Recovery and Nature: Understanding Wilderness Programs

What is a wilderness program and how can it help individuals heal from mental health and substance use disorder challenges? Read on to find out.

How Wilderness Programs Can Benefit Your Recovery

What is a wilderness program, and how exactly can it help in addiction recovery?

Exploring the unique therapeutic intervention that blends outdoor experiences with psychological treatment can offer individuals valuable insight. Wilderness programs offer a unique approach to recovery programs and have been proven effective for long-term success.

Individuals who ask, “What is a wilderness program?” can find a detailed explanation of the benefits these programs can offer. Introducing nature into a recovery treatment plan enhances social skills and fosters a connection with nature.

what is a wilderness program

What To Expect From This Article

When researching “What is a wilderness program?”, it is important to understand the factors that come with this approach.

This article will define wilderness programs and the key components that characterize them. We will also highlight the traditional therapeutic methods utilized in wilderness programs.

Wilderness programs have supporting evidence proving their effectiveness in long-term recovery for various conditions. By understanding what is a wilderness program, individuals can make informed decisions for their treatment to live a healthy lifestyle.

What is a Wilderness Program?

A wilderness program is a type of therapeutic intervention. Nature programs use outdoor experiences and activities as a means of treatment.1

These programs are often aimed at individuals struggling with various issues, such as:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health disorders
  • Emotional difficulties

In a wilderness program, individuals go out into nature for an extended period. The time frame can range from a few weeks to several months. The natural environment serves as a therapeutic setting for participants. It provides a space away from daily distractions and triggers.

What Activities Are Incorporated in Wilderness Programs?

When searching for an answer to “what is a wilderness program?”, you will find that these programs involve a variety of activities, such as:

  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Survival skills training
  • Team-building exercises

The goal of these activities is to foster personal responsibility and problem-solving skills. They are also aimed at improving communication and self-esteem.2

Therapeutic Treatment Opportunities Offered in Wilderness Programs

Besides physical activities, wilderness programs often incorporate therapy and counseling. They sometimes include a combination of:

These therapeutic approaches are woven into daily activities. Participants may meet regularly with therapists or counselors throughout the program.

Important Considerations

When searching for “what is a wilderness program?”, it’s important to remember that not all programs suit everyone. Though many people have found wilderness programs helpful, they may not be effective treatments for everyone.

The effectiveness can depend on your needs and the quality of the program. Choice House can help determine if a wilderness program is right for you.

What to Expect in a Wilderness Program?

A wilderness program is a therapeutic intervention that uses outdoor experiences and activities for treatment. When searching for “what is a wilderness program?”, you should identify the activities that fit your needs and circumstances.

Many wilderness programs include:3

Outdoor Living and Survival Skills

Participants live in a natural environment for an extended period. During this time, they learn and practice basic survival skills like:

  • Constructing shelters
  • Building fires
  • Cooking outdoors
  • Navigation in the wilderness

This outdoor living experience can teach cooperation and problem-solving skills.

Physical Activities

Wilderness programs often include a range of physical activities. Hiking, rock climbing, outdoor games, and rafting are some activities a program may offer. These physical challenges encourage team-building and promote physical fitness.

Therapeutic Interventions

Participants receive various forms of therapeutic support alongside activities and outdoor living. This method could include a combination of multiple therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices, and psychoeducation.

Group Dynamics

Participants are often part of a group with similar struggles. The group setting encourages communication, cooperation, and mutual support among participants. Group activities also allow participants to receive feedback and learn from each other’s experiences.

Structure and Routine

Wilderness programs provide a structured environment with clear expectations and routines. This structure can promote discipline, responsibility, and consistency for individuals to use in their recovery.

Nature Connection

A key factor individuals consider when searching “What is a wilderness program?” is how nature can help in recovery.

Being away from daily distractions and stressors can offer therapeutic benefits. Connecting with nature can promote relaxation and peace for a person’s mental well-being.

Family Involvement

Depending on the program, there may be opportunities for family inclusion. This approach is done through family therapy sessions. Programs may also offer regular communication between participants and their families.

How Do Wilderness Programs Differ?

Each wilderness program may be different. Individual programs can include various activities and therapeutic approaches. Depending on the program’s specific focus and the participants’ needs, treatment approaches may differ.

Researching “what is a wilderness program” and finding a safe and reputable program is always essential.

What Makes a Wilderness Program Effective for Recovery?

When researching “what is a wilderness program,” you may wonder how they can benefit from recovery success. Wilderness programs can be effective for recovery due to a variety of factors.

Some ways wilderness programs are effective for recovery treatment include:

Experiential Learning

Participants engage in a variety of activities that promote personal responsibility and self-reliance. The direct experience can contribute to personal growth and behavioral change.4

These experiential learning in wilderness programs include:

  • Overcoming challenges
  • Learning new skills
  • Interacting with others in the group

Physical Activity and Connection with Nature

The outdoors and physical activities can have a therapeutic effect on a participant’s emotional well-being.5 Being in nature often encourages mindfulness and provides a distraction-free environment.

Partaking in a wilderness program can help reduce stress, improve mood, and increase self-esteem. These activities aim to promote a sense of achievement that can make a lasting impression on long-term recovery.

Therapeutic Support

Providing skilled therapists is vital to the success of a wilderness program. The therapists offer a range of therapeutic approaches for participants in their healing journey. Trained therapists work with participants to address specific needs and issues of their mental health.

Group Dynamics and Peer Support

Being part of a group with similar struggles can create a strong support network. The group setting can help individuals learn to communicate effectively and cooperate with others. 

By building healthy relationships, participants can create a supportive network to rely on during treatment.

Structure and Routine

Wilderness programs provide a structured environment with daily routines. This approach helps promote discipline and responsibility for participants. 

Learning how to create a structured routine is a valuable skill that effectively promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Resilience Building

Individuals researching “What is a wilderness program” may question how living in nature can benefit recovery. The challenges of living in an outdoor environment can help a participant build resilience.

Living outdoors can teach individuals how to adapt to difficult situations and tolerate stressful situations. Wilderness programs also offer an opportunity to learn from the setbacks of living in an unpredictable environment.

How Do Wilderness Programs Include Traditional Therapies?

Wilderness programs incorporate elements of adventure, experiential learning, and outdoor living. However, they often also use traditional therapeutic approaches in their treatment plan.

Therapists can provide appropriate support and follow up on progress. Our kind and professional staff at Choice House provides a safe and caring recovery environment.

Here’s how some of these methods are integrated into a wilderness program:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapeutic approach often used in wilderness programs. Participants may work with therapists to identify and challenge negative thought patterns.

They also learn to develop healthier behavior to cope with their triggers.6 The wilderness setting provides a unique environment where these concepts can be implemented.

Group Therapy

The group setting inherent to wilderness programs is ideal for group therapy. Participants can share their stories and learn about each other’s experiences.

Individuals can express themselves in a safe environment by providing and receiving feedback. This process can foster a sense of connection and mutual support.

Family Therapy

Some programs may include family therapy sessions. This approach can be done in person during specific family visit days or through phone or video calls.

This therapy aims to address any family issues or unhealthy dynamics. These issues might be contributing to the participant’s mental health. Family therapy also helps to prepare the family to support the participant’s progress once they return home.


Participants and their families will learn more about mental health conditions and addiction in a wilderness program. This education can increase understanding and reduce the stigmas of their condition.

Wilderness programs will also teach coping strategies and communication skills that are beneficial for life after the program is completed.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

These programs teach relaxation techniques and practice them in a wilderness setting. Techniques might include:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

These methods can help improve focus and promote emotional regulation.7

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational interviewing s is an approach designed to enhance an individual’s motivation to change.8 In wilderness programs, therapists may use MI to help participants recognize their own reasons for wanting to make changes in their lives.

Exposure Therapy

The wilderness setting can provide opportunities for safe, controlled exposure to challenging situations. This method can be beneficial for individuals struggling with fears or anxiety disorders.9

Support for Wilderness Program Treatment

A growing body of research suggests that nature and outdoor activities can benefit a person’s mental health and well-being.10 

These benefits can also extend to recovery programs like wilderness programs. Here are some of the ways in which the outdoors and nature can support recovery:

Stress Reduction

Many studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce stress. For example, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2010 found that walking in a forest can:11

  • Lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower heart rate

Improved Mood and Reduced Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

A 2015 study from Stanford University found that participants who walked in a natural setting had lower levels of rumination.12 Rumination involves repetitive, negative thinking.

Walking in nature reduced the risk factor for mental health disorders compared to those who walked in an urban environment.

Increased Physical Activity

As mentioned before, wilderness programs often involve physical activities. These activities can improve the physical health and well-being of participants. Regular physical activity can help to lower the risk of depression and anxiety in many studies.13

Improved Concentration and Cognitive Functioning

Research suggests that exposure to nature can improve concentration and cognitive functioning.14 The presence of natural elements, like trees and green spaces, can improve memory and problem-solving abilities

Increased Resilience and Self-Esteem

Overcoming challenges in an outdoor environment can boost self-esteem and resilience. This approach can be beneficial in the recovery process. 

For example, a 2019 study found that outdoor adventure programs can increase resilience and self-reliance in young adults.15

Enhanced Social Skills and Relationships

Group-based outdoor activities can foster cooperation and empathy. These attributes are essential for maintaining healthy relationships and social support networks. These skills can be beneficial in the recovery process.

Important Information to Consider

While these findings are promising, it’s important to note that the quality of the wilderness program and the therapeutic approaches can impact the program’s effectiveness.

The research will help you better understand these programs’ most beneficial components. Find out how wilderness programs with Choice House can benefit you.

what is a wilderness program

Find Recovery with Choice House’s Wilderness Program

Choice House offers immersive wilderness programs that combine therapeutic interventions with the transformative power of nature.

Recovering in nature promotes a sense of peace and connection with nature. Our immersive wilderness program setting provides a break from the stresses and triggers of everyday life.

Why Choose Choice House’s Wilderness Program

At Choice House, we incorporate physical activities and adventure-based experiences in our programs. These opportunities foster personal growth, build self-esteem, and develop resilience.

Engaging in outdoor activities helps participants develop problem-solving skills, teamwork, and a sense of accomplishment. These effective strategies are beneficial for recovery.

Our facility combines traditional therapeutic approaches with the healing power of nature. This approach addresses both the psychological and physical aspects of recovery. Choice House facilities focus on the potential of each individual to overcome challenges and thrive.

Find Yourself in Nature

Through our wilderness programs and professional staff of skilled therapists, we provide a safe and effective environment for men to recover and find themselves alongside sustainable recovery.

Choice House offers a unique and impactful experience that can support individuals in their journey toward personal growth and fulfillment.

Embark On Your Wilderness Adventure Today

Stop searching for “what is a wilderness program?” and find support at Choice House today. To find out more about our wilderness program, contact us today at 303.578.4978 or contact us via our website.

Participants leave their usual environments and enter nature. In these settings, they must learn to work as part of a team and develop survival skills.1