Children’s summer camps and wilderness programs for boys and girls in the United…

September 30, 2014

Special Needs Adventure Camps: Providing Therapy in the Great Outdoors

happy childWhile most summer camps are dedicated to sending their campers home with macaroni artwork and a pocketful of childhood memories, some kids need a bit more “umph” from their summer camp experience. That’s why there are intensive summer programs that offer a reality check; a support group; a test of character. Wilderness therapy programs are becoming an increasingly popular tool that combine clinically sophisticated psychological support with nature’s intrinsic healing. The American Psychological Association has taken note of the success of these sorts of programs in APA journal’s cover story, Therapy Gone Wild.

Why do wilderness camps offer the best therapy?

Therapy Gone Wild quotes Dr. Andrew Erkis, a wilderness therapy consultant, in saying that program participants are ‘“in an emotionally safe place, they’re not going anywhere…they’re exercising, they’re eating well…they’re starting to look and feel great.’” Long-time outdoor activist and wilderness therapy guide, Elizabeth Terrell, explains that nature provides immediate feedback on your actions: improper camp setup can mean your tarp blows away in a hailstorm. By placing kids in an intimate setting of survival education, their camaraderie plays out in physical work as well as peer mentoring.

Who can benefit from wilderness therapy summer camp?

While many wilderness and adventure camps are often affiliated with deeply troubled teens, campers and their circumstances are quite diverse. “Clinical staff members conduct a thorough assessment of each child before doing anything else, says Dr. Steve DeBois [founder of the wilderness therapy camp Second Nature]. That means young people — who have both diagnosable mental health conditions and a typical range of adolescent problems including rebellion, self-doubt and substance use — are placed with therapists and peers who match their issues.’”

But counselor Terrell says, “You don’t have to go to a treatment program to get the same experience. Everyone can get something out of spending some time in the out of doors.” This is one of the fundamental principles of summer camps across the country – educating and connecting kids within their natural surroundings. It’s simply a matter of how intensive an experience your child needs.

Camppage lists a variety of adventure and special needs camps. Whether your child should be at an outdoor boot camp or is simply seeking adventure and therapeutic communing with nature, you can find the right fit by looking up listings for adventure camps and special needs camps on