Utilizing Wilderness Therapy In Addiction Treatment
Between smartphones, laptops, social media accounts and overflowing email inboxes, our days are increasingly packed with screen-to-screen interactions in order to optimize time and resources. While this way of life may increase productivity, it does little to feed the mind, body, and soul.
We can live this way for a while, but over time, we become rundown by our fast-paced lives and overly critical of ourselves and those around us. To restore balance, we can look to one of the most powerful resources we have-nature.
“Nature gives us peace,” starts Dalton Blazek, the architect behind the Wilderness Therapy program at The Treehouse, Addiction Campuses‘ Texas facility. “You have to get away from all of the distractions of the world to truly start to find the stillness within yourself.”
Through a series of survival tasks, wilderness therapy allows those struggling with addiction to reconnect with nature, build trust among peers and restore balance in their lives. The skills gained through this unique program make wilderness therapy one of the most powerful tools in addiction treatment and recovery.
What Is Wilderness Therapy?
Wilderness therapy is an adventure-based treatment modality that takes place in nature. Typically led by a treatment professional, the goal of wilderness therapy is to expose clients to interpersonal conflicts, therapy, and problem-solving activities in an unfamiliar setting in order to help them develop healthy self-esteem and social skills.
In addiction treatment, wilderness therapy is also used to teach clients skills that will be essential to their recovery. By participating in this unique program at The Treehouse, clients will learn how to:
- Start Fires
- Build traps
- Purify water
- Build shelter
- Catch fish
- Clean fish
- Identify plants and animals
- Survive in the wild
While these skills are rooted in survival, they also provide clients with the opportunity to develop everyday skills by encouraging teamwork, communication, and self-confidence. As The Treehouse’s resident Wilderness Field Instructor, Dalton gets to watch his clients grow emotionally and mentally with each task.
“When our clients are able to see the progress they’ve made during their time in Wilderness Therapy, it’s an incredible feeling,” he says. “I never get tired of seeing my clients succeed.”
Benefits Of Wilderness Therapy In Addiction Treatment
After years of active addiction, it can be difficult to reconnect with the person you once were for the disease took over. The stillness of nature provides the perfect backdrop for healing after addiction. For this reason, Wilderness Therapy has become an essential tool for addiction recovery.
“When you’re in nature, there are no cars or cell phone signals or people to distract you from your healing process,” says Dalton. “Nature is a place to feel free- a place where you don’t have to worry about substances.”
Additionally, there are a number of health benefits associated with spending time in nature including:
- Reduced stress
- Minimized risk of depression
- Increased energy
- Boosted immunity
- Improved memory and cognitive functions
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced cholesterol
Wilderness Therapy builds upon these benefits by actively engaging clients in activities that will allow them to experience the benefits of being in nature while also learning skills that will aid in the recovery process.
“I had a new guy out in the woods trying to start a fire and he was really struggling. His hands were starting to cramp, he was sweating and frustrated- but all of his teammates came together and started rooting for him,” starts Dalton. “After about 20 minutes of constantly trying, he finally got the fire started. As soon as the spark caught and the fire started to grow, you could see this immense look of pride and happiness on his face.”
Dalton uses this example to highlight what he considers one of the most important lessons he can teach his clients: to never give up on themselves. As a person in recovery himself, Dalton knows that maintaining sobriety outside of treatment can be challenging. However, he also knows that through perseverance, you can have a fulfilling life in recovery.
A lot of the wilderness skills that Dalton teaches his clients are also based on teamwork. Clients work together in order to build shelters, build traps and navigate The Treehouse’s 65-acre property. It’s not just about completing these tasks but completing these tasks together.
“When the groups start working together towards a common goal it helps improve communication and teamwork skills- both of which are important to building a productive life outside of treatment,” he explains.
Since addiction is a disease that thrives on isolation, having clients work together teaches them how to build healthy relationships again.
“There is also no one to judge you in the wilderness. Once clients learn that, being in nature becomes a safe space for them to try new things, challenge themselves, and be vulnerable and open to change,” he finished.
Can Wilderness Therapy Be Incorporated Into Addiction Recovery?
The benefits of wilderness therapy don’t end after clients leave treatment and go back to their busy day-to-day lives. While their time with Dalton and the other clients at The Treehouse may be over, the skills they learned during wilderness therapy are meant to stick with clients beyond the woods.
“The skills that I try to incorporate into Wilderness Therapy aren’t just recovery skills, they’re life skills,” Dalton explains. “Teamwork, believing in yourself, communication, perseverance- it’s all part of building a meaningful life after treatment. If our clients just hold onto those principles after they leave The Treehouse, I know they’ll be successful.”
Once clients develop these skills, they’re able to use them outside of treatment and instead of drugs or alcohol in order to cope with everyday challenges.
One of the best things about harnessing the power of nature in addiction recovery is that clients can utilize the environment no matter where they end up after treatment. Dalton says that he sees many of his former clients taking their kids fishing, camping with their families and incorporating wilderness into their daily lives.
Despite all the time he has spent cultivating a program that helps those struggling with addiction regain balance in their lives, Dalton understands that as an alternative therapy, some people are skeptical of wilderness therapy. However, he’s seen first-hand the positive impact that wilderness therapy can make, and knows that others feel the same.
“I know there are some skeptics out there- but you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Dalton starts. “I’ve seen the impact wilderness therapy can have on someone, and it can be life-changing.”