The Forgotten Benefits of Being Outside

It isn’t hard to figure out why some teens have trouble relating to traditional therapeutic models. At a time in their life when life itself seems the most chaotic, when they want to move, explore, take risks, run away or otherwise act out in some way, they suddenly find themselves seated in a chair in a quiet office opposite a quite serious-seeming adult.

Perhaps this is also what is behind the increasing use of nature and the wilderness as a therapeutic tool for young people. The American Psychological Association (APA) calls this “therapy gone wild,” and it is producing positive effects where traditional office therapy has failed to do so.

In this post, learn more about the forgotten benefits of being outside and how “therapy gone wild” can help troubled teens in ways other therapy models simply can’t.

A Return to Nature brings Body and Mind Back Together

Nature is raw and real – much more like what it feels like in the highly civilized, well socialized urban lifestyle. You eat or get eaten. You reign in your anxiety in the interests of remaining alert and alive. You find a way to work with others or risk being left behind.

You work with your body as well as your mind (a proven and powerful therapeutic combination that also surfaces in other mind/body therapies for trauma, PTSD and abuse such as Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT).

This requires learning key life skills including these:

– Mindfulness.

– Emotion regulation.

– Distress tolerance.

– Interpersonal effectiveness.

Interestingly, these are the exact same life skills taught via individual and group session therapy in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a model developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder that was later adapted for other uses.

Yes, these life skills can be taught in an “indoors” office setting. But for troubled teens who are already prone to act out, it would seem nature just teaches them better.

Nature Adds Fun Back Into Feeling Better

Pick up any self-help book and keep count of how many times you laugh or smile while you’re reading. Most such books are very serious! It is true that healing from addiction, trauma, abuse, self-harm, anxiety, depression or PTSD is serious business. But it doesn’t always have to feel that way!

With a wilderness therapy program for troubled youth, there are peers present instead of just the therapist or the teen’s highly concerned parents. There are projects to tackle and beauty to enjoy. There is fresh air and sunshine (according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vitamin D is a proven resource for easing depression).

What better setting for feeling better while having fun at the same time? Not only does this make the tough parts, such as talking about past pain or trauma, a little easier to bear, but it teaches teens that there is always something to laugh and smile about even when life gets very, very hard.

Nature Is A Natural Source of Hope & Renewal

If there is any mentor better than nature to teach that “the end” is never really the end, modern psychology has yet to find it. Just when summer has scorched everything in sight, fall arrives. Just when winter has frozen all living things, spring appears.

By experiencing natural life up close and personal, some therapeutic concepts don’t need to be painstakingly explained in any formal way. The truth is right there, and so is the hope and the sense of new possibilities.

But best of all, nature provides a natural point of reconnection between the troubled teen and peers and family members back home. In additional to wilderness programs just for teens, there are therapeutic wilderness programs for families. And just getting back to nature can be its own therapy – one that can last a lifetime.

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