22 Day Therapeutic Wilderness Expeditions For Adolescents & Young Adults

Blackwater Outdoor Experiences works with two key age groups that includes Adolescents (14-18 years old) and Young Adults (18 – Late 20’s). We work to make sure that each group is working towards similar treatment goals and is an appropriate fit for each participant. Read below for more detailed information of the different aspects of our expeditions.

Pre-Treatment Planning

Prior to the trip, the treatment team, which includes our Medical Director, Clinical Staff, Field Therapists, Field Instructors, Marketing & Admissions Coordinator, along with the family and participant, develop a treatment plan designed to meet the specific needs of each participant and his/her family. This plan outlines individual treatment goals and objectives for each participant to work towards while on course.  At the conclusion of the course, a comprehensive aftercare plan is developed with the help and input of the participant and his/her family in order to help maintain the gains made by the participant and their family.

 Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is an integral part of the BOE program.  Each participant has access to our Masters Level Therapists constantly throughout the day.  Participants use our therapists skills routinely to process anxiety or stressers that present themselves within any given moment.  More structured sessions are presented in a non-traditional manner designed to help reduce the anxiety of client.  Throughout the program each participant has a minimum of two structured sessions per week in addition to daily interactions with the Master’s Level Therapist.  Sessions and interactions happen in the daily course of activity; they are partnered in a canoe, hiking the trail, or chatting while taking in a mountain top view.

The primary outcome of the time spent with the Therapist is to bridge the gap between the learning and emotions that take place in the wilderness and generalize it to the lived or bigger world experience that takes place at home.  Also the sessions are geared towards dealing with sensitive and clinical issues that are best worked on in a one on one situation.  The regular interactions with the Therapist are intended to direct and guide the individual’s thoughts and perceptions stemming from the therapeutic wilderness experience into a schema or intellectual frameworks that are beneficial and meaningful for the individual, helping the individual to define their experience.

Group Therapy

Group Therapy occurrs daily around a campfire under the stars.  Once the group has established trust and a level of emotional safety, participants begin to share their experiences, thoughts, and feelings more openly.  Through professionally guided conversation, open and honest disclosure happens, participants discover that they are not alone, and that many individuals experience difficult emotions and confusion pertaining to difficult situations and relationships.  Participants begin to realize their thoughts and feelings are normal and they begin to accept open feedback from their peers.

This type of group environment and positive peer culture promotes self-awareness along with accountability and an acceptance of oneself.  Promoting peer learning not only helps the participant, who is getting the feedback; it empowers the other participants and validates their thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

Psycho Educational Lessons

Psycho Educational lessons teach our participants more about stress, anxiety, depression, and other psychological concerns.  These experiential lessons accommodate different learning styles.  When possible, situations from the course or events from the participant’s experiences are used in the lessons to increase the applicability of the information being taught.  Topics are based on the individual treatment goals of the participants as well as the overall needs of the group.
Psycho Educational lessons typically include didactic information, a visual representation, and an experiential activity.

Therapeatic Journaling

Each of our participants are provided with a journal for their use throughout the program.  Students are provided the opportunity to utilize the time set aside for the group to engage in writing out their thoughts in response to journal prompts provided by the therapist.  This journal is personal and not to be read by the therapist or other students unless permitted.  It is an aspect of the program that allows participants to use another method of expressing their thoughts and feelings to aid in the whole person approach to our therapy.  Many students find this to be a very useful tool that helps them to process their thoughts and to assist in developing a greater understanding of themselves.

Adventure Based Therapy

The wilderness inherently possesses metaphors and lessons that provide a springboard for clients to experience direct and natural consequences within our prescriptive initiatives.  Students learn that they are responsible for the actions when they make the decision to put time and effort into setting up their shelter correctly so they are protected from the elements.  Participants learn how to work communicate their needs with others when they are paddling on the water with a partner and finding success when paddling on opposite sides of the canoe.  Students learn more about their confronting their fears and discovering their strengths when they find themselves on top of a 30 ft. climb that they thought was impossible.

Each adventure-based initiative is structured with a purpose and lesson in mind.  Working together, communicating effectively, taking risks, making difficult decisions, and ultimately solving problems all have value outside of the therapeutic initiative.  Each initiative is framed, frontloaded, debriefed, and processed in a way that maximizes learning.

Through this mode of therapy, participants are able to not only talk about but actively and experientially learn new coping skills and more effective ways to handle difficult situations and real life problems.  Learning through play is one of the earliest ways we experienced and learned about our world.  Young people today are so bombarded with technology, video games, and media that they rarely get the chance to nurture their own imaginations and exercise their minds in ways that encourage logical and creative problem solving.

Solo Experience

Every course also includes a “Solo” experience, in which each participant spends up to 72 hours on his/her own, separate from the group environment, yet still under the support and supervision of the BOE staff.  This experience allows time for quiet introspection free from distractions such as cell phones, video games, tv, as well as distracting topics of conversation.

Although the idea of spending so much time in the woods “all alone” sounds intimidating to many, most of our participants enjoy the experience of being on their own.  Prior to the Solo experience, all participants have had the opportunity to learn the skills needed to take care of themselves without direct staff or group help.

The Solo portion gives each participant the experience of relying on themselves, rather than on other people, which helps to foster a positive sense of independence, competence, and confidence.

Family Component

In order to maintain and expand the gains participants make while with BOE it is important that accommodations and adjustments are made in the home, family and support network of the individual.  While participants are on their expedition, our clinical staff works with the families to improve overall family functioning through family sessions intended to improve communication, create effective family boundaries, and develop conflict resolution skills.

A plan with clear goals, expectations, and room for family discussions and contracts is put into place before the participant returns home or goes on to extended-care.  Parents participate in family therapy sessions twice weekly, as well as attend our Family Weekend Workshop.

Family Weekend

During the final weekend of the course, participants and families practice the skills they learned, enjoy outdoor recreational activities together, and participate in single family and multi-family therapy sessions with the extended treatment team.

The family weekend is intended to clear up past issues and pave the way for new relationships based on improved communication, clear and realistic boundaries, rules, and expectations.  The participants, their families, and the entire treatment team at BOE work together to create a realistic workable plan for the future.

The weekend is full of opportunities for participants and their respective families to build stronger relationships with one another through shared experiences and therapeutic-recreational activities in the outdoors.  The entire weekend is focused on rebuilding a strong foundation for the family through multiple modalities and gives the parents a taste of the type of experiential therapies and adventure-based-counseling experiences that their child was exposed to for the past 20 days.

Transitional Planning

Our staff works to put together the assessment we were able to develop in the 22-day program and offer the family a great deal of support and information to help each family take the necessary steps forward.  Much of this work takes place in person at the Family Weekend, the final 2 days of 22-day program.  We also offer direct referrals for further treatment if necessary.  The Clinical Treatment Team (Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Professional Counselor, Medical Doctor, Doctors of Clinical Psychology and Masters Level Therapists) affords BOE the capability to make direct referrals for psychological testing, pharmacology, and after-care recommendations that are proposed by our professional staff with a long-standing history in the field of adolescent therapy, education, recreation and medication.