what is the wilderness therapy method?

What is the Wilderness Therapy Method?

Wilderness Therapy is the general term for a variety of outdoor mental health treatment programs and camps typically serving struggling youth and their families. Wilderness therapy programs serve different client populations and age ranges, and host a variety of different offerings depending upon the chosen program.

The Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness therapy model is a holistic one focused on providing early clinical assessment and highly individualized therapeutic treatment for teens and young adults ages 13-30. To create a seamless experience, our students spend the majority of their time in the program outdoors in the milieu. This model ensures that students are developing emotional resilience in the moment and are learning to create a safe environment for themselves no matter where they are.

To learn more about the Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness Therapy model, visit Our Model or reach out to our admissions team.

Why do parents send their kids to wilderness therapy?

Wilderness Therapy can be an intensive therapeutic experience, an opportunity for a brief mental health reset, a chance to disconnect from unhelpful distractions at home, and an adventurous way to develop a deep-rooted sense of self esteem as well as positive relationships to oneself and others.

Each individual on the Blue Ridge Wilderness team understands how daunting it can be for parents to trust that they are making the right decision when enrolling their child in a residential treatment or wilderness therapy program. There is an incredible amount of trust needed to make the transition to higher therapeutic care as smooth as possible for clients. As a privately owned and owner-operated program, our team is able to take the time needed to carefully assess whether Blue Ridge Wilderness is the best fit for the families who reach out to us.

With 2 decades of experience under our belts, an outstanding safety record, and some of the most experienced wilderness therapists in the country, Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness is able to provide the best, highly individualized treatment for teens, young adults and their families.

Hear first-hand experiences from Blue Ridge Alumni

Speak to our compassionate Admissions Team today


What happens after wilderness therapy?

Each family has their own unique set of needs, so there is one-size-fits-all answer to what happens after wilderness therapy. The average length of stay for many youth wilderness therapy programs is about 6-10 weeks. After working with the treatment team, some parents will choose to enroll in continued treatment, attend a step down program, or bring their child back home after graduation from wilderness therapy.

In some situations, a stay in wilderness therapy can serve as an initial step to assess, stabilize and establish the teen or young adult's treatment areas. This is not the case for all families, however; some students get exactly what they need by completing their wilderness therapy pathway, gathering new skills and tools, and returning to their life at home.

Your family's primary and family therapists will work together with you to ensure that you are presented with the most therapeutically appropriate options for your child's situation before you decide what to do next.

Our goal at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness is for every student and family to exit the program with the tools necessary to thrive and act in alignment with their core values. To ensure that parents grow along with their child during and beyond their stay at Blue Ridge, we facilitate a robust family program, which has helped to generate a thriving network of loyal and enthusiastic Blue Ridge alumni in recent years.

Each family's journey is different, but Blue Ridge families are often relieved to be able to stay in touch with each other and seek support from the Blue Ridge team as active members of our Alumni Network.

Back to FAQ➔


How much does wilderness therapy cost?

How much does Blue Ridge Wilderness Therapy Cost?

Contact us today to receive individualized cost & program information based on you or your family's needs➔

Does Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness accept insurance?

Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness is private pay and does not directly accept insurance, however, our billing department will provide you with the necessary documentation required by your insurance carrier for possible reimbursement.

Visit our Financial Aid, Billing & Insurance page to learn more➔

Is wilderness therapy worth the money?

When we review Blue Ridge Wilderness student outcomes, or when we hear from our amazing alumni students and families, we are compelled to believe that the highly individualized treatment Blue Ridge provides is worth the cost of the program. As a private pay and owner-operated program, we are able to shift our programming more fluidly with the evolving needs of teens and young adults amidst the worst mental health crisis the US has ever seen. At the same time, we recognize that the high cost of wilderness therapy programming can present significant barriers to entry for families and youth in the most critical time of their lives.

Because of this we have partnered with Sky's the Limit Fund (STLF), a 501(c)3 non-profit, to help support more families afford wilderness therapy treatment at Blue Ridge. If eligible, your Admissions Director will help guide you through the STLF application process and/or the Blue Ridge financial aid application.

Is wilderness therapy worth the money?

There's no one better to answer this question than former Blue Ridge parents. During your family's application process, your Admissions Director will be happy to connect you with Blue Ridge alumni parent mentors and references who can help to ease your concerns, offer emotional support, and answer questions you may have from the invaluable perspective of a former wilderness therapy parent.

In the mean time, visit our Testimonials Page to listen to the inspirational stories of hope, gratitude and healing from Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness alumni.

What's the average length of stay?

Because we are a highly individualized program, each stay could look different for each student. Your Blue Ridge Wilderness therapist, family and treatment team will collaborate to determine the best path and transition plan for your teen or young adult, and as parents you will always have the final say in the length of your child's stay in our program. We offer different services based on the needs of the applicant: Adolescent programming, Young Adult Programming (Emerald Arrow), and Individualized, short-term programming for individuals of all ages, as well as couples and families through the Blue Ridge Precision Track. Reach out to our Admissions Team today to learn more➔

What will my child’s living situation be like?

Our clients' living situation while in the program may look different based upon the program they have enrolled in as well as their individual needs.

While young adults in Emerald Arrow have access to a base camp in North Carolina, our adolescent students typically camp, hike and backpack for the duration of their stay. In the Precision program, the living situation is more customized to the needs of the individual with whom we are working.

Regardless of the living situation, every client is provided with round-the-clock care and supervision provided by staff, as well as frequent visits from all levels of program leaders, medical professionals and therapists.

We provide all of the gear, food and essentials necessary to thrive in the wilderness camp setting. Initially, living in the wilderness can be intimidating for students—but eventually, the peaceful, distraction-free environment allows students to focus on their therapeutic work much more effectively and experientially than other more traditional clinical settings. Visit our Daily Life page for more information about the typical student experience, and our Health and Wellness page to learn more about our students’ diet, nutrition, mindfulness and physical activity.

Speak with an Admissions Director today to learn more➔

Explore Blue Ridge Wilderness Home➔

What modalities and methods will my child's therapist use?

Our highly individualized wilderness therapy treatment model allows students to develop emotional self-management skills through experiential learning that is often customized to their needs. Day-to-day activities such as food preparation, water collection, hiking excursion planning, for example, provide opportunities to engage in and analyze social interaction situations.

In addition to weekly therapy sessions with their primary therapist, therapists and field guides work together to determine individualized goal-setting and appropriate activities for each student that are aligned with each student’s unique needs.

Our experienced Clinical Team is comprised of licensed therapists who are skilled in CBT, DBT, EMDR, Brainspotting, unconditional positive regard, strengths-based therapy, Art Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Social Thinking Theory, and more.

What does an average day look like at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness?

Each day is different, but most clients participate in a core set of daily wilderness camp activities that mirror basic life management skills. These include food preparation, water collection, exercise (hiking, yoga or other activity), “down-time” and self-reflection, learning or academics, group discussion and future planning. Visit our Daily Life page or contact us for more information.

How do I know my child’s individual needs are being addressed?

There are many ways that we structure an experience specifically for each participant. First, we have distinct programs for adolescents from 13-18 and young adults from 18-29. The programming for each age group is specific to participants’ maturity levels, learning styles, and where they are in their therapeutic path.

Admissions Directors help advise primary therapists on initial input from parents or previous treatment, and the therapists then work with clients and their families to fully understand each student's treatment needs. Then, the therapists routinely communicate with Field Instructors to ensure that experiences in the field are consistent with the individual's needs and ongoing goals.

We also tailor aspects of the experience through considerations like dietary needs and gear that are appropriate for each student.

More questions? Speak to an Admissions Director today➔


Who will be my child’s primary caregiver?

Each student has a primary therapist who works directly with the student and their family. When the primary therapist is not around, students are carefully monitored and supervised by a team of our professional wilderness field instructors. Contact us to learn more about your child's treatment team options➔

What are the qualifications and roles of field instructors?

In order to become the lead of a Field Instructor staff team, the Instructor must accomplish an array of training milestones under the supervision of Senior Field Instructors, Field/Program Directors and Primary Therapists. Each Field Instructor team consists of fully CPR and First Aid certified staff members, with at least one of them holding a Wilderness First Responder certification to appropriately assess any medical situations in the field. All Field Instructors are at least 21, and some have even been students in our program before. New Field Instructors participate in a week long immersion training at a minimum and are mentored by senior staff throughout their employment. While the majority of our Field Instructors are college graduates, many also find us through their psychology or counseling endeavors and college programs.

As role models, Field Instructors backpack, sleep under tarps, and cook meals with the students while demonstrating healthy boundary-holding and communication skills. Field instructors lead therapeutic groups, back-country hikes, games and initiatives, and complete written reports of how each student is doing every week. Our dedicated staff are with students to witness and provide support during their most difficult moments as well as their biggest accomplishments.

What are the certifications of staff who will be caring for my child?

Our licensed therapists have a minimum of Masters degrees in their respective course of mental health studies. Each Field Instructor team has at least one Wilderness First Responder, and each Field Instructor carries a current First Aid and CPR certification. Our Field Instructors participate in months of thorough training before they are qualified to lead a BRTW group.

What is my role as a parent?

How much involvement will I have with my child and how will that work? Blue Ridge Wilderness has a robust and unique family program. Families participate in counseling that mirrors what their child is experiencing. Families conduct weekly calls with their child’s primary therapist, are invited to online and face-to-face workshops in Clayton, GA during the student’s program and then partners with their children during a transition phase. The family’s role is hands-on and critical to students’ success. Visit our Family Programming page for more information.

What is a typical student profile?

We work with adolescents and young adults who face a range of challenges. The following list includes an example of some of the challenges our program addresses:

Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder

Substance Dependence/Abuse

Computer and Internet Addictions

Academic Frustration, Avoidance and Failure

Low Self Esteem and Poor Self Concept

Low Frustration Tolerance and Difficulty Delaying Gratification

Life Adjustment Problems

ADHD, Developmental Delays and Learning Difficulties

Identity Issues

Attachment and Adoption Issues

Social Challenges

Family Conflict

Grief and Loss

Sexual Acting Out

NLD and High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders

Victims of Abuse

For more information, please read more about Who We Help.

Are there disorders that you’re not prepared to treat?

Yes, some challenges might not be appropriately treated through wilderness therapy. Some examples of this are a history of violence or active substance withdrawal. Our Admissions and Clinical teams work to carefully assess incoming student applications to ensure that each of our participants are clinically appropriate for the program.

How do I know that my child will be safe?

Our number one priority is safety. Our Field Instructors ensure physical safety through strict protocols relating to weather awareness, facility checks, food and water preparation and collection, medical checks, self-checks and frequent communication with program administration and therapists. Emotional safety is provided through group connectivity and support, routine therapist and Field Instructor collaboration and guided family communication throughout the program. For research about safety in the wilderness therapy setting, visit our Research page.

How do you prepare students for post-camp life?

Preparation for post-camp life begins on Day 1 of their involvement at the program. Everything we do sets students up to better manage their mental health and social engagement after wilderness. Experiential learning teaches students self-efficacy, resiliency, and emotional attunement, all of which are primary tools in post-camp success. (See Why Wilderness)

At the end of their stay at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness, students and their families may participate in our Transition Program when it is clinically recommended by the Primary Therapist. During the Transition Program, students and their families have the opportunity to reunite in the wilderness setting and reflect upon their therapeutic journey with BRTW. For more information, visit our Transition Program page.

Why should I choose Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness?

Since 2002, Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness has initiated several leading wilderness and adventure therapy practices that are today considered industry leading. Dan McDougal, Owner and Founder, developed a program that focuses on student and family empathy and wrap-around therapeutic support through experiential learning rather than clinical diagnosis and counseling. Dan has worked with troubled teens since 2002 and has used those years of experience to build a program that is scalable and flexible to serve the needs of each child. As the single owner of the company, Dan can make financial and program decisions that are in the best interest of students without the burden of a Board of Directors.

At Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness, our focus is the comfort and subsequent holistic healing of each student. Unlike wilderness programs or boot camps of the past, Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness provides an emotionally and physically nurturing environment to our students that is clinically sophisticated and supported by research.

Our Admissions Directors are here to ensure that Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness is the right program for your child. Reach out to us today by calling (888) 914-1050, or Contact Us on our website.

Is your program licensed? Who oversees the integrity of the program?

The licensing and accreditation processes required of reputable wilderness programs is not for ill-prepared or sub-par organizations. In fact, it is not altogether uncommon for a new program to fail to meet the rigorous requirements of a licensing board or accreditation committee. In addition to licenses and accreditations, some programs are also members of industry organizations such as the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) or Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC).

Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wellness is licensed by the Department of Human Services in the state of Georgia as an Outdoor Child Caring program. We hold an accreditation with the Association for Experiential Education (AEE), and are one of the few programs to have gone through the 5-year re-accreditation process twice.

Blue Ridge is also participant of both NATSAP and OBH. Our program is permitted by the National Forest Service, and holds academic accreditation from Cognia as a Special Program. Each of these organizations has its own set of requirements for the initial licensing/accreditation/permit/membership process, as well as baseline expectations to maintain them.

For more information, please visit our Licensing and Accreditation page.

What kind of medical care will my child receive?

Students receive a high level of medical attention while in our care. Field Instructors monitor, assess and address each student’s medical needs multiple times a day and are always capable of communicating with our medical personnel if and when necessary. Field Instructors provide verbal updates on student well-being at a minimum of twice a day, which are then considered closely by our medical coordinator and medical director.

What happens in an emergency?

Our Field Instructors, who are certified Wilderness First Responders, assess all situations before requesting assistance. In the case of an emergency, Field Instructors will contact our backup team and the appropriate services are then provided. To ensure safety of our students, our groups in the wilderness remain within close proximity and accessibility to additional medical assistance and transportation.

What is your success rate?

Success looks different for each student and depends upon their clinical development goals. For BRTW, success means your child can use the skills they have learned in our program in whatever their next phase involves. BRTW aims to prepare all students for these next steps through individualized transition preparation. If appropriate, your student’s Primary Therapist may suggest your family participate in the Transition or Family Intensive programs before exiting BRTW.

Can I speak to alumni parents or students?

We have a long list of Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness and Emerald Arrow families who have volunteered to speak to prospective clients who are in the process of discovering whether our program is the right program for their teen, young adult or family. In order to speak with previous families, please first contact our admissions team.

If you are a Blue Ridge or Emerald Arrow alum, reach out to admissions@blueridgewilderness.com or visit our alumni page to stay connected and join our alumni network!