


Helping your son or daughter transition into a successful, happy, well-balanced adult means being there for him or her during the difficult teenaged years. While it may be tempting to send your troubled teen to a teen boot camp as a quick-fix remedy for their undesirable behavior, it is vital to think about what is in the best interest of your son or daughter.

Keep in mind that the undesirable behavior your teen is displaying may be just a symptom of a more serious issue that needs to be addressed therapeutically. In order to promote a life-long change in your teen, it is important to select a treatment program that is reputable, credible, and effective in addressing your teen’s individual issues.


Additional Resources

For additional resources on helping your child, please visit our website’s resource section:

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

  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
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

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.