In the West, the South and the Northeast – at every wilderness therapy program, the youth uniformly introduce themselves by telling strangers whatever held closest to their secrets.
They are called the troubled teens. Some have abused alcohol, while others describe themselves as drug addicts. They tell about anger, defiance, unhealthy relationships and families that have been pushed into crisis.
Wilderness therapy programs and therapeutic wilderness programs for at-risk youth are not the answer (or even answers) for each child. Further, all wilderness programs are not equal. So what works is self-reflection.
Teens have a remarkable capacity to find the truth within themselves, especially when they do not reject the adults who have the answers for them.
The first thing these teens in the wilderness learn is to control what they can control, and let go of what they cannot. For example, they learn they can control how safe they set their tarps to protect themselves from the rain.
When they failed to do it right, they do not need an adult to remind them that they cannot control the rain. They learned that the body of a couch-potato they really can walk for miles every day, live without "things," bond with adults, and form meaningful friendships with other teens.
Wilderness experience gives them challenges, yes, but also gives them time – hours, days, weeks. For many at-risk youths, the best that can be hoped for is a child with a deeper understanding of his/her issues.