Looking across the broad spectrum of psychology, it becomes clear that there are a plethora of paradigms and theories that can guide professionals in practice. From psychotherapy to person-centered counseling, the range of techniques that can be used is almost overwhelming. While many of the techniques and theories that are currently utilized within the context of professional discourse have been critically researched and examined over the course of several decades, there are a few therapeutic techniques that have only recently come to the forefront of theory and practice. Although these techniques do not have as much empirical evidence to support their use, changes in clinical practice make these new techniques worthwhile ventures for various individuals in crisis.
Considering some of the new techniques in counseling and psychology to emerge over the course of the last several years, it is clear that wilderness therapy is one of the newest and most novel methods for helping individuals cope with mental stressors. With the realization that wilderness therapy is such a new paradigm in the context of clinical practice, this investigation seeks to provide a broad overview of the practice, its underlying philosophy and its central goals. By examining how wilderness therapy works, a more integral understanding of the practice and the paradigm shifts that are occurring in the filed of psychology will be elucidated.
Examining the overall context of wilderness therapy Russell notes that despite the fact that the number of wilderness therapy programs in the United States has grow extensively over the course of the last decade, the various titles give to the programs—i.e. challenge courses, adventure-based therapy, or wilderness experience programs—developing a cohesive definition for the practice and program has proven to be a difficult task. Despite the lack of a concrete definition however, Russell goes on to argue that, “A good place to begin sorting through numerous definitions of wilderness therapy is by looking at the broader field of wilderness experience programs (WEPs), which have been defined as ‘organizations that conduct outdoor programs in wilderness or comparable lands for purposes of personal growth, therapy, rehabilitation, education or leadership/organizational development’” . Russell maintains that wilderness therapy programs are a derivative of wilderness experience programs that focus on therapeutic intervention as the central objective.