How Outdoor Therapy Helps Build Resilience in Teen Survivors of Traumatic Experiences

Published March 27, 2023

Tim Dupell explains that nature brings great health benefits and spending time in nature is a nurturing and enlivening experience. Studies link exposure to nature with many benefits, such as less anxiety, better moods, and improved attention spans. Outdoor therapy greatly benefits teens who have experienced trauma by boosting self-confidence, fostering emotional regulation, and building resilience.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is one’s mental and physical ability to withstand adverse circumstances and the capacity to bounce back after experiencing adversity. Resilient individuals can face stressful situations and come out stronger than before. Tim Dupell notes that developing resilience can help teens cope with past traumas and help them experience some future stressors as challenging rather than traumatizing. Three things that help increase resilience are a sense of community connection, personal competency, and the ability to regulate emotions.

What is Outdoor Therapy?

Outdoor therapy, often called wilderness therapy, refers to therapeutic programs which combine nature’s benefits with the support of a clinical team. Teens explore the outdoors, attend therapy sessions, and may participate in activities such as equine therapy or horseback riding, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, yoga, and bicycling activities. Some outdoor programs utilize a nomadic model—hiking between campsites and setting up leave-no-trace shelters. Others use a base-camp model, where youth stay in structures such as cabins, yurts, or geodesic domes.

How Does Outdoor Therapy Aid Resilience?

Tim Dupell says that outdoor therapy aids resilience in several ways. It allows teens to heal away from technological distractions such as cell phones and television. Outdoor therapy acts as a sort of reset, a time for youth to reconnect with themselves and focus on their personal strengths and struggles.

Dupell says outdoor therapy helps teens develop the personal factors of resilience. Through activities and bonding with their group, teens learn communication skills and find a sense of belonging. Individual and group therapy with licensed clinicians help teens understand themselves and learn to navigate relationship dynamics. Nature-based therapy is experiential, allowing teens to overcome challenges and gain self-confidence through challenge-by-choice adventure activities and mastering survival skills. The natural setting, combined with therapeutic skills taught by field staff and therapists, help youth learn to regulate their emotions.

Wilderness programs supported by Family Help & Wellness include family work to heal the entire family dynamic. Family therapy supports teens and families to build long-lasting, trusting relationships to support their reunion and the teen’s transition to a healthy life. By providing a parallel healing process for families and teens.

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