How long does the program last?
Each stay is different for each student. Staff collaborate to determine the best path and transition plan for each student. While the average stay is 10 weeks, this varies per child.
What will my child’s living situation be like?
Students live outdoors for their entire stay with constant care and supervision provided by Field Instructors and 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 setting. While initially living in the wilderness can be intimidating for students, the peaceful, distraction-free environment allows students to focus on their therapeutic work much more effectively and experientially than other 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.
What kind of therapy will my child participate in?
Wilderness therapy allows students to develop emotional self-management skills through experiential learning. 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 a weekly therapy session 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.
What does an average day look like at BRTW?
Each day is different but there is a core set of daily camp activities that mirror basic life management skills in a non-camp environment. 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 for more information.
How do I know my child’s individual needs and clinical condition is being addressed in a group setting?
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 participants to fully understand each participant’s therapeutic needs. Then, the therapists routinely communicate with Field Instructors to ensure field experiences are consistent with the individual needs and ongoing goals. We also tailor aspects of the experience through things like dietary needs and gear that are appropriate for each size and gender of students.
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 Field Instructors.
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?
BRTW 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? What disorders, behavioral issues and challenges do your participants often face?
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
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
Attachment and Adoption Issues
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 BRTW?
Since 2002, BRTW has initiated several leading wilderness 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 teenagers 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.
BRTW Focuses on the comfort and 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.
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.
How much does your program cost?
Costs are based on length of stay and the needs of each student. Your Admissions Director will work with you to develop and explain a plan for your child and your family.
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 other parents who sent their children to your program?
In order to protect the confidentiality of our clients, we do not share the personal information of our alumni. If your family is BRTW alumni, we welcome you to stay connected to us and other BRTW families through our Alumni Network.
Additionally, our Admissions Directors are happy to answer any questions you may have regarding our program. To hear messages and testimonials from previous students and their parents, visit our Success Stories page.