WinGate Wilderness Explains the Value of Wilderness Therapy

Published March 21, 2023

There are many ways to provide therapeutic help and support to adolescents and young adults, but WinGate Wilderness takes a unique approach. Their wilderness therapy program is designed to offer nature-based therapy in a more immersive and embodied manner than other outdoor therapy programs.

Instead of techniques that force behavior modification, WinGate Wilderness works to create change that is internally motivated. In other words, the program helps participants want to make changes for themselves instead of trying to force them to change. Internally motivated decisions are shown to be more likely to create positive, long-lasting changes in individuals’ lives.

Why Does Wilderness Therapy Work at WinGate?

Many outdoor therapy programs use short expeditions or adventure activities to get participants a ‘dose’ of nature, providing some connection with greenspace to boost mental health and overall well-being. WinGate uses the beautiful landscapes of Southern Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument as the therapeutic grounds for change to occur.

Uninterrupted time in nature proves to be a valuable skill-builder for youth at WinGate. Not only do they learn skills such as fire-building, cooking, and outdoor safety, but individuals within the group develop interpersonal emotional vulnerability and interdependence—essential skills for healing.

The relational approach at WinGate Wilderness acts as a bonding method for staff and participants as well as between peers. The respect and care for one another create an inviting atmosphere, lending to the opportunity for youth to develop emotional vulnerability and open up about their struggles. To enhance the benefits of southern Utah’s tranquil landscape, staff are trained to provide individuals a safe space to courageously step up to their challenges and overcome them with the support of the community around them.

What Do WinGate Wilderness Clients Do Every Day?

Much of the value of nature-based therapy comes from students’ experiences during a typical day. Students have a self-directed morning routine, therapy assignments, and personal mentoring time. Staff check-ins promote accountability, while self-directed routines foster self-awareness. Field staff and therapists work with individuals to develop goals and track their progress, making changes as needed.

Groups also spend time crafting and practicing outdoor skills such as fire-making. Some crafts students enjoy making are spoons, leather goods, wooden rings, ponchos, and creative campfire meals.

Therapy work woven around these experiences will address students’ needs and encourage them to explore the areas they want to work on. Two days a week, groups stay settled at camp while therapists come to conduct individual therapy. Other weekdays are optional hiking days where—depending on weather and the current ability of all individuals within the group—students break down camp to leave no trace, hike to a new location, and set up a new campsite as a group.

WinGate Wilderness can help youth heal and families reunite faster than residential treatment programs. By disentangling youth from the distractions and conveniences of the modern world, individuals find themselves to be more resilient and capable than they previously imagined. Youth learn skills that support healthy relationships and personal awareness throughout their lives: to be present, respectful, and connected to the world around them.

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